Community can be many things, but in its most intimate, immediate sense, community is about people sharing common interests, pursuing a common goal, and coming together to ensure that their humanity is recognized and celebrated.
Today, a community of individuals united by the experience of incarceration – of themselves or a loved one – will take action across the country and demand that they be judged not by their history but by their experience, qualifications, and potential when they seek employment. In 17 cities today, men and women who have been marginalized by the fact of an arrest or a criminal conviction will demand that certain corporations in the cities where those individuals live Ban the Box when making hiring decisions.
Austin, TX – Athena Manufacturing
Houston, TX – KBR
San Antonio, TX – AT&T Government Solutions
Dallas, TX – Fluor
Oshkosh, WI – Oshkosh Defense
Milwaukee, WI – URS (Acquired by AECOM)
Minneapolis, MN – AECOM
St. Paul, MN – AECOM
Boston, MA – AECOM
New Orleans, LA – The Louis Berger Group, Inc.
San Francisco, CA – Twitter
Phoenix, AZ – Leidos
Phoenix, AZ – Spirit Electronics
Birmingham, AL – Rust Constructors (Subsidiary owned by AECOM)
Birmingham, AL – Berney’s Office Solutions (Xerox Company)
Dothan, AL – Berney’s Office Solutions (Xerox Company)
Mobile, AL – Berney’s Office Solutions (Xerox Company)
Montogmery, AL – Berney’s Office Solutions (Xerox Company)
NC – Bank of America
OH – IMDS Defense Systems
Arlington, VA – Aerospace Industries Association
Arlington, VA – National Defense Industrial Association
Arlington, VA – Professional Services Council
Washington, DC – Information Technology Industry Council
These corporations are not being singled out randomly. They all belong to organizations that have contracts with the federal government, and those organizations have asked the president to not issue any executive orders that would affect them. This request, if fulfilled, would negate one of the stated goals of the community of the formerly incarcerated – that President Obama order all federal agencies and those who contract with the government to Ban the Box and implement fair hiring practices.
Ironically, many of these companies portray themselves as community minded, as caring corporate members of their communities, deeply involved in local affairs, contributing to the economic vitality and well-being of the cities in which they are located and from which they draw their employees. Many of these companies are located in cities and in states that have already passed Ban the Box legislation preventing local or state agencies from asking about arrest or conviction histories until individuals have been given a fair chance to demonstrate their qualifications for employment. And yet, these corporations have asked the president to exempt them from such policies.
I belong to the community of the formerly incarcerated, having spent much of my adult life in Texas prisons. My living options, my employment opportunities, my educational aspirations – all have been limited by the fact of my criminal history, despite seven years of successful parole and my deep involvement in my other community, the youth of Austin, Texas, who have been shunted into the criminal justice system or whose parents have been incarcerated or deported.
In 2009, after having been on parole a year, I was offered a job with a nonprofit in Austin and moved there, excited about working with people involved in social justice. My first day, the president of the board, who had not met me, took me into a stairwell and told me he was rescinding the job offer because I would be “working around young women.” This despite the fact that my convictions have not been for violent, or sexually related crimes. I was a man with a record. Thus, I was unfit to work around certain people.
There are more than 70 million people in this country who face those same barriers – mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, families and entire neighborhoods devastated and limited as to their options because of policies and laws that will forever judge them by their history, not their present selves nor their potential.
The actions taken today are a small step, but a vitally important one, which will demand accountability from corporate entities that claim citizenship but actively pursue hiring policies that discriminate against many of the individuals living next door. Today’s actions represent another step forward for the individuals who have taken the lead in demanding that they be recognized as dignified, valuable human beings, not to be forever judged and limited by what they have done but by what they are capable of.