2 teen boys were arrested while selling water. Now they’ve inspired an entrepreneurship program

Cincinnati’s summer jobs program is expanding into a year-round youth career program, including an entrepreneurship path inspired by the viral arrest of two Black teens in June. The Career Pathways program is funded by $1 million approved in the last city budget. Mayor Aftab Pureval says it’s focused on racial […]

Cincinnati’s summer jobs program is expanding into a year-round youth career program, including an entrepreneurship path inspired by the viral arrest of two Black teens in June.

The Career Pathways program is funded by $1 million approved in the last city budget. Mayor Aftab Pureval says it’s focused on racial equity.

“And in order to create wealth and opportunity, we can’t just look at youth jobs, but rather youth careers, so that folks have an opportunity to build their resume and step into a job right after high school if that’s what they wish, or be better prepared for a two-year technical school or a four-year college education,” Pureval said.

The program has three pathways. The first is most similar to the city’s current youth jobs program, focusing on summer employment like lifeguarding, police and fire cadets, and the city’s Y2WK program (Youth 2 Work). The expansion includes frequent contact with a career mentor, and assistance with “emotional or physical barrier removal,” like transportation.

The second pathway is a new program for recent high school graduates. It offers training to prepare for careers with the city or partnering organizations. The city is partnering with Cincinnati Public Schools, Dhon High School, Ohio Means Jobs and Cincinnati Works.

Officials say this program is designed to give youth strong resumes by the time they leave school. For example, young people working with Groundwork Ohio River Valley — a longtime partner on youth jobs — can complete industry certifications needed for entry-level environmental jobs or higher education:

  • Clean Water Certification
  • ISA Arborist training
  • EPA’s Qualified Data Collector (for water quality)
  • Ohio Trained Service person (for horticulture)
  • First Aid, OSHA 30, and financially literacy

Groundwork will continue offering summer jobs but will now expand to year-round employment, starting with a fall program focused on urban tree canopy planting.

Four teens stand between two adults, all wearing t-shirts that say Groundwork Ohio River Valley

Teens who just completed a youth job program at Groundwork Ohio River Valley, including Aara’Niya Thomas (second from right).

Sixteen-year-old Aara’Niya Thomas just finished this summer’s program with Groundwork, in addition to working two jobs doing nails and hair.

“I loved being around nature every day. I didn’t know I loved (it) until I was around it,” Thomas said. “Even me waking up early, it helped me with mental health, it helped me just look forward to something.”

Thomas says she wants to join the Cincinnati Fire Department youth cadet program next summer.

Lastly, an entrepreneurship pathway will help young people build and launch a business plan. Although the youth jobs expansion has been in the works for months, this aspect wasn’t added until recently, after a video of CPD arresting two Black teens was posted to social media at the end of June.

The boys were detained while selling bottled water to drivers at a Reading Road intersection. CPD officers said the teens were causing safety problems and didn’t obey instructions to stay out of the street.

Fifteen-year-old Mekhi Kemper was there.

A young Black man in a grey blazer stands at a podium in front of several people

Mekhi Kemper (15) is president of Brothers in Motion, a business selling bottled water to drivers.

“It was a regular day selling water; something big happened with the police,” Kemper said. “I seen a lot happening, I went across the street, and two of my friends got arrested.”

Cincinnati Police charged Kemper’s friends with resisting arrest and obstructing official business. WVXU could not confirm whether the charges against the 14-year-old and 15-year-old arrested that day have been dropped.

The group of water sellers later met with the City Manager’s Office and started Brothers in Motion to expand their business. Kemper is president.

“Basically, we all want to be entrepreneurs in a different way, we just never had nobody to help us or really pay attention,” he said.

The entrepreneurship track is a partnership with CEAI and Woodward High School. Participants will go through training, mentorship, and wrap around services. The city will offer peddlers licenses for water sellers like Brothers in Motion.

Youth in all pathways will be connected with career mentors and professional development training.

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