joseph_kelley_web_1.jpgWhile many of their friends were uncertain about what they would do during the long, hot summer, Khalil Brantley, 8, Jay’Juan Craig, 9, and Tarron Mays, 9,  knew exactly what they were going to do.

They were going to receive a head start on their academic work for the new school year.

The boys were enrolled in the Opa-locka Youth Employment Initiative (OYEI).

Friday, Aug. 20, they were among more than 50 youths hosted at a luncheon honoring businesses that made it possible for them to be in a safe space during the months they were away from school.

Mayor  Joseph L. Kelley launched the program in 2007 as a way of dealing with youth employment. In its inaugural year, more than 25 youths were partnered with businesses that hired them directly or provided funding for them to be employed at city departments.

More than $28,000 was raised for the program. This year, the amount rose to $22,000, said Christina Gordon, the city’s media coordinator.

Friday, the youths were eager to talk about their experiences.

Juan’Jay was thrilled to learn about Martin L. King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech.

“He was a minister,” Juan’Jay said, adding that King was a civil rights and human rights leader who “had a dream that little white girls and little black boys would one day walk together and hold hands.”

Juan’Jay said he also enjoyed his math and science classes during the summer program.

Khalil said he liked the reading segment best of all, but he also liked learning about King.

“I feel bad he had to die,” Khalil said. “He helped change the laws of segregation.”

Taron, a future football star, said he too liked his math classes.

The three boys were part of OYEI’s Talented 10 program. They were too young to be hired by businesses but with the money some companies provided, tutors were hired to help them with their class work.

As the boys spoke, Kelley watched and listened intently.  It was for youths such as they that the program was started, he said.

“This initiative is a partnership between local businesses and the youth of the city,” Kelley said. “The businesses hire the youths or contribute funds for summer jobs and we place them in various positions.”

Many children in the city do not have anything to do to keep them positively occupied during summer, the mayor said. The program not only gives the older youths much-needed job training; it also helps the younger ones keep up academically.

The luncheon, he said, was the city’s way of recognizing the businesses that help.

In helping the older youths and by giving them jobs to help them learn skills to be later gainfully employed, the business community has “bought into the idea,” the mayor said.

Malik Smith, 15, a 10th grader at New World School of the Arts, worked with youths at the Cook Kids Summer Camp.

“I had to set up camp in the morning and at the day’s end I had to help break it down. But what helped me most was often I had to serve as a mediator, helping to settle conflicts. That helped me a lot in the human relations department,” Malik said.

For Jesus Hernandez, 18, the program allowed him to gain insight into how “unselfish” were the people who run the program.

“They always put the kids first,” Hernandez said. “They taught me something.  I want to be a giver and give back to the community.”

He wants to attended Florida A&M University in Talalhassee or Bethune-Cookman University  in Daytona Beach after graduating in the spring from Hialeah Miami Lakes High School.

For state Rep. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami, a guest at the lunchen, the initiative was a “great way to bring business and government together to help our children.”

It was “a good example of how the two can come together and make our community whole,” Braynon said.

Pictured Above:   Mayor Joseph Kelley