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A New Decade of Promise and Opportunity
A New Decade of Promise and Opportunity
Posted on 01/01/2020
Mayor Jim Strickland
Swearing-in Ceremony
January 1, 2020 — Rose Theater, University of Memphis

Four years ago, on this very day, I was sworn-in as your mayor. As it was then, and has been every day since—it is the honor of my professional life. 

I want to thank the people of Memphis for the faith you have placed in me to serve for another four years. I am truly humbled by the responsibility you have given me.

Most importantly, I want to thank my wife, Melyne. Your compassion and generosity as an individual and as an ambassador for the city never ceases to amaze me. Thank you to my children James and Kathleen for your patience and support, and for always making me proud.

I want to thank my parents, Judy and Jim, for the values that have guided me throughout my life.

I thank the outgoing City Council for the partnerships to improve city services, grow economic development, and improve the quality of life for all Memphians.

I want to congratulate the members of the new City Council; we have much to do, and I look forward to working with you as we tackle the tough challenges that lie ahead.

To our administration team—know that you are the best and the brightest. Thank you for agreeing to serve, and know that I am grateful for the commitment and sacrifices you make every single day for our city.

Four years ago, we ran to change how city government operated, and we didn’t waste any time. We went to work, and have laid a strong foundation for a new way forward as we move into a new decade of promise and opportunity for our city.

Over the last 4 years, we’ve experienced:

• Billions in private sector investment. 
• We have an unemployment rate through October of 2019 at an historic low of 4%--the 32nd consecutive month at under 6%.
• Nearly 20,000 more Memphians are working today than in 2016.
• We have an animal shelter that’s been recognized as a top 5 shelter in the nation.
• We have a fire and EMS operation that just received a national award for excellence and was recently certified as an I-S-O 1 department (the highest rating possible), putting us in the top 1 percent of fire departments in the nation.
• We have a Metro Alarms office that reduced false alarms by more than 20% in less than 1 year.
• We have a 911 system that exceeds the national standards for answer, dispatch, and response times.
• We have a finance department that has received awards for excellence in budgeting for 15 years in a row.
• We have a library system that has increased participation in programs by 400% in 4 years.
• We are a City that has fully funded the yearly pension cost for ALL of our employees for the first time since 2006.
• For the first time ever, our Solid Waste employees have a retirement system equal to all other city employees.

• For too long, the City of Memphis helped subsidize its own population loss by allowing sewer taps to new developments outside city limits in unincorporated Shelby County and in Mississippi. We put an end to that practice. We’re putting more focus on building up and not out as called for through our long-range plan—Memphis 3.0.

• We launched the Memphis Community Catalyst Fund — a dedicated, renewing source of money to make infrastructure improvements in key areas of neighborhoods, like the recent Tillman Cove Apartments demolition.

• We launched the Affordable Housing Trust Fund which uses grants and loans to fund new construction and rehab of multifamily homes, as well as minor home repair and rehabilitation of single family homes for those who qualify. And, we recently awarded over $900,000 to eight local agencies.

• When we came into office, police recruiting had been nearly non-existent, and we were feeling the negative effects of it. We improved the pay, benefits and promotions and restructured the recruiting efforts. As a result, we have been retaining and recruiting more officers. Fortunately, we have hired 769 police officers in our four years, added 105 PSTs and have 38 recruits in the academy now. We are continuing the long-term work of rebuilding MPD. Sometime after I became Mayor, we bottomed out at close to 1,900 officers. Now, we’re back to nearly 2100, but still need hundreds more to effectively get the job done.

• Last year, Bloomberg News said Memphis had the No. 1 job growth rate of any metro area in 2018, and our wage growth the past three years is on par with counties that contain cities like Charlotte and Atlanta — and actually ahead of Dallas, Nashville, and Houston.

• We were recognized as one of the best run Cities in America by What Works Cities earning a silver of only 13 cities in America with this distinction.

• And just last month, we made the Forbes: U.S. Travel: 25 Best Places to Visit in 2020.

On October 3rd of last year, we received a mandate from the citizens of Memphis to keep that kind of momentum going strong. We are committed to continuing to 
• Retain and recruit police officers and firefighters
• Improving core city services, like paving more roads
• Enhancing the lives of Memphians, and
• Creating more jobs.

In short, we will continue to accelerate the momentum we have in city government and in the city as a whole.

Mayor Strickland InaugurationMemphis is a city filled with opportunities. 
But, as I stand here today, I fully realize that we still have so much work to do, and not everyone is able to take advantage of them.

If we want the decade to be one of promise and opportunity, we must reach out to those who are isolated or disconnected from opportunity.

Our goal must be to accelerate our momentum as a city, and at the same time, connect those Memphians detached from that momentum.

 In my second term, I want you to know that I do not and will not take this responsibility lightly. We are just getting started.

Four years ago, I said “In the shadows of so much promise, in the recess of our mind, nearly half of all children in Memphis are growing up in poverty.  Let it be known, in the eyes of this Mayor and this administration, they are not a lost cause.”   

I’m here to tell you today that, again, our young people are not a lost cause.  

Our young people are our most precious asset and the future of this City.  

City government, and you the community, are doing more for our youth than four years ago. But, we all must do even more. You are needed, and you can make a real difference.
There are three groups of people I think we should target and lift up—who in turn will lift up our city and improve all our lives.

1.) Children in Pre-Kindergarten through 3rd grade
2.) Opportunity Youth—16-24 years old, not in school and not working
3.) Adults with criminal records looking for a much needed second chance

1. Early Childhood Literacy

Three years ago, I issued a call to action to our community asking each person to volunteer to do at least one of three things—mentor a child, help a child learn to read, and adopt a block to pick up litter.

This year, I’m focusing the call to action on the one thing that can have the most long-term beneficial impact on Memphis—early childhood literacy.

Let me lay out facts, many of which you know, that define our challenge.

From an economic standpoint, Memphis has the highest child poverty rate in the nation for large cities. 44 percent of our children live in poverty.

Students in low-income communities are, on average, three grade levels behind their peers in affluent communities by the 4th grade. 

Only 25 percent of all 3rd graders in public schools in Memphis read at 3rd grade level.

Low-income students are five times more likely to drop out of school.

Of all the students who graduate from public high school in Memphis, less than 20 percent are college ready.

That is our challenge—but we have an opportunity for all Memphians to be a part of the solution: Arise2Read or Team Read.

Volunteers with each group spend one hour per week with one or two second graders helping them learn to read. And, the results are remarkable.

According to Arise2read, in the 2018-2019 school year, they supported 1,255 students.  Their end-of-the-year test results revealed an average gain of 324 words which represents an average of just over three grade levels of growth.  

To put it another way, test results at the beginning of school showed only 20% of their students were reading grade level.  Their end-of-the-year test results demonstrated a 247% increase in the number of second graders reading on grade level.

As those numbers demonstrate, this program is truly amazing and will be transformative for our city’s future. 
With that being said, reading is the #1 key to unlock the door to opportunity and combat poverty. 

As proof, children in poverty who are reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade have an 89% graduation rate from high school.

Programs like Arise2Read are absolutely essential. But, we need more volunteers—we need you. If you have any questions about this program, please ask my wife Melyne. She is in her 3rd year as an Arise2Read volunteer at Dunbar Elementary and is a witness to its positive effects.
From a City government standpoint, we’ve worked extremely hard to do our part.

We have added literacy education to spring and summer camps. Most importantly, we initiated what has become a community-wide effort that will result in free, universal needs-based Pre-K for the first time in our history. 

Together, community volunteers and city government can help Shelby County Schools, teachers and parents increase that 25 percent 3rd grade reading level.

2. Older children and Opportunity Youth

Our administration and the City Council agreed four years ago that we must give our young people something productive to do when they are not in school. Over the last four years we’ve made summer camps free at community centers.

We created and made free spring break camps.
We’ve increased City youth summer jobs by nearly 90 percent and our year-long Ambassador program by 40 percent.

We introduced staffed summer play at 20 of our parks after its absence for decades, and we have doubled the number of teens taking part in library programs.

Having said all that, we’re still largely missing an important segment of young people. In 2015, Memphis was said by one national study to have the highest percentage of “opportunity youth” of any city in the country.

Again, opportunity youth are young people between 16 – 24 years old, out of school, and chronically unemployed. These young people are largely not being reached by our traditional means, and we must do more if we’re going to help them change course. 

By increasing the literacy rate among current 3rd graders—more will stay in school—more will graduate—more will get a job. By doing this, we will have fewer opportunity youth in the future, and it will lower the numbers of those living a life of poverty.

But, we must try to better reach our current opportunity youth.

3. There is another group that we cannot forget—those individuals who have served time for a criminal offense and either have been or soon will be released.

Our administration and the City Council created two re-entry programs—one for men (Manhood University) and one for women (Women Offering Women Support). Individuals who want to turn their lives around go through a six-week course, and we work to place them in a job. Several hundred individuals have graduated and many have found meaningful employment.

We must substantially improve what our community does for young people and for those who need second chances if we want better outcomes. Here’s the great part. We have thousands of jobs right now paying livable wages, and thanks to state government, we have free job training in the form of free community college and tech school. That’s why I call Memphis an opportunity city, and we created the website

The challenge is connecting opportunity youth and those who need a second chance to these available jobs and programs.

Currently, there are around 120,000 people in Memphis that have dropped out of high school and have no degree.
 That’s why today, I’m announcing the creation of the Public Service Corps.

This new pilot program will provide part-time work to men and women 18 years and older that have gone through our Manhood and WOWS programs. 

The inaugural Public Service Corps class will consist of 25 individuals that will be paid to work part-time to help clean up trash and blight around our city. 

In order to participate and be in good standing, members of the Corps must be working towards their degree or certificate because this program is not meant to be long-term, but a spring board to a career in a good paying job. Southwest Tennessee Community College, Moore Tech, the Excel Center, and Tennessee College of Applied Technologies have signed on as our partners. 

We plan to extend the program to opportunity youth. And, my goal is that in two years’ time, we will have hundreds of people participating in the program, furthering their education, and giving hope and a second chance to so many in our community who need it. 

Now, I’ll be the first to say this is not a cure-all for all our tough issues—but it’s a start. It’s a steady job with a regular paycheck and an opportunity to do meaningful work while also furthering their education and starting a career. I’m excited to kick-off this opportunity, and look forward to growing its capacity as time goes on.
The work of improving literacy and connecting the disconnected to job training opportunities and available jobs will not be easy.

Third grade literacy and people being disconnected or isolated have been present for a long time, which is why crime and poverty have been challenges in Memphis for decades.

This work will require all of us:

• City government
• County government
• State government 
• Shelby County Schools
• Tech schools and community colleges
• Parents and families
• Community volunteers, and
• The children and adults we are serving—there must be some personal responsibility on their parts.
But, I’m convinced, that together we can tackle these challenges.

I do believe that our long-range plan for every neighborhood in our city, Memphis 3.0, will help enable progress throughout our community. And, Transit Vision, the public plan from Memphis 3.0 calling for more investment into MATA, is essential to fully making our opportunities of job training and jobs available for all.

Thank you county leaders for your support of Transit Vision and support for public transit for the first time ever.

In my office at City Hall, I have a poster board from a community meeting we had at Lester Community Center nearly 11 years ago when I was still on the council. It’s a simple message (though not simply achieved) but nonetheless, a simple message.

The poster board reads:
“Achievable Dream for our Neighborhood: 
A neighborhood where we can leave our doors unlocked,
A neighborhood where every house and building is repaired, and painted, 
A neighborhood where at least 80 percent of our children graduate from college,
A neighborhood where a drug dealer is not a major occupational choice for our youth,
A neighborhood where our seniors are not afraid to come outside,
And a neighborhood filled with so much love that when a neighbor needs some sugar—we give it to them.”

What this says to me is that regardless of what neighborhood you come from, what race you are, or what your income level is—at our core—we all want the same things:

A safe neighborhood
A good school for our children
A job with a livable wage
And supportive neighbors

I know we still have a lot work to do to achieve that neighborhood dream. 

But together and with your help, we can make a new way forward as we move into this new decade of promise and opportunity for our city.

Thank you. God bless you all and God bless Memphis.

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