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raceAhead: Florida is Poised To Restore Voting Rights For Former Felons

Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Florida voters head to the polls to cast their early ballots in the race for the Senate as well as the Governors seats.Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Florida voters head to the polls to cast their early ballots in the race for the Senate as well as the Governors seats.
Voting booths are setup at the Yuengling center on the campus of University of South Florida as workers prepare to open the doors to early voters on October 22, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. Florida voters head to the polls to cast their early ballots in the race for the Senate as well as the Governors seats. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Cesar Melendez will not be voting today.

Melendez is one of 6.2 million US citizens who cannot vote or hold office because of a felony conviction on their record. He was arrested on guns and drug charges when he was 23 and served seven years. He’s 45 now, and has been out of prison and working for 15 years.

Melendez lives in Florida, one of three states including Iowa and Kentucky that have lifetime voting bans for former felons.

In Kentucky, the situation is particularly acute. One in ten of the state’s adults and one in four African Americans are banned from voting for life, according to The Sentencing Project. It’s the worst record in the US. “The share of voting-age Kentuckians with felony records rose nearly fourfold from 1980 to 2010. Among the state’s black residents, it grew nearly sevenfold,” reports The New York Times. But, why? “Despite changes to criminal sentencing guidelines seven years ago and a declining crime rate, the state’s prison population continues to rise, with well over half the 24,000-plus prisoners warehoused in overcrowded county jails.”

But in Florida, voters are considering an amendment to their state’s constitution that would restore voting rights to residents who have completed their sentences. It would be a bridge back to civic participation for some 1.5 million people, many of whom, like Melendez, have been trying desperately to get their rights back.

In a poignant essay, Melendez’s sister Sheena Medina, a technologist who’s worked in media and the start-up world, shared the pain of her brother’s incarceration, their complicated family life, and his struggle to stay employed and out of trouble once he served his sentence. But she only recently learned that her brother’s quest to vote again involved a humiliating red-tape runaround that currently requires petitioning the state for clemency, and a lot of time on hold. It’s a form of voter disenfranchisement that has its roots in Jim Crow:

In Illinois, where my brother committed his crime and served his sentence, the right to vote is lost only while incarcerated and is automatically restored after release. Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote while in prison. In other states, like Kentucky and Iowa, felons who serve their full sentences, including parole, must apply to state officials in order to regain their right to vote. It is not automatic. Florida is similar, though convicted felons there must wait at least five years after serving their full sentences before they can even apply. Once they apply, individuals must be granted clemency on a case by case basis.

The state of Florida currently has a backlog of more than 10,000 applications. Since 2011, only a fraction of the more than 100,000 former felons who sought to have their rights restored were successful.

It’s looking increasingly likely that Florida voters will turn out for Amendment 4 today. If all goes well, Melendez may be voting in the next presidential election.

But in one way, Melendez’s work has already paid off. “As I get older, I realize I don’t know much about my brother,” says Medina. She ticks through a list of what she remembers, like a LinkedIn of bad-to-better breaks. But she now knows that for her brother, voting is not just about doing his duty, it’s about the dignity of being seen as a valued citizen. “I only know him through the lens of his past. I’ve witnessed firsthand how he’s had to live the rest of his life suffering the consequences of his early mistakes.”

On Point

Jelani Cobb examines the overrepresentation of white people in the mediaThe writer, author, and journalism professor begins by citing an example of the kind of tone-deaf coverage, in this case, a criminal incident in the Bronx, that diminishes the experiences of people living lives unfamiliar to white journalists. Then he explores the history of unanswered calls-to-action that have resulted in primarily white newsrooms. There have been heroes: Journalism nerds will enjoy his recollections of the late David Carr’s efforts at diversifying the staff at the Washington City Paper in the ‘90s. (Among the intern class was Cobb, Holly Bass, now a writer, artist, and playwright; Neil Drumming, a producer with This American Life among other things; and Ta-Nehisi Coates.) “[J]ournalism is difficult and our media outlets, we like to think, are staffed by people who have the skills to get the job done,” he says. “How many people who have the skills to do this work never even get the opportunity to try?” CJR

In lieu of teens, retirees are increasingly being hired to work hourly jobs
Fast food operators and casual dining establishments like McDonald’s and Bob Evans are increasingly focusing their hiring efforts on seniors and passing over the traditional teen burger flipper. I mean that quite literally—they’re recruiting at churches and placing ads on AARP. It’s not all bad, lots of seniors either need to keep working or were bored in retirement. And it works for management. For one thing, elders are not looking out for their next promotion. And, they’ve got social skills and manners. “A lot of times with the younger kids now, they can be very disrespectful,” says one industry expert. Oh, snap.

Britain’s Prince Charles weighs in on slavery
The heir to the throne called the slave trade an “appalling atrocity” and a “profound injustice” in a set of public remarks delivered in Ghana, after visiting the site of an abandoned Dutch-owned slave fort where 1.5 million humans were traded. While Britain began the process of dismantling the slave trade in 1807, it got complicated quickly. For one thing, the British taxpayers opted to offer compensation to slavers for their “losses” rather than reparations for the enslaved. That said, his remarks and his current tour of African countries is part of a concerted effort to apologize for UK’s significant role in destroying the lives of millions of people and establishing anti-black racism as a global cultural norm.
The Guardian

LinkedIn: Is no place safe?
According to this report, trolls, propagandists, hate-speechers, fake account makers and meme-spreaders have been heading to LinkedIn after being slowly elbowed off of Facebook and Twitter. Much of the content is promoting MAGA themes and threats. And for some, it’s been awesome. “Facebook banned me, they hate me. But that’s all good — I started posting on LinkedIn and everybody is following me,” Miami’s Alex Lacayo tells Buzzfeed. Lacayo does have a reason to be on the platform; he works in the lending industry, “when not churning out pro-Trump memes or promoting cannabis oil on LinkedIn.” Says another, “I have probably been sharing political information on LinkedIn for about a year and a half.”


The Woke Leader

Check in with your colleagues. Really, do
EY has just released the findings from their Belonging Barometer Survey, a new survey of workers in a variety of sectors to get a sense of how working people describe their own sense of belonging at work, home, in their neighborhoods or where they worship. Second only to home, some 34% of respondents felt the greatest sense of belonging at work, but 40% said they feel the most welcome when colleagues “check-in” with them about how they’re doing at work and in their lives. “The most important factor in creating a sense of belonging within the workplace is developing and maintaining a personal connection,” says Karyn Twaronite, EY’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer. “This is even more so than getting exposure to senior leaders and being invited to out of office events.” (Re-running this item because the link didn’t work for everyone yesterday.)

Let Nikole Hannah-Jones take you back to Greenwood, Mississippi
Her two-year-old father had left Greenwood with his older brother and their mother in 1947; they landed in Waterloo, Iowa and re-started their lives. “Almost every black person I knew growing up in Waterloo had roots in Mississippi. Mississippi flavored our cuisine, inspired our worship and colored our language,” she recalls. Yet her family had never gone back for a visit, nor shared anything substantive about the region that had been the scene of so much Jim Crow violence. So, in 2014, she went back on her own. This dispatch is part family reunion, part oral history. “It was just a few miles outside of town, after all, where they found the body of Emmett Till.” But the story does double duty on election day: It is an examination of the hard work for economic and political enfranchisement accomplished by every day Mississippians, and the ten weeks one hot summer when white activists came down to join the fight.

Wisdom comes with age. Really
While there are certain stresses that come with aging—physical things like decreased health and mobility, this Q&A with Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and director of the UCSD Center for Healthy Aging, explores the psycho-social elements of aging, which bring lots of benefits. “It includes things like well-being, happiness, quality of life, control of emotions, socialization,” he says. That brings better decision-making, more resilience, and compassion. “Successful aging mainly refers to better well-being, greater happiness, and not just arriving at old age, but thriving and even flourishing.”


It’s about routine. It’s about carbon-copied nothingness. Your entire existence is dedicated to trying to weave meaning into that, because every morning you wake up, you have to justify your existence to yourself, you know, because people in prison live for the same reasons you live – I mean, the same things that – they have their dreams. They have their desires. They have their needs. And prison is all about deprivation. It’s all about pain, misery and suffering. And you know, the present is an intolerable situation, so the only thing that keeps you going is the hope of tomorrow. 
Wilbert Rideau