By Lynda L. Jones
It was less than one year ago when Career Youth Development (CYD) announced the retirement of Charles “Butch” Walton due to illness and the appointment of James Ferguson as its new executive director. In Sept, 2013, Ferguson was fired by members of the CYD Board.
How did CYD get here?
In a letter dated, Feb. 12, 2013 signed by Walton and Atty. Barbara Franks, chairwoman of the board of CYD to the Milwaukee Common Council, the organization expressed its excitement over the positive changes that CYD was embarking on with Ferguson at the lead.
An excerpt from the letter stated, ‘James Ferguson has been promoted to Executive Director.
James comes to us by way of Marquette University Law School where he focused on Nonprofit & Criminal Law.
He has extensive background in law & public policy through his experience professionally on Capitol Hill assisting Congresswoman Gwen Moore, in the Office of Governor Jim Doyle and Marquette’s Office of Public Affairs. Additionally, he has worked in Administration at a number of non profits both locally and outside of our state.
James brings to us a unique set of skills derived from both his professional and academic experiences which will serve him well in this new role.
What I like most about Mr. Ferguson is that he is a true public servant. I can’t think of a more quality candidate to lead my mother and grandmother’s legacy into a new era of success and service.’
Ferguson shared the excitement of the appointment, and sat down with The Courier, a few weeks before the official announcement to express how much he admired Walton, and appreciated his mentoring over the years.
Ferguson wanted to wait to announce the changes, until there was a proper send off for Walton. A retirement celebration was held for Walton on May 4, 2013.
Ferguson, at 26 years old took on the challenge of leading CYD during a time when the organization was facing many challenges.
Yet, it did not deter him from taking it on, because as he said, “I love CYD, and I want them to be successful.”
One of his first accomplishments was holding a Founder’s Day Luncheon on June 21, 2013 to commemorate CYD’s founders, Jeanetta Robinson and Mother Simpson along with honoring two faithful longtime supporters of CYD, The Helen Bader Foundation and Dr. Andrew Ward of MATC.
Ferguson also was able to grow CYD’s budget by more than $200,000 by expanding the organization’s contract with MPS.
He concentrated on developing professional development for staff, where staff members had the opportunity to attend outside conferences and workshops.
And he was also able to broker a partnership with Manpower that was geared toward professional development for the youth that CYD serves.
There had never been a relationship with CYD and Manpower before.
According to program reports submitted to the city of Milwaukee, CYD had increased its average daily attendance to 36 youth being served daily.
That was up from zero youth being served just prior to Ferguson taking office.
Several sources have reported that the number of youth served by CYD has once again flatlined. These rumors seem to have been substantiated by Fox News who recently noted an “empty lobby” during a daytime interview with CYD’s Board Chair, Barbara Franks.
Also in the same FOX News report, one of the youth that the organization serves, Donovan Harris stated in reference to Ferguson being fired, “It’s not right.
Why would you remove somebody in the middle of something they got going on with people…we built a family at CYD.”
Now, with the departure of Ferguson several youth services have been suspended for now.
Many of the youth are saying, “They do not care about us.”
Atty. Barbara Franks was asked to make a statement on behalf of CYD for the purpose of this article, she was also asked several questions, one being, “Can you shed some light on the allegations, that the decision to terminate Ferguson was made without full board support and that there was not a quorum to hold the vote?”
Franks did not answer that question at all.
Franks did respond however in reference to the resignation of board members and Ferguson, she stated, “The members who remain on the Board knew Jeannetta personally and were invited to serve on the Board by Jeannetta herself. Neither James Ferguson nor any of the individuals that he recruited to the Board and who we voted onto the Board at his request had the benefit of working side-by-side with Jeannetta for decades as have those of us who remain. Some, including James, never even knew her.”
She also added, “I also wonder what the purpose of writing a newspaper article on the departure of James Ferguson from CYD will accomplish.
No one person is bigger than the legacy of CYD— the legacy that Jeannetta Robinson devoted her entire life to, right up until the moment she left this Earth.
And even you, yourself know that every individual who may be hired in good faith to lead an organization— any organization– is not entitled to lifetime tenure despite insurmountable issues.”
CYD’s signature annual event, The Image Awards was also canceled this year, and Franks said, “It is regrettable that it was necessary to cancel the Image Awards this year in part due to this transition in leadership.
However, it would have been irresponsible of us to have continued under these circumstances.”
Other than using the terms “insurmountable issues” and “circumstances” Franks fails to shed any light on the reason behind the dismissal of Ferguson.
She added that, “The Board is working very hard to hire an individual who will be a good fit for the organization and who will have the skills and dedication to take CYD to the next level.”
Again, what is the good fit?
Someone associated with CYD, who did not want to be named for this article said that, “The Board of CYD needs to remember that serving our youth is the mission of this organization.
CYD must answer to the community that it is suppose to serve, and that community needs to be informed.
That is the purpose of this article.
It is not about James Ferguson as an individual, it is about the work and programs that were being implemented, where the youth benefited.
And a pre-requisite for participating with CYD should not be if you marched or you knew Jeannetta, as long as you know what the mission of the organization that she and Mother Simpson started was and is about.”