The mayor met the young boy as she arrived at the Gary, Indiana Boys and Girls Club to lead a team in the “celebrity” basketball game celebrating the organization as a local provider of afterschool and out-of-school-time programs. He told her, “I want to tell you something later.”
The theme for the evening was “Don’t Be a Bully, Be a Star,” and in addition to the basketball game and other festivities included a talk with the gathered young people about bullying,
Later came, and young Bobby sought out Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who also serves as president of the National League of Cities, to share his story. He’d been a victim of a bully that very day, having been beaten-up at school.
She realized in the moment that there were any number of adults at the game Bobby could have spoken with about the incident.
But for this child, it was important that his mayor heard his voice.
“The fact that I was the mayor, and he thought that there was something that I could do – and more importantly that there was an interest that I would have on him not being bullied – made a tremendous difference,” the Gary mayor told attendees on April 10, at the Mott Foundation’s 2019 50 State Afterschool Network meeting.
For Mayor Freeman-Wilson, this goes much deeper than taking part in a celebrity basketball game put on by a local afterschool program provider or joining the city’s middle schoolers in canoes on Lake Michigan during the annual Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile visit.
Through her long association with the National League of Cities (NLC), the mayor has internalized one of its Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ mantras – “When Children and Families Thrive, Cities Thrive!”
The YEF Institute has worked closely with the Mott Foundation for nearly 20 years to develop robust afterschool networks in every state in the nation, Mayor Freeman-Wilson pointed out. Together NLC and the Mott Foundation have worked with mayors, city councilmembers and other local leaders to build high-quality afterschool systems and providers across the nation.
By keeping the needs of children and their families a central focus when reviewing and developing city programs and policies, the mayor told the attendees at the Mott Foundation meeting, it is easy to see how city-supported afterschool programs can be integral parts of local priorities and policies, including:
Given the incessant competing demands city officials face, Mayor Freeman-Wilson told the audience, if they want to garner the support of their local elected leaders it is best to frame their arguments within issues these officials understand like public safety and economic development.
Explain to local leaders how it benefits the city and give them options for supporting afterschool programs, she said.
“Find out what we’re interested in,” she said. “Like the Boys and Girls Club program – I came up with it when I heard there was a contest to drive people to the Boys and Girls Club. So, I just happened to reach out to them.
“You’ll find that if you have this agenda or menu of items that a mayor can choose from, you can get them to choose. And they’ll say, ‘Well, I can do this, and I can do this. But I can’t do the other things.’ There will be some of us who will say, ‘We’re going to do all of these things, and here’s my designated person to handle it.’”
It is incumbent on city officials to cultivate deep relationships with local afterschool providers and other stakeholders like the local school district, like she has done in Gary with the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA, the mayor said.
Equally important is for those officials to have strong relationships with state afterschool networks and state lawmakers and agency officials. The mayor noted that a good deal of funding for these types of programs comes from state governments.
“It is important that work in every community be coordinated at the state level, and then of course at the national level,” Mayor Freeman-Wilson said. “That’s why I think relationships matter so much.”
In the end for Mayor Freeman-Wilson it boils down to the responsibility to ensure children and youth have the local supports, services and opportunities they need in their communities to find success as adults.
“That is the biggest contribution that we can make as local leaders,” she said. “Helping young people to understand that we care. We care about whether they thrive. We care about whether they succeed or fail. And that our expectation, and what we’re willing to help them do is to achieve their wildest dreams.”
Connect with your state afterschool network here.
To learn more about NLC’s afterschool and out-of-school time initiatives contact Manager Bela Shah Spooner at (202) 626-3057 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Todd Allen Wilson is the Senior Staff Writer at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.