Defying Expectations and Making a Difference in Ferguson: Darius Luckett

Darius Luckett defies the expectations of many teenagers. This 18-year-old is making a significant difference in the lives of his peers and the surrounding St. Louis community during a time of needed healing.

Despite dropping out of high school in early 2014, Darius was never one to tread lightly and wait for life to happen. He hit the ground running and found part-time work doing odd jobs around his community. He knew this wasn’t his dream for a long-term career, but he was determined to stay busy while he searched for his passion.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Following the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, Ferguson erupted in a series of protests and riots that would impact the spirit of the community for its residents and for the entire nation.

Darius’ character was illustrated by his actions during his community’s time of need. When the Department of Justice came to Ferguson, Darius stepped up as a volunteer and served as a liaison between the police force and the Ferguson community as a part of the Ferguson Youth Initiative.

Established in 2011, the Ferguson Youth Initiative serves youth in the community by encouraging them and engaging them as active members of the community, developing programs as needed, and further communicating and partnering with existing community programs.

As a young man from Ferguson, Darius said it seemed as though the eyes of the nation were looking at him for answers. He responded better than anyone could have imagined. Darius wanted to make changes in legislation that would benefit his community, so at the recommendation of Gail Babcock, a Board Member for the Ferguson Youth Initiative, he joined the Initiative’s efforts in late October.

MERS Goodwill’s Ferguson Forward program was established in October 2014 and is fully-funded by Ferguson-based company Emerson. Stemming from the STL Youth Jobs summer program that bridges the gap between youth ages 16 to 23 in high risk communities and the unpredictable job force, Ferguson Forward is a 6-month work experience program designed to support renewed community enrichment and development in Ferguson and the surrounding North Country area.

Once Darius was enrolled in the program, he was introduced to his MERS Goodwill career coach Chaille’ Jackson. He attended the required financial literacy program, provided by St. Louis Community Credit Union, where he learned about balancing a checkbook, credit scores and what to expect when he received his first paycheck.

“When searching for an employer my number one goal is to make sure the youth do well enough to a point where the employer would hire them regardless of the program,” said Chaille’. “Darius didn’t have a career path in mind, but he knew he wanted to be on his feet and interact with people.”

Chaille’ identified Drake’s Place as a good fit for Darius and met with the local restaurant’s owner, Sunny Lewis, to discuss potential openings for Darius and other Ferguson Forward youth.

“I was surprised when Darius said this was his first job!” said Sunny. “Teenagers aren’t supposed to have this kind of work ethic. He’s really raising the bar for our youth volunteers and even our full-time employees.”

According to Sunny, Darius is never late and is an extremely hard worker. He even came into work to help around the restaurant after hurting his hand and being excused from his scheduled shift. In fact, Drake’s Place has created more employment for Ferguson’s youth since Darius was introduced to the team.

When the program finds a fit between an employer and a young employee, the possibilities are limitless. Darius was hired at Drake’s Place as a dishwasher on Dec. 1, 2014 and is now realizing his passion for cooking. On Dec. 19, 2014 Darius received his first official paycheck; he wants to be a chef, and Sunny is prepared to help him.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity to join the Ferguson Forward program,” said Darius. “Their support and training led me to where I am now.”

After his time in the Ferguson Forward program is complete, Darius and all other participants will have created enough valuable work experience to build a resume. All will be provided two letters of recommendation, one from an employer and one from MERS Goodwill, as well as one-on-one Job Placement assistance and a connection with other employment resources in the community. The goal of the program is the same as that of the youth: to find a permanent position to further their progress toward reaching their long-term goals.

Darius, however, may not need to start building his resume just yet. Because of his training and coaching from MERS Goodwill and his outstanding character and proven work ethic, Drake’s Place is expecting to hire Darius after the conclusion of the program. Sunny even has plans to create a flexible work schedule as Darius earns his GED.