The task of bringing our ex-offenders back into full-fledged citizenship is immense and long-term. Millions of Blacks who have violated the law and have been incarcerated find that returning to normal life can sometimes feel like an impossible task.
A felony can haunt you for a lifetime. It can affect you and your loved ones, prevent you from having a normal life or a pleasant future. The odds are against you, and things can sometimes seem hopeless and unforgiving.
Millions of victims
An organized conspiracy started in the 1990s: the crack invasion. The illegal activity found millions of victims – both the users and the distributors, who were usually caught and prosecuted. An ex-offender may have to pay for the crime for life. This affects most Black families, including mine.
I have devoted much time trying to help a relative get back into mainstream society. Finding a job can seem to be an endless task, even though one may be qualified. The mark of a felony is a curse that seems to be impossible to get rid of.
Here’s an example of mail (as it was written) I often receive:
“Governor Rick Snyder: Hello, my name is Jonathan Earnest and I reside in Flint, Michigan. I need your help. I was fired from my job on 1-16-2018 from Kroger because I did not pass my back-ground check for a non-violent crime that happen in 1999 almost 20 years ago. The hurtful part about it, I was one of the founding employees to open the new fuel center in flushing and I was the only African American working at the fuel center. Now for their grand opening 1-18-2018 to 1-21-2018 I will not be able to participate in because of bad decision I made almost 20 years ago.
Governor Snyder, I am not the only one who has been discriminated against because of a bad choice made in our lives, yet 20 years later, we are still being denied human rights, like working so we can pay our bills, take care of our families. So basically, if you have a felony on your record, we are not classified as being humans, therefore treated like dirt.
Michigan companies are discriminating against ex-felons and finding a way around discrimination laws. There should be a standard that Michigan companies must follow to receive tax breaks and other rewards they are given for having their business in Michigan. Mr. Snyder, you are our Governor and it is your duty to fight for us, and stand up for us when we are being taken advantage of and disrespected as humans because we have a felony on our record.
I am not going to take this sitting down, I am fighting for everyone who has been discharged from their job because of a point system these Michigan companies have that will determine if you will be discriminated against or not.
Kroger’s is one of the leading grocery retailers in the nation, yet they are given cart blanche to openly discriminate and have no form of sanctions placed on them.
We the tax paying citizens demand that you do something about the racial profiling, stereotypical discussions these Michigan companies can make, and the government just ignore, that is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. So please do not place this on the back burner, I am asking that you act on this NOW. Sincerely, Jonathan Earnest.
Mr. Earnest is just one of the millions of Blacks who have been caught up is a penal system that is cruel and inhumane.
How do we fight it?
One avenue we are cultivating is entrepreneurship. Learning how to start a business and make a living is something that can overcome the official road blocks they put in your way.
My son-in-law is a work in progress. It has been 10 years since his incarceration. Unable to find work and support his family, he eventually created his own job. He has gone through at least a dozen ventures that brought money to his household.
Finally, I think he has found his niche. He saved enough money to buy a commercial truck, received a commercial driver’s license and is now hauling deliveries throughout the nation. He is saving a portion towards owning multiple trucks, hiring drivers, and starting his own multi-truck hauling service line. The nation has a demand for 50,000 more truck drivers and he is seizing that opportunity.
One of my sons has started a promising high-tech incubator to train ex-offenders and veterans in the information technology industry with the hope of starting their own businesses. Re-entry is the key to our future as a people.
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Contact him via www.nationalbcc.org.