raceAhead: Big Business Hires Former Prisoners

Let’s keep talking about grit and the search for a more creative, resilient and inclusive workforce.

Debuting on Fortune today is this important report from Jennifer Alsever on how employee attitudes toward hiring formerly incarcerated individuals are slowly changing. “That mindset is changing as the number of people coming out of prisons grows—600,000 released from state prisons each year and 11 million from jails—and jobs go unfilled,” she explains.

In 2016, big companies like Facebook, Google and Koch Industries publicly promised to consider hiring more people with criminal backgrounds as part of former President Obama’s Fair Chance Pledge, but as Alsever points out, smaller outfits are stepping into this unusual talent marketplace.

One is a bold-faced name of sorts. Richard Bronson, the formerly incarcerated Wall street wizard, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, recently launched 70MillionJobs, a for-profit recruiting firm for people with a criminal past. It’s YCombinator polished and venture-backed, and aims to find jobs for one million of the 70 million Americans with a record. His two years in federal prison were tough, but as a white man with a college degree and a professional history, his reentry was easier than most.

For people of color without an education or a network, “As long as there’s the Internet to search, you’re walking around with a life sentence,” Bronson told Fortune.

Lest you think it’s just savvy start-ups on the case, Koch Industries has expressed a dedication to the broader cause. Here is their online manifesto, currently running on Axios as an advertisement. In addition to their promise to consider hiring formerly incarcerated people, they point to system reform as an economic imperative and a public good.

“Unfair and unjustly harsh sentences for low-level and non-violent offenders are destroying lives and families. Reforming our justice system can reduce poverty by as much as 30%, dramatically improving both safety and quality of life throughout society.”

It feels like an odd-bedfellows moment that could become a movement as long as it extends into thoughtful and thorough system reform. While this may feel impossible in the midst of an ongoing and contentious government crisis, does a renewed business interest in criminal justice offer a sliver of hope? To put it in Kochian terms, I leave it to the marketplace to decide.

On Point

Sterling K. Brown makes history at the SAG AwardsThe breezy peer-based review show was all about the breakthroughs last night. Host Kristen Bell presided over an all-female line-up of presenters, many of whom kept the #TimesUp message front and center. But This is Us’ Sterling K. Brown broke new ground by being the first African American to win Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. “There’s something really beautiful about the character that can be relatable to African Americans, but he’s [also] relatable to everybody,” said Brown. The Handmaid’s Tale cast also surprised fans by winning the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Award. ETOnline

A same-sex wedding at West Point is a victory for an inclusive military
The first same-sex, active duty couple were married at the Cadet Chapel at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. on January 13. “It’s been a bit of a bumpy road for us,” said Capt. Vincent Franchino, an Apache helicopter pilot based at Fort Bliss, in Texas, who married Capt. Daniel Hall. Franchino described being called epithets, mockery, and lots of awkward silences during the public part of their relationship. “But despite what we’ve been through,” Captain Franchino added, “nothing was worse than having served during the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ years.” Click through for their nearly star-crossed and often fraught romance, which began as furtive glances as students at West Point. All the mazels.
New York Times

Tulsa man claims racial profiling during traffic stop, was cited for “over-obeying”
Real estate investor Adam James was stopped and arrested this fall on suspicion of DUI — he had difficulty with the “karate kid” one-legged sobriety test — but a later blood test found no substances in his system. His account of the traffic stop is instructive. For one, the deputy became frustrated with him for “over-obeying” — Adams moved slowly to comply with document requests while explaining what he was doing. “When you think you’re going to die, we have to be calm and they don’t,” he said. Adams is sharing his account after his night in jail helped him better understand how bond, bail and court fees keep people behind bars. It’s cost him some $8,000 to clear his record. “I was there; I got out because I had the means,” he said. “What if I didn’t?”
Tulsa World

A Maine town manager under fire for his unrepentant racist statements
Jackman, Maine’s town manager is being asked to resign after continuing to publish white separatist, anti-Islam and anti-feminist sentiments online. “The divisive and extreme beliefs and opinions publicly expressed this week by the Jackman Town Manager Thomas Kawczynski are fundamentally incompatible with the role and responsibilities of a municipal manager,” said Jackman’s town attorney. Jackman, population 862, is near the border of Quebec, and allows Kawczynski to “experience the joys of living in a monoculture.” Also, he opposes Islam because it’s “not compatible with Western culture,” and he feels that “[i]t’s no accident unattractive women make up the vast majority of feminists.” Kawczynski refuses to quit and is now asking people to contribute to his legal fees on Hatreon, the crowd-funding site with no hate speech restrictions. (Nobody has yet.)
Press Herald

The Woke Leader

I, for one, plan to welcome our compassionate, collaborative AI overlords
Turns out computers are already better than humans at compromising and being cooperative, a new study has found. An international group of scientists tested a new type of game-playing algorithm, that unlike zero-sum games (like chess), rely on collaborative rather than combative traits. Turns out, AI might not want to kill us after all. It’s a breakthrough in understanding the math behind cooperation and other attributes that will help machines develop useful sociability. "AI needs to be able to respond to us and articulate what it's doing. It has to be able to interact with other people," said the lead author.
New Atlas

Garbage collectors open a public library with abandoned books
Sanitation workers in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, have opened a public library filled with books that were once thrown away. At first, the lending library were only for employees and their families, but as news spread – and as people started donating books directly – the library was opened to the public last fall. There are over 6,000 books, including a popular kids section (with comics!), with books in English and French for visitors. The library is now able to lend to village schools and prisons, and has become a happy destination for readers in the community to hang out, drink tea and read. And, now I really want us all to go.

Exploring the causes of under-nourishment in poor communities
new study seems to show that food deserts, poorer neighborhoods with fewer affordable and healthy grocery options, are not entirely to blame for America’s nutritional divide. Economists at New York University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago are arguing that insufficient education driven by income inequality may be to blame. But why wealthier families put widely available nutritional information to use and others don’t is unexplored in the study. Convenience? The pressure of working three jobs and not finding time to cook? Anti-elite (kale) sentiment?


Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier. Being poor is living next to the freeway. Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last. Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you. Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw. Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner. Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
John Scalzi

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