From right: Eric Curry III and Jessica Smith ask D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Kevon King of Village Cafe DC questions during a livestream on Jan. 30. (Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah)
From right: Eric Curry III and Jessica Smith ask D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Kevon King of Village Cafe DC questions during a livestream on Jan. 30. (Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah)

With the registration portal for the 2023 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) now open, thousands of young people can apply for public and private sector jobs that pay an hourly rate slightly higher than what was offered in years past. 

In July, wages for the oldest group of summer youth employees will increase from $16.10 per hour to $17 per hour. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) mentioned the salary increase during a recent event commemorating MBSYEP’s launch and described the program as an impetus for young people who want to lead positive lives.

“We are pouring into young people and we also never want to forget that we have thousands of young people doing the right thing,” Bowser said Monday at the Village Cafe DC in Northeast. 

“[Ways to] keep a young person occupied is one way to keep them out of trouble and being surrounded by positive adults and earning some money,” she continued. “That’s why we work hard to design an engaging program to help them grow and help them earn money.” 

An hour before the 2023 MBSYEP registration portal opened, Bowser and Kevon King, MBSYEP alumnus and owner of Village Cafe DC, appeared on a livestream hosted by Jessica Smith and Eric Curry III, two District high school students who’ve been enrolled in the Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program. 

During the livestream, Jessica and Eric asked questions about their adolescent work experiences, lessons they learned while navigating their career fields and the importance of career opportunities like what MBSYEP provides. They conducted the podcast before an audience that included former District first lady Cora Masters Barry, Department of Employment Services Director Unique Morris-Hughes, D.C. Council members Kenyan McDuffie (I-At large) and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and D.C. Youth Mayor Lourdes Robinson. 

This year, MBSYEP will mostly consist of in-person assignments. Youth between 14 and 24 years old have until March 10 to submit applications with their preferred work assignments. They will also need proof of residency, age and parental consent, along with other documentation. 

Last summer, wages for all age groups slightly increased. However, because of their designation as work readiness trainees, District residents under the age of 18 won’t receive an hourly wage on par with the District’s minimum wage. Young people ages 14 and 15 years now S6.25 per hour while youth between the ages of 16 and 21 earn $9 per hour.

Last academic year, students at Anacostia High School in Southeast launched a campaign for higher wages. They recorded a video and wrote letters to Bowser and members of the D.C. Council, including then-Council member Elissa Silverman, who chaired the council’s Labor Committee.

When asked about the campaign and budget considerations this year, Bowser only alluded to the wage increases for the adult MBSYEP participants. Bowser’s office didn’t respond to an email about whether she’s including significant wage increases for work readiness trainees in her budget proposal. 

Since its 1979 inception, MBSYEP has provided weeks of work experience for teens and young adults during the summer. Young District residents also get to take part in the Mayor Marion S. Barry Youth Leadership Institute, through which they can learn about leadership and self-development throughout the entire year. 

Over the last couple of years, Jessica and Eric have sharpened their media skills in the Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program. They’ve interviewed D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), television news reporters Wisdom Martin and Allison Seymour, along with other public figures. 

They have also enjoyed partnerships with WPGC 95.5 FM, National Public Radio and DC Interscholastic Athletic Association, all as part of what Jessica calls a chance to improve her material conditions and be an example to others. 

“This is the culture of Black journalism. I want to create the capacity to help others. This is a means of stability and an opportunity for generational wealth,” said Jessica, a junior at Jackson-Reed High School in Northwest.  She joined the Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program in 2020 .

Eric, who joined the Deanwood Radio Broadcast Journalism Program in 2021, called the internship a stepping stone to launching his own film production company. 

“Youth should have more of these experiences [to] know how to be on time and deal with coworkers,” Eric said. “[As a film producer], I want to hire Black men and women to shift the culture… SYEP and Deanwood Radio Broadcast Journalism Program are giving me the knowledge to move in this industry and conduct myself in a certain manner.” 

In her remarks, Masters Barry explained how her late husband’s adolescent work experiences, or lack thereof, in Memphis inspired him to create a situation where all District youth could have a job during the summer. 

“As mayor, Marion Barry sat down with a group of people, including me, about how to get young people employed,” Masters Barry said. “He said we could give every young person a job who wanted it. This is the best program in the country and it’s modeled and copied all over the country.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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