Rudy McCollum 

"We stepped it up in a major way," he says. The mayor points to the city's summer jobs program, which placed 1,000 kids in part-time jobs this year. Last year, the program placed only 400 students in jobs, a marked improvement. McCollum says that's just the tip of the iceberg,

"You look around, you've got after-school programs, we've got Team Up Richmond, which is a joint academic and athletic effort. … and the work we have been doing with Richmond First Tee, the golf program for summer youth."

Jobs, McCollum says, are key. He says the city is working hard to encourage small businesses to develop apprenticeship trades through a special program at the Richmond Technical Center. Also, Richmond is creating a healthy job market through many of its big construction projects. Many teens are finding good construction jobs, he says — not just in Richmond, but also abroad.

"It's not so much the bricks and mortar part of it but what it takes to get it done," McCollum says. "We're talking about $3 billion in development [downtown], and that means jobs. … You've got to create the market, the environment to make it happen."

McCollum says the city also is working to establish entrepreneurial programs for inner-city youth, and is working closely with the city's teen centers.

But McCollum adds that discounting the role of a new performing arts center in helping the city's at-risk youth would be a mistake.

"It's important for a community to be able to support young people who have all kinds of skills," he says. "One of the things that I think is in fact overlooked are young people who have creative talents. Arts programs in the schools and first-class, state-of-the-art venues for young people hopefully inspire them as well as provide opportunities for them."

Still, there is work to do, McCollum says. Getting a handle on the city's high crime rate will require acknowledging that a high concentration of wayward, young black males are in desperate need of help.

"We need to do more to provide opportunities to support and encourage our young people," he says, "but most importantly our young black males."

The candidates...

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