Making New Orleans a Child-Centered City
“You can tell the state of a nation by the condition of its children”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we set a vision for our great city, our children must be a top priority. Imagine a city that provides a safe environment where our youth can develop emotionally, mentally and physically. This city would provide a multitude of recreational and academic activities for our youth. Systems would support our youth’s engagement civically and economically in the sustainability and growth of our city. Healthy food options would be available in every neighborhood and educational experiences and exposure activities would be provided to youth to empower them to reach and achieve success despite their socio-economic background. Overall, New Orleans would be a proactive environment meeting the needs of our youth. This is the vision of a child-centered city and our next mayor must wholeheartedly believe and invest in creating it.
We can no longer afford to have New Orleanians make the tough decision to move from our great city because of the lack of health services, safety, jobs, and educational opportunities available for their children. We need a mayor who will commit to diverting and raising resources for the expansion of programs for early childhood education and literacy. We need a leader who is willing to invest money in job creation, vocational training, civics, entrepreneurial training, and mentorship for our youth. We need a visionary who will support the expansion of our youth diversionary and restorative justice programs in coordination with our juvenile court system. We also need a mayor who can inspire the public-private partnerships needed to ensure that the creation of coordinated trauma-informed care and mental health services are made available for our youth and their families.
Only a mayor who is invested in creating a solid infrastructure for our youth by coordinating services and service providers, raising and leveraging funds in support of youth opportunities and early childhood education, investing in policies that positively impact our youth, and supporting the sustainability and expansion of existing effective data-driven youth programming will be successful in creating a child-centered city. Overall, we need a leader who will start building a pipeline of access to opportunity and leadership for our youth.
If we focus our resources on our youth, we can change the trajectory of our city. It is not difficult to imagine a New Orleans where students are consistently prepared for post-secondary education, where the high level of educational attainment attracts new businesses to our thriving city, and where violence and incarceration rates significantly decrease. That vision of our city can only be realized with an intentional focus on our children.
If we want to address the disparities within our city, everybody must pitch in and help. It starts with our youth and we are all responsible. However, we need our mayor, the executive of our city, to be ready to make the investment in our youth and to create a coordinated citywide strategy. The task of caring for the youth of our city cannot fall solely to Orleans Parish School Board and Recovery School District. We need the entire city, early childhood providers, health systems, housing systems, criminal justice systems, social services agencies, business industries, transportation systems, political systems (local, state and national), higher education systems, nonprofit agencies and the K-12 education systems to come together and create an action plan for the development of our youth in this city.
The next mayor of New Orleans must prioritize at least three action items for our children to move our city in the right direction: (1) Invest in early childhood education (0-5-year-old) and literacy, (2) Coordinate a citywide partnership with community leaders, philanthropic organizations, nonprofit agencies, Orleans Parish School Board, Recovery School District, higher education institutions and corporations to ensure that every child in New Orleans is proactively provided access to high-quality education, workforce training, job creation, after school and summer school educational programming, and trauma-informed care and mental health services, and (3) Locate resources to support and expand our juvenile diversionary programming.
We cannot wait until a crisis happens to join hands, instead, we must build partnerships that provide the opportunity for proactive initiatives. Of course, the Orleans Parish School Board will remain dedicated to the education of the youth of New Orleans, but our next mayor must be willing to allocate resources in a manner that ensures that the full needs of our children and their families are addressed.
Our future is directly tied to our children and whether we acknowledge it or not, everything that we do is intended to enhance their development. The truest purpose of our economy, healthcare systems, criminal justice systems, and education systems is to allow more children to grow up safe and develop in healthier ways. There are things that drag children below the waves, and things that keep them afloat. We must provide adequate investments to hold our children up when the tide comes in or else they will be dragged down and ultimately drown, even in shallow water. There is no in between. The next mayor of New Orleans must be fully invested in making our city a child-centered city, our children and the future of New Orleans depends on it.