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Local leaders, organizations team up to bring My Brother's Keeper to Lake County

Purdue Extension Educator Jose G. (Lupe) Valtierra speaks during a press conference announcing the launch of My Brother's Keeper Lake County on April 9.
Michael Gallenberger
Lakeshore Public Media
Purdue Extension Educator Jose G. (Lupe) Valtierra speaks during a press conference announcing the launch of My Brother's Keeper Lake County on April 9.

A newly-launched initiative aims to improve opportunities for young men of color. Lake County is joining the My Brother's Keeper Alliance. The nationwide effort was started in 2014 by President Barack Obama, following the death of Trayvon Martin.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter says society has been dealing with crime, drugs and many of the same issues for decades, and resolving them will take a different approach. "We have to change something," Carter said during a press conference Tuesday. "We have to stop getting out there boycotting the police or boycotting that we're not giving people enough jail time. You give somebody 100 years in jail, and I get people arguing he should've got 120, you know? We've got the wrong ideal about how to reduce this crime."

That's where My Brother's Keeper comes in. It isn't about starting new mentoring programs, according to My Brother's Keeper Lake County Vice Chair Dr. Karen Bishop Morris, but about strengthening and supporting efforts that are already in place.

"What we do want to do as MBK is be an engine, be some support," she explained. "We want to highlight, elevate, facilitate collaboration and connection."

The effort focuses on six milestones for success: entering school ready to learn, reading at grade level by third grade, graduating from high school, completing post-secondary education or training, making sure all youth out of school are employed and making sure they remain safe from violent crime.

Vice chair and lead for the first two milestones Dr. Steve Simpson said that starts with enriching home environments. "I've encountered many parents who didn't like school when they were in school," Simpson said. "School is not important to them, so they don't push it to their child."

Marcus Williams is a lead for the employment milestone. He said when it comes to entering the workforce, child care can be a big barrier.

"I have a personal friend of mine who's a single mom, who every time she gets a job, she goes through the process, she is told, 'We're going to start you on midnights.' And that creates a problem for the lack of 24/7 daycare facilities that we have," Williams said.

My Brother's Keeper aims to address those issues by building connections, collecting data and advocating with legislators for policy changes. So far, more than 50 organizations have joined in the effort, including schools, law enforcement and local government.

Edgewater Health has been designated the "backbone" organization, serving as the fiscal agent. Indiana University Northwest plans to help with data analysis, with the goal of eventually launching a data portal.

Purdue Extension educator and another lead for the employment milestone, Jose G. (Lupe) Valtierra, said the goal isn't to reinvent the wheel but to strengthen it. "We need to be methodical," Valtierra said. "We can't have 27 things going on by 27 different organizations. We need to come together and strengthen our capacity."

Currently, Lake County is one of more than 100 communities in the My Brother's Keeper Leadership Network. The next step is to get it certified in the program, which Dr. Karen Bishop Morris estimates could take another two months.

A summit is planned for May 15 at IU Northwest. That will include meeting with potential stakeholders in the morning and with youth in the afternoon. That, in turn, will be used to develop a local action plan.

Karen Bishop Morris My Brother's Keeper
Michael Gallenberger
Lakeshore Public Media
My Brother's Keeper Lake County Vice Chair Dr. Karen Bishop Morris speaks during a press conference on April 9.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.