An Organizer’s Story: Change, Discovery, and Leading the Fight

3611273461By Justin Terrell

One of the best parts of being a mentor is the look on Malik’s face when he discovers something new.

Malik is 16 and a junior at North High School. He plays football and helped the North High Polars move to the second round in the playoffs this year.

Now that football is over, the kid needs a job. When I asked him where he would like to work, he smiled and said Target. So last week, Malik and I went down to Target and filled out an application in the store. At the end of the application I asked him “any questions about criminal background?” He smiled and said “no.”

Discovery is powerful, and even though he didn’t say it, I know that Malik understands that change is possible. He was at the Target the Racial Jobs Gap event a few weeks ago when Target announced they would be removing the question about criminal histories from their applications across the country. He was also there when I told him we were flying to Denver to talk with Gregg Stienhafel the CEO of Target about fair hiring. And Malik was there when we called, door knocked and brought the community together to encourage Target to be a stronger partner. But, I am not sure he understood what all that meant until he filled out an application.

So what does it mean?

We know that our state has the worst racial jobs gap in the country. African Americans are 5 times more likely to be unemployed and 10 times more likely to be impacted by the criminal justice system. This creates barriers to economic growth and I would argue even safety concerns in our community. Minnesota has a recidivism rate (percentage of people re-offending and going back to prison) of 61%. People have a hard time staying out of the streets if they can’t get a job. Removing barriers to employment is one way we can start to close the gap. This year when Second Chance Coalition partners and Target Corp. supported Governor Dayton when he signed”Ban the Box” into law, our state moved one giant step forward.

To do that, we had to connect people to each other and to their democracy. Now we are going back to the Capitol and asking that our state take the next step. We want to see reforms to expungement laws. When an applicant for expungement stands before a judge and earns the sealing of his criminal record, that record should be sealed from their criminal history. We want employers to no longer have access to arrest, dismissed, sealed, or any type of non-conviction records. Bottom line, if a judge says I am innocent, an employer should not be given the right to judge my suitability for employment based on my non-convictions.

The good news is that people are working on all of the above. Senator Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Deb Hilstrom are leading a workgroup and have people from both sides of the political spectrum looking at this issue. This work is backed by dedicated community leaders like Representative Raymond Dehn and the Second Chance Coalition. My hope is that the next thing Malik discovers is that he is also leading this fight.

Justin Terrell is the Justice 4 All Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota, which is a partner of the Second Chance Coalition.

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