E.B. Wiltz is passionate about three things: good sausage, quality construction and creating better opportunities for young people in the urban core of Kansas City, Mo., through his organization Brother for Another.
A construction worker by trade and Cajun by birth, Wiltz got the idea to work with a group of five young men to build a hot dog cart in hopes of giving them a hands-on learning experience and a chance to make some money selling Louisiana sausage.
“I thought there are a lot of lessons to be extracted from building a cart,” Wiltz said. “I mean you have 45 degree angles so that gives them that relative experience that explains the importance of what happens in the classroom. We’re hoping to take each project and extract as much learning from it as we can.”
When Wiltz started, he had to teach some of the young men how to read a ruler and demonstrated concepts like fractions by cutting up an apple.
Fifteen-year-old Marquis Kenney said that while he enjoys math and algebra classes, working on the cart, which they call “Swamp Thing,” helped bring it to life.
“The measurements and stuff, I learned that in school, but it was fun to, you know, learn real things about it,” Kenney said.
Sharing what he knows about construction and creating this opportunity stems largely from the statistics surrounding violence and young African American males, Wiltz said.
A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that, in 2005 alone, African Americans accounted for 49 percent of all homicide victims in the U.S., and those homicides were committed almost exclusively by other African American men.
“When you think of half of a generation dying of violent crime by their own hands, to me it’s a tragedy,” Wiltz said.
Brother for Another first debuted their project at the mayor’s Kansas City Ideas Fair this fall, where Mayor Sly James promised the company a spot for their first cart in front of city hall.
Wiltz said that James’ encouragement helped fuel their excitement.
“The challenge for me has really been just getting the kids to sort of realize the potential,” Wiltz said. “To sort of realize that this is more than just a cart. This is something that we can rally around and do together that’s positive. So the challenge has been basically galvanizing that idea of collaboration and synchronizing our efforts so that we can further our community.”
Later this summer, Brother for Another will present what they’ve created to the mayor’s office and will be setting up shop around town.
Eventually, Wiltz hopes, as they build more carts like the “Swamp Thing,” that some carts will make it to area college campuses to give young men a means of income while earning degrees.
“What’s most important about this project is that we have got to find another way to reach our kids,” Wiltz said. “If it’s not tangible and something that’s relative, you lose their interest really quick these days because there are so many other things that will take the place of education.”