With ULGA President Nancy Flake Johnson are students Bernard Thomas, left front; Leonardo Williams, right front; Jammon Ryals, left back row; and Darrio Giles, right back row, at the employer open house event held on March 26 from 3 to 5 p.m. Fifteen companies sent representatives including partners such as Comcast, Cox, Norfolk Southern, State Farm, UPS and the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.
In a speech last summer at the National Urban League’s conference in Cincinnati, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) called attention to a national problem that the Urban League has long worked to resolve:
“Three out of four people in prison right now for non-violent crimes are black or brown. Our prisons are bursting with young men of color and our communities are full of broken families,” Sen. Paul said, in highlighting a serious issue that will not be resolved without concentrated national and local effort.
Georgia officials have recognized the problem at the state level and in 2012 enacted criminal justice legislation that has begun to show some progress in reducing the number of inmates coming into the system.
However, according to a March 2015 report from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, Georgia continues to see “racial disproportionality in the state’s prison population, with blacks currently representing 31 percent of the state’s resident population, but 61 percent of its prison population.”
Georgia State and federal officials have formed partnerships with nonprofit organizations like the Urban League of Greater Atlanta to address this critical issue through programs that help to reduce recidivism. In other words, these partnerships are designed to give men and women a second chance – without which they may have little opportunity to get on the path toward productive lives for themselves, their families and their communities.
One of the ULGA’s signature reentry programs, Training to Work 2, has already shown significant results. The program, funded by the US Department of Labor, helps participants receive vocational education training and credentials that lead to sustainable employment in high-demand fields with lots opportunity for employment. These include jobs such as electrical wiring, forklift operations, construction manager and laborer, administration support, culinary safety and sanitation, as a variety of positions in hotels and hospitality. Participants have to be 18 years or older and returning to live in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton or Cobb counties.
[pullquote align=”left”]ULGA Workforce Development case managers Samuel Fair and Ebony White stand on either side of Dr. Bernice King. The League partners with Dr. King on a major nonviolence initiative.[/pullquote]
Savalas Banner represents the kind of person who found his way through Training to Work 2. Banner’s life got off to a rocky start in childhood when his father died. At 21, Banner was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison, and his mother died while he was incarcerated. Originally from Florida, Banner did not want to return to his home state because he feared ending up with the wrong crowd again. With assistance from a ULGA case manager, Banner found a transitional housing program in Atlanta and employment in the construction field.
Angela Marshall, director of the Training to Work 2 program, said Banner was “determined not to fail. He made a commitment to change his life and to make his second chance opportunity a successful reality, like others in the program.”
Marshall said the students struggle to balance the need to earn an income with their desire for education and training.
“They want and need a job, but they are willing to use education as a stepping stone in trying to better themselves by getting credentials that can lead to a higher salary and stability.
“We offer modest stipends and incentives, and we need others to get involved. We encourage our supporters to help us through donations of cash and in-kind items such as clothing, hygiene kits and mentoring. Together, we can give our brothers and sisters a chance to become the contributors that they want to be to our society. All they ask is a second chance.”
The Training to Work 2 program closed out the month of March with 49 students in various stages of education, training and job placement and 22 in the pipeline to enter the program that has the following modules:
- New Beginnings (reentry 101): Includes training in anger management, communications, and conflict resolution strategies.
- Computer Training
- Think Up: Includes assessment for work, and job and career exploration.
- Step Up to Work: Includes mock interviewing, stress management, problem solving, time management, decision making, job readiness and managing workday communications.
- Martin Luther King Center’s Embracing Nonviolence 365: Teaches how to make nonviolence a lifestyle, leading to restorative justice.
- Introduction to family reunification.
- Chronic care: Includes disease management (for people with illnesses such as high blood pressure, back aches, cholesterol, etc.)
- COMPASS exam prep: Readiness for the vocational college entrance exam or GED pre on an accelerated opportunity track.
To get involved, contact Angela Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can strengthen our communities.