When Mayor Megan Barry took office in Nashville, TN in September 2015, the city’s government had just wrapped up a paid summer internship program for high school students. 50 students took part in the program lead by the Nashville Career Advancement Center in summer of 2015. Shortly after being inaugurated, Mayor Barry convened Nashville’s first Youth Violence Summit due to an uptick in violent crime amongst youth from the previous year. In 2015, Nashville experienced 78 homicides and 50% of the victims were between the ages of 0-24 years old. During the Youth Violence Summit, Nashville youth told Mayor Barry 5 critical truths:
- Youth have no good, consistent role models
- Youth have no power
- Youth have no identity
- Youth are sick (both physically and mentally) and have little access to healthcare
- Youth have no bread (money)
As a result of Nashville’s Youth Violence Summit, Nashville put a lot of focus into key areas affecting youth. Mentorship, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Restorative Justice and Diversion, Re-entry and Rehabilitation are all areas that Nashville is working on improving to help reduce violence amongst youth. There was one thing that Mayor kept hearing over and over again, and that was the need to give youth another economic opportunity as an alternative to criminal activity that leads to violence. Mayor Barry knew that 50 paid internships offered by Metro Government did not truly reflect Nashville’s commitment to improving the lives and opportunity for young people. After a trip to Boston in Spring 2016 and hearing about the summer youth jobs program there, Mayor Barry returned to Nashville and notified her team that her goal was to have 10,000 paid job/internship opportunities for youth between the ages of 14-24 by summer of 2017.
Many saw this goal as aspirational at best, not thinking it realistic to go from offering 50 internships to offering 10,000 internships/jobs in the span of just 2 summers. However the 2016 YALP class from Nashville saw the “opportunity” in Opportunity NOW, the name given to Mayor Barry’s new youth summer employment initiative. While at HBS, the 2016 YALP class from Nashville committed to returning to Nashville and doing whatever it could to help Mayor Barry meet her goal.
Much work has happened between summer of 2016 and now to move Opportunity NOW, or ON, forward. The Nashville Career Advancement Center was designated as the Metro Government agency to house the initiative. Ellen Zinkiewicz was promoted to be the Executive Director of Opportunity NOW. After Mayor Barry passed her first budget in June 2016, Ellen had the resources to put together a 4 person team to design and build the infrastructure to support ON. Then in November of 2016, Mayor Barry officially announced that Opportunity NOW was officially launched and would be operating during the summer of 2016. At the time of the announcement only 1,500 jobs had been secured.
Our YALP team met with Ellen and Ronnie Steine, the Mayor’s Youth Policy consultant, right before the official announcement in November 2016. Although just a small cohort of 10 individuals, our YALP class was ready to support Opportunity NOW to the best of our ability. Our class had many connections to both employers and youth. We saw opportunities to assist by recruiting companies and non-profits to offer jobs. We also saw an opportunity to help recruit students and encourage them to apply for one of the opportunities.
Just a little over a week ago, at the beginning of March, Mayor Barry announced that the application was open for students to start applying for jobs. At that time 7,500 jobs had been secured for the initiative and no one was thinking that Mayor Barry’s goal was aspirational any more. After the first 3 days that the application was opened, 1,100 youth had applied for jobs.
We have a couple of more months to hit the 10,000 job mark, but regardless of whether we hit 10,000 or not, Nashville has already succeeded. We have created a culture where young people are valued and there is a desire to create more opportunity for them to win at life.
Congrats to Nashville!
For more information about Opportunity NOW, please go to our website at www.on.nashville.gov.