City celebrates south St. Pete youth

Last month, the City of St. Petersburg celebrated the Cohort of Champions and other My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper successes at the third annual Celebrating Champions: A My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper Event at the Coliseum.

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The Kriseman administration gave themselves a huge pat on the back for making a difference with the youths in south St. Pete with their My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper (MBSK) initiative, which is going into its fourth year.

In 2015, President Barrack Obama launched the MBSK initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and to ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. The City of St. Petersburg joined this initiative but took it a step further by including young females.

In 2016, MBSK launched its signature program called the Cohort of Champions (COC), which is a youth training initiative that offers support by way of educational, entrepreneurial, workforce and enrichment training opportunities for young African-American males ages 12-24.

The city works with nonprofit community organizations to connect young people to mentoring, support networks and teach the skills necessary to start a career or go to college or technical school. Through workshops, cohort members gain real-life experiences, learn how to implement real-world business principles and gain an understanding of the importance of serving the community.

Last month, the city celebrated COC and other MBSK successes at the third annual Celebrating Champions: A My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper Event at the Coliseum.

“Tonight we celebrate the Cohort of Champions graduates who are moving on to do what I am confident will be great things,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman. “I want you to know that this whole city is proud of you.”

He went on to encouraged the youth by telling them to keep moving forward no matter what obstacles they may face.

“Don’t let anyone try to take away your dreams for the future because what I know is that each of you has the potential that is only limited by your imagination and willingness to pursue it.”

Urban Affairs Director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart said COC is a unique program that is “unprecedented” in the city’s history.

Programs under the MBSK umbrella:

  • The Not My Son initiative is a grassroots community outreach marketing campaign and intervention effort to assist African-American male youth and young adults. The primary goal is to promote positive achievement and anti-crime awareness.
  • The Youth Development Grant program supports local nonprofits that service at-risk youth. Launched in 2018, the city has rewarded more than $450K to 50 organizations with programs that have served hundreds of youths.
  • Just Girls Talk Conferences started three years ago, and this spring will have the largest girls’ conference in the Bay area with more than 600 young ladies from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. With the success of the conferences, they are currently pulling together a year-round afterschool COC for girls.
  • Sister’s Kin-nect allows the MBSK initiative to connect with women in the community who can mentor young ladies.

Capehart shared COC data that proves the program is making a difference in the community. With wraparound services offered to COC family members, 212 champions and parents have completed career skills training with 81 certifications gained and 72 jobs obtain or new businesses started.

Twenty-nine champions have moved into intern or externships, 66 have improved their GPAs and 12 have gone off to college or the military. To date, there have been 127 families who have accessed the program.

Patrick Jones has been a COC participant for three years. He said he has been greatly influenced and exposed to new experiences.  He’s working on starting his own business with the skills he learned in the program.

Keyandra Robinson has undergone a great deal of trauma in his short life. By becoming a COC, he’s been placed on the path to success. He was onstage to encourage other youth to stay strong.

“I don’t care what you’re going through; I don’t care what troubles you’re facing, never give up.”

Also celebrated were Youth Farm participants. The City of St. Petersburg, along with Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas Education Foundation, partnered to bring urban farming to south St. Pete. Last summer, 15 youths participated in a six-week-long paid employment opportunity.

They heard from guest speakers about financial literacy, food systems, health and nutrition. They visited local farms throughout the city and learned from experts about the benefits of locally grown food.

Today, the Youth Farm is 30 students strong. They are involved in every aspect of developing a co-op farm, from site design to marketing. This school year, the students started a pilot farm at Pinellas Technical College while they continue to design the farm that will be located at the Enoch Davis Center.

No celebration is complete without music and dancing. After COC participants, city staff, community partners and volunteers paraded down the runway of praise, Mayor Kriseman dusted off his DJ skills and took to the wheels of steel in an old school versus new school challenge with DJ Wynn and Howard Word from WTMP.

COC is an ongoing open enrollment program. For additional information, visit stpete.org/MBSK, follow the city’s social media pages, or contact the Urban Affairs Department at 727-893-7885.

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