Don't let Trump ruin your Thanksgiving!

Advice from Van Jones.

Headed home for the holidays? Thinking about how to talk with Trump supporters in your family?  

Van offers some advice based on his experience talking to people with different views -- around the country, on the set of CNN, and among his circle of friends.  Here’s the headline: STAY HUMAN.

More specifically:

  1. Listen empathically

  2. Speak authentically

  3. Expect to be surprised

We at the Dream Corps headquarters in Oakland wish you the very best.  You are part of a growing community of people around the Dream Corps who are guided by a fierce abiding love for humanity.  We are working to get you better connected to each other. Please help by sharing your Thanksgiving plans and experiences on our Facebook page.

Our team has compiled a few additional resources that might be helpful to you this Thanksgiving.  Our friends at Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) are running up a text message holiday hotline. Some of our staff found this article helpful:“Understanding Trump” by George Lakoff.  And this crowdsourced document circulating on social media “How to talk to your loved ones about a Donald Trump presidency” has some stuff we found helpful.  

If you have other good resources, please share them on our Facebook page.

We appreciate you!  You can help us grow the Dream Corps.  Share this post, Make a donation, and encourage your friends to join us.


WhiteLash: Van describes the nightmare for parents, people of color, muslims, immigrants

"It is hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids, "don't be a bully." You tell your kids, "don't be a bigot. You tell your kids do your homework and be prepared. And then you have this outcome. You have people putting their kids to bed tonight... who are afraid of how do I explain this to my children "


The Next Civil War?

Hi Friends,

I got tired of lurching between disgust and despair, over this election.

So I went deep into Trump country -- to start a real dialogue.

The result is a 3-part digital series that I hope can begin to make a difference.

But here is the catch.

My friends at Meridian Hill Pictures and I made this with no money. Dozens of volunteers pitched in. That's it. We have no corporate sponsors or backers. There is no budget to spread the word.

Our plan now is simple -- but it relies on you.

I will post one powerful video a day on my Facebook page and update each day here. I need you to share these videos. 

TRAILER: 

EPISODE ONE:

EPISODE TWO:

EPISODE THREE:

The only way anyone will ever see or hear these remarkable conversations is if YOU share them with someone, who shares them with someone. 

Please help.

Let's see if we can make something POSITIVE go viral.

I appreciate all your love, help and support.

van 

Read more

The New Yorker: Van Jones and Kayleigh McEnany Try to Fight the Right Way

On Monday night, a day before travelling to Las Vegas to cover the final Presidential prizefight, the left-leaning CNN political commentator Van Jones took the stage at Southeast Missouri State University, in Cape Girardeau, to debate his right-leaning CNN counterpart Kayleigh McEnany, in front of a thousand Trump-leaning students. Jones is a forty-eight-year-old Yale Law School graduate and the president of a social-justice accelerator called the Dream Corps; he worked in the Obama Administration and supported Bernie Sanders before Clinton won the nomination. McEnany is a twenty-eight-year-old Harvard Law School graduate who interned in the second Bush Administration and has supported Donald Trump since the primaries. This was the first time they’d met on a stage, at lecterns, with their own debate moderator—Rick Althaus, an avuncular professor of political science at the university—to discuss what Jones later described to me as “this dumpster fire of a campaign.”

Despite their obvious differences, Jones and McEnany are friends. After walking onto the university stage—Jones in a charcoal suit and his usual rimless glasses, flashing a peace sign; McEnany in a blue dress and heels, waving queen-like to the crowd—they embraced. There were humorous digs here and there: McEnany, after coughing loudly, said, “I guess I have more in common with Hillary than I thought.” Jones, after McEnany cited what he considered suspect economic figures, said, “I’m as anti-establishment as anybody, but I’m not anti-math!” But their debate, which ran a little more than an hour, was as amicable and consensus-oriented as the actual Presidential debates have been pejorative-laden and divisive. This was what Trump would call a love fest.

The most striking moment of accord came toward the end of the debate, when Jones gave an impassioned civics lesson on two words from the Pledge of Allegiance. Republicans are strong proponents of liberty, he said, but unchecked liberty can lead to the tyranny of corporations. Democrats, meanwhile, prioritize the pursuit of justice, which can result in the tyranny of the government. “See, that back and forth: liberty and justice,” he said, gathering momentum. “That’s America. And it’s tough business. And it’s back and forth. And it’s heated. But when we do it right you get Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. You get Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. When you get it right, you get a great country.” He paused. “Your generation’s job is not to never fight. No! These are important issues. Like Kayleigh said, you’ve got to fight. But you’ve got to fight the right way. What we’re doing now is not the right way.”

McEnany nodded her approval as the audience roared. “My friend Van Jones is the real deal,” she said. After the debate had ended, as the crowd was filing out, a young man in a John Deere hat turned to another young man and said of Jones, “I’d vote for him straight up, right now. At least he knows his shit.” When told of this comment later that night, Jones responded with a pundit’s wry chuckle: “I’m not running for office. I’d rather be the stick than the piñata.”

We had repaired to the hotel where he was staying. There, Jones contrasted the influence that Trump is having on the national discourse with the influence once wielded by a friend of his: Prince. A decade ago, Prince made a large, initially anonymous donation to one of Jones’s green-energy nonprofits. (Given its size, Jones insisted on knowing its source.) Within a few years, Jones was spending time at Prince’s Paisley Park home near Minneapolis, talking politics and playing the tambourine or cowbell (“terribly,” he says) during mandatory-participation jam sessions. “At a Prince show,” he said, “it was every color, every class, every gender, every sexuality, every age. All of them of one accord. Like, he could hit that one note and see every person united. So he knew it was possible. And he wanted us to see that.” He added, “When you’ve seen the Prince effect night after night, and then you see the Trump effect—everyone divided by someone with the same gift for mystique and attention-grabbing—you can’t be quiet. Because I know people can get past all this stuff to a different place.”

McEnany told me she’d been conservative since she was sixteen. “I carried around a Ronald Reagan quote book,” she said. But she and Jones had found common ground. “Among Republican circles, people are, like, ‘Van Jones, that left-wing energy guy for Barack Obama,’ ” she told me. “But he’s so much more than that ideological profile. When I met him, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Oh, Kayleigh, you’re wearing your cross. That’s so great.’ He appreciated the outward expression of my faith. It was so kind and welcoming.” Jones, she said, has since helped her better understand the Black Lives Matter movement.

Over the past year, Jones’s conciliatory approach has resulted, notably, in a moving five-minute exchange with CNN’s conservative pundit Jeffrey Lord, on Donald Trump’s relationship to the Ku Klux Klan. (“I really wanted to make my point, but I also really wanted to not break community, because that’s what these demagogues want,” Jones recalled.) He has also won over young Trump supporters working for the Web site Infowars, who engaged him in a half-hour “street debate” that could have easily turned ad hominem, this past July. His willingness to criticize élites in both parties, including Clinton, tends to bolster his credibility. As does his firm belief in the dialectical process.

“You want to have an ecosystem of ideas, not a mono-crop,” Jones said. “A lot of times, NPR liberals are, like, ‘If only everybody thought like us, everything would be great.’ Sometimes we on the left get so indulged or outraged that we actually break community with our conservative sisters and brothers, and it’s just arrogant how it comes across: ‘If only these dumb Republicans were better educated, they’d vote like us.’ I hate that.” Also, he added, “I actually want us to be challenged.”

So, a challenge: How would Jones approach a debate with the Republican nominee, which he’ll analyze on the air tonight? “I wouldn’t study any policy at all,” he told me. “I’d study Trump’s children. That’s what he cares about, his family. And I would try to figure out a way to make my points so that every one connected back to something his children had done or cared about. That would be it. Literally, I would say, ‘I want to quote Ivanka Trump on something.’ You put him in a position where, in order to attack you, he’s got to attack his kids. And then he’d get very quiet, because he’s not going to do that.”

After the final Presidential debate, McEnany told me, she and Jones and the rest of the CNN commentating team will more than likely share some pizza and beer. “There’s something to be said for good old-fashioned getting in a room together and hammering out a solution over a long conversation and developing a mutual respect,” she told me. “But, with these candidates, I don’t see that happening.” Then she said goodnight to Jones and left to catch a plane to Vegas.

(via The New Yorker)


NYT Magazine: Van Jones Can Empathize With Trump Voters

Interview by Ana Marie Cox 

It seems as if what you’re best known for, at least in pop culture, is being the guy Glenn Beck hounded out of the White House, and also for owning Jeffrey Lord on CNN. What would you like to be known for? I’m a serial, successful social entrepreneur. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about being known for something. I spend a lot of time trying to solve problems.

What you actually do — opening the solar industry to communities of color, bringing urban youth into Silicon Valley, among other things — is largely trying to tackle fairly intractable problems. Where have you seen the most growth? It’s amazing how much progress is possible if you remember that most people, on all sides, are fundamentally good. Most people spend their time defining the problem. If you start with the solution — Hey, let’s get these kids jobs! — people quickly find an enthusiasm to work together across all lines.

I also believe that people are fundamentally good, but this election cycle has tried that hypothesis for me. I have a great deal of empathy for the Donald Trump voters. When you listen to them talk about feeling hurt, scared and left behind, they sound like the Black Lives Matter activists.

How so? The elites have failed the people so thoroughly that tens of millions of people, on any side of any issue, can legitimately say they don’t think the system is working for them anymore, if it ever did. Now, I don’t like bigotry. We have to beat Trump. But hurt people holler. I will fight Trump, but I don’t want to fall into this cheap reverse-­Trumpism, where liberals are just as rude toward the Trump voters as Trump is toward them.

How do you envision bipartisan respect, even in disagreement? Even while you’re trying to win on the battleground, you should be trying to figure out the common ground. Everybody’s thinking about Tuesday, Nov. 8. I’m thinking about the day after. Neither Clinton nor Trump voters are leaving the country. Liberals need to take responsibility for our role in the polarization from the left. We’re so invested in being correct, but we’re not right about everything.

A lot of people are mocking the idea that you can explain the bigotry at a Trump rally by writing it off as simply a response to economic anxiety. There are elements of racism, xenophobia and misogyny in the Trump movement, and there’s also all kinds of legitimate of anxieties. The rise of Trump is a judgment on the progressive movement that has adopted a style that doesn’t leave much room for a 55-year-old heterosexual white Republican living in a red state to feel that he has any place of honor or dignity in the world progressives are trying to create. We see the disrespect coming from them, but there’s a subtle disrespect coming from us, the NPR crowd, that is intolerant of intolerance. Nobody wants to feel as though they don’t count.

What does the left need to do to include that sort of person? In a sane world, it would be like a marriage, with respect for what each partner brings. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other, we just have to understand and respect.

I worry that if Hillary Clinton wins, she’ll think there’s no need to listen to the left, just as there’s no need to listen to the right. Do you remember that song from the ’80s, “It Takes Two”?

Sure. “It takes two to make a thing go right.” That’s my understanding of politics. It takes two kinds of leadership. It takes a president who is willing to be moved, but it also takes leadership in the streets to do the moving. This fantasy that all you just have to do is elect the right person — this is not “The West Wing.” Come on. This is reality.

I’ve read that you’re a science-­fiction and comic-­book nerd and that you’re close with Newt Gingrich, who has written a few novels about alternate histories. Why do you think a lot of people who love policy wonkery also have an interest in science fiction? Because we’re all nerds.

(via NYT Magazine)


Van Jones: 4 things to know about the 'You can't polish this turd' CNN contributor

CNN contributor Van Jones went viral Wednesday night for his critique of Donald Trump’s performance in the third and final presidential debate. Jones took issue with the Republican presidential nominee suggesting that he might not support the result of the election if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins. “You can’t polish this turd,” said Jones during CNN’s post-debate analysis. “This man has demonstrated an appalling lack of patriotism.”

Later, he used pop culture to describe Trump: “I’m going to have to go all the way back to old school hip-hop and quote LL Cool J in his first album and say, ‘He lied about the lies that he lied about.’"

However, there’s more to Jones than these colorful soundbites. Here are four things you should know about him. 

1. He is an environmental and human rights activist 
Jones, a graduate from Yale Law School, is most known for his activism. He has founded several not-for-profit organizations whose goals range from finding solutions to improve our economy to training people for jobs in the green sector. In 2014, he launched #cut50, an initiative attempting to cut prison population in half over the next 10 years, and #YesWeCode, a national initiative that will provide 100,000 men and women from underrepresented backgrounds with the skills and training necessary to succeed in the technology sector. 

2. He was an advisor for President Barack Obama 
In March 2009, he was appointed Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. However, he resigned in September due to several controversies about his past work as an activist and because of his past comments about Republican lawmakers. 

3. He made the TIME 100 list in 2009 
“A pioneer in fusing economic opportunity and social justice with environmentalism, Jones, 40, represents an important progression in our country’s perception and thus our approach to combatting global warming,” wrote Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio about Jones in 2009 when he made the list. “Steadily — by redefining green — Jones is making sure that our planet and our people will not just survive but also thrive in a clean-energy economy.” 

4. He has published two New York Times best-selling books 
Jones is the author of 2008’s The Green Collar Economy, which puts forth a plan to save both our economy and the environment, and Rebuild the Dream (2012), his memoir about going from an activist to a White House policy advisor. 

See Jones in action

(via Entertainment Weekly)


Our Man Van

It was quite a week for our fearless leader, Van Jones. He took courageous stances on the national stage and stood up for progressive causes we care about. Here are a few of the hits:

Van Takes on Rape Culture:

Van speaks out against police brutality:

Hillary notices Van's support:

And he kicked off the week with a Facebook Live video -- now at 10 million views and counting!

We are proud to have a leader like Van -- not just for our organization, but for our nation.

Keep doing what you are doing.

All of us at The Dream Corps are behind you.

Van launched the Dream Corps to provide a home for changemakers. We are focused on bringing Americans together to solve our common problems.  Sign up to join us


Why I'm a Part of Dream Corps

When I was introduced to the concept of environmental racism in college, it helped me understand the importance of including equity when forming environmental policy. I’ve read about how poor, minority neighborhoods in major cities, like Oakland and New York, were decimated under the guise of “urban development”; whole communities were economically devastated by the highways cutting through them to convenience wealthier whites commuting from the suburbs. I’ve read about low-income people being forced to choose between their health and earning a living, such the coal miners in the East and those working in the plastic manufacturing plants in the South. The_latest_photo_(1).png

What can I do? This is a question most people have after learning about the injustices happening in the world. It is a question I have had after seeing and experiencing the obstacles people of color and the poor have in our struggle to live a life with dignity. What can I do to help bring about a more equitable and just society? It turns out that I can make a difference through nonprofit fundraising. As a development associate for Green For All, I support a team dedicated to bringing equity to the forefront of environmental policy, and to making polluters pay for the damage they cause.

I always thought fundraising was just about, well, raising money. I knew it was an essential part to the efficacy of a social justice organization. Programs that serve the public good need funding to make an impact. Whether it’s a program to teach people to code, provide reentry services to the formerly incarcerated, or push politicians to ensure their constituents have clean water and air, they need money to function. It’s not enough to be the change we want to see in the world. We must invest in it.

It was Dream Corps’ Director of External Relations, Nisha Anand, who taught me the power of fundraising as an organizing tool. A tool to strengthen and grow movements. I never thought about it that way before. The idea that people who donate, however much they are able, feel more empowered in their activism inspired me. Donors become investors in the causes they care about and are affected by. But a good investment produces solid returns. Dream Corps is an investment in the just future we hope for.

The Dream Corps has concrete steps to address different social problems that also recognizes how they intersect. Cut50’s plan is to decrease the incarcerated population by 50 percent. Many people affected by mass incarceration are from low-income, minority communities who will need economic and rehabilitative opportunities. Green for All aims to include low-income communities in the nascent green economy and make sure racial and class equity are a priorities in the environmental movement. Yes We Code is preparing young people of color for careers in the tech sector, giving them the skills to create solutions for their communities. Dream Corps brings these different movements together to create a stronger, collaborative front against injustice.

I don’t think this is the only answer to the question what can I do. There are multiple forms of activism and everyone has something they can contribute. Small donations from caring people are as important and impactful as large grants. Volunteering one’s time is also an honorable and valuable contribution to social justice movements. Dream Corps’s mission is just one of many answers that I believe makes sense and will build a foundation for improving society. As a development assistant, I play a role in organizing the movement for an equitable and sustainable future. Empowering communities through fundraising is something I can do.


Van Jones Statement on Tulsa Officer’s Indictment

Dream Corps Stands in Solidarity with the Black Community

“Yesterday’s indictment of the Betty Shelby, the police officer who killed Terence Crutcher, is an important step towards healing and justice.  

No human being should play the roles of judge, jury, and executioner in one moment.

The violence against black communities in the last week only deepens the pain and frustration African Americans have with our biased criminal justice system.

Good people on both sides of this divide have legitimate fears and frustrations. We cannot let the reservoir of empathy run dry in this country. We must find a way to work together to stop this madness.”


Dream Corps launches Day of Empathy Campaign

The Day of Empathy is a national day of action to generate empathy on a massive scale for millions of Americans impacted by the incarceration industry. 

Virtual reality has been described as an “empathy machine.”  #cut50, a Dream Corps initiative, launched the Day of Empathy campaign to create empathy on a massive scale for the millions of Americans behind bars. In partnership with Benefit Studios, the team will create a series of virtual reality experiences based on true stories  that reveal a broken aspect of our criminal justice system. 

The campaign will recruit Ambassadors of Empathy who will bring virtual reality visors/headsets into all 50 state capitols and the U.S. Congress.Through the impact of VR, key decision-makers will experience the human consequences of a criminal justice system that has gotten too big, too unfair and too brutal.

Visit the campaign page to learn about the Day of Empathy. 


Fast Company: Van Jones And Jamie Wong Use VR To Tell The Story Of The Prison System

Screen_Shot_2016-09-23_at_10.41.54_AM.pngIn an average-sized kindergarten classroom in the U.S., at least one child may have a parent behind bars. But most Americans still struggle to imagine what it's like to have an incarcerated father or mother. A new short film tries to make it clearer: strap on a virtual reality headset, and the film puts you in the place of an eight-year-old girl watching her mom go to prison, and ending up in foster care.

The short, Left Behind, is the first in a series of virtual reality films called Project Empathy. The first films start with the prison system, letting viewers experience re-entry into society, what it's like to be a child tried as an adult, and what it's like to have a family member in prison. 

"Virtual reality is being referred to as the empathy machine, and there's really no bigger empathy gap than the one that exists between people who live in overly policed and overly incarcerated communities and those who do not," says Van Jones, who worked with filmmaker Jamie Wong on the first films. "We just want to do everything that we can to give people more of a felt sense of what it's like to live in a situation where law enforcement is not always friendly, and where the stakes for any mistake are incredibly high."

Read more


Vien Truong White House Champions of Change

ShakaVan_Commonwealth_(2).pngMy work is an extension of my life. I'm the youngest of eleven kids, born to a refugee family that fled war-torn Vietnam. I didn’t initially understand that there was anything abnormal about my upbringing: spending my first few years on my mother’s back as she picked strawberries and snow peas in the pesticide-ridden fields of Oregon, and then later on watching - and eventually helping - as my parents labored away in the sweatshops in West Oakland, one of the poorest and most polluted communities in California.

It wasn’t until I was able to travel and live in other parts of the United States that I began understanding that these conditions were abnormal. I decided to dedicate my life to alleviating poverty and building the beloved communities that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned.

One of the proudest moments of my life was helping to pass a landmark community reinvestment bill in California that created a polluters pay fund, which has created the largest fund in history for low-income communities to green up and to create economic revitalization for residents. In the last two years, it directed over $900 million into the poorest and most polluted communities in California. Now, I’m privileged to be leading Green For All to create national programs that will prioritize low-income communities and communities of color in the crafting of policy across the country.

Vien Truong leads Green For All, a national initiative that puts communities of color at the forefront of the climate movement and equality at the center of environmental solutions. She lives in East Oakland, California with her husband and twin three-year-old boys.

 


Why I'm a part of the Dream Team

By Roger Leu

ShakaVan_Commonwealth_(1).pngMy family still calls me by my Chinese-given name, roughly translated to “little winter melon.” Though partially attributed to my gratuitous baby fat, the nickname also aptly describes my still and observant nature. I have always found people, culture, and human behavior fascinating. Why do people do the things they do? Why did Tom Cruise jump uncontrollably on The Oprah Show some years ago? Why do people find Keeping up with the Kardashians so compelling? These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I grew up in Berkeley, California, a relatively small town in the San Francisco Bay Area known for tie-dyed shirts, colorful protests, and subversive thinking. My parents are first generation immigrants who emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in search of a better future. My dad first worked as a dishwasher and a gas attendant to pay the bills. My mom briefly worked on a fiber optics assembly line. They are quintessential pragmatists that would rather have me put on five layers of clothing than turn on the heater, unplug the idle power strip rather than pay for electricity, and shop at swap meets instead of department stores.

The look on their faces when I told them I wanted to pursue a career in social work was one of sheer confusion and terror (think Edvard Munch’s The Scream). “Is that like depression?” they asked in an English-Chinese improvisation. I simply responded, “It’s like having a big heart and helping people for a living.”

Social workers are so often misrepresented in pop culture as villains that invade your home and steal your children on behalf of the government. This is a terrific example to not believe everything you see on television! A social worker is the shoulder you lean on when you have a bad day. We are the extra ear that listens when you need to vent. We fight for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. We are your advocates, your confidants, your strongest supporters, your champions of social justice.  

The #cut50, #YesWeCode, and Green For All initiatives here at The Dream Corps are united under the umbrella of social justice. We continue the fight for a brighter future that includes all communities regardless of race, gender, color, or creed. We are agents of change that support closing prison doors and opening the doors of opportunity.

The #cut50 team has been advocating tirelessly for 2.2 million people remaining behind prison doors. As a social worker and a member of the #cut50 team, I am proud to work toward intelligently reducing the prison population in 10 years, and to engage in a bipartisan effort that rises above politics. Individuals in prison are often suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder; we must remember to arm ourselves with kindness, compassion, and empathy to combat arguably one of the biggest moral crises in our time.

As I look at the road ahead, I cannot help but think of what the great Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These words are as true today as the day they were written. Indeed, there is still injustice in the world, and we must continue to fight for equality, justice, and the inherent worth of all beings.    

I am inspired by the small acts of kindness I see every day. When I leave the BART station and see a passing stranger hand a homeless man a dollar, I am inspired. When I see a group of friends organizing their waste into trash, recycle, and compost bins, I am hopeful. When I see Buzzfeed articles that combat the stigma of mental illness, I am filled with confidence about the future of humanity.


Elections, Conventions and #JusticeReformNOW

We are still reeling from an amazing week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the first time in history, both political parties are making a bold statement against the incarceration industry with the Democrats’ Platform calling for an “end to the era of mass incarceration.”

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#23Ways

In an exclusive video for Mic, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Common, Chris Rock, Taraji P. Henson, Van Jones and others describe the mundane actions that cost black Americans their lives. Watch below:


For the full post from Mic's Jamilah King, click here


A Heartbreaking Week

Van spent hours on air last week -- reacting to tragedy after tragedy live. His words speak for themselves:

"We need to reach down and find some empathy. If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancé but you didn't cry this morning for those police officers, it is time to do a heart check. If you cried for those police officers but have a hard time taking seriously all these videos coming out with these African-Americans dying, it is time to do a heart check. Because a country -- we are either going to come together or come apart now. There is enough pain on both sides there should be some empathy starting to kick in."

For the full playlist of discussions from last week, click below.


Incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary Collect Donations For Flint, MI

"Even though we are incarcerated, we still care about the community.”

A group of incarcerated men at the Oregon State Penitentiary raised $800 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Inspired by their efforts, Dream Corps raised a matching donation in support of the organization's work in Flint. Thank you to all who helped raise a matching donation in support of the incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. 

When a group of incarcerated men at the Oregon State Penitentiary learned about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan that had exposed thousands of residents to contamination, they were shocked and impacted by the stories of families subjected to using polluted water.

A_Flint_Campaign_.png

                                          From left to right: D’Angelo Turner, Jeremy Hays, Troy Ramsey, Grover Clegg

"I was sitting on my bunk in my cell watching TV. Flipping channels. I saw people on the Steve Harvey show talking about how they couldn’t shower with the tap water," said Troy Ramsey who initiated the fundraiser. "I thought, ‘What can I do from where I’m at to help the Flint community?” 

With the necessary approvals needed to begin collecting donations, a group convened to devise a plan to raise money to the Flint community. Hoping to raise $500, the group was able to raise $800 for Flint with the generous $1, $2, and $5 donations from inmates.

“These are not small donations,” explained Ramsey. “ The average income for inmates is about $49 per month, and we have to use that for all our hygiene items, foods, etc.  A lot of the guys also have obligations to kids and families.”

In an interview with the Dream Corps, Kosal So, who helped Ramsey organize the Flint fundraising efforts, reflected on his own journey and how his experiences influence the work he does from within the prison.

“I was kicked out of school. I didn’t learn to read. We lose confidence and get wrapped up in the streets. I was in and out of the juvenile system. Once you are in that, you are stuck. Now I work to raise money for kids to go to college.”

Like So, other incarcerated men also use the examples of their own lives as a vehicle for change in their communities and society.

“Just because I’m incarcerated doesn’t change morals and values. I used to deliver food to the homeless on Thanksgiving,” said Grover Clegg who helped lead fundraising efforts. “I drove a truck for a freight company and would use that to drive around on Thanksgiving to deliver food”

Though making donations may not be easy for inmates, fundraising is not new to this group who frequently engage in efforts that contribute to a variety of issues.

“I have been involved in a number of efforts,” said D’Angelo Turner another leader in the Flint fundraiser. “ I have written a re-entry program. I raised money for Missus Harris who was diagnosed with orphans disease – cancer – back in 2005 or 2007.”

Incarcerated men involved with the fundraiser noted that it is these efforts that cross racial groups bringing together groups typically segregated based on race.

“Our effort cut across racial groups,” said fundraiser leader Eric Nitschke. “ There are cliques in prison. This fundraiser was also helping people unite across groups and begin to break this down.”

Nitschke added, “I couldn’t believe that we in America could do this to our people. I learned about the change [of drinking water source] from the lake to the river.  They knew it was polluted.  It shocked me that someone who wasn’t drinking the water made that decision.”

This story of incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary organizing a fundraiser to benefit victims of the Flint water crisis lives at the intersection of environmental and criminal  justice, which hits close to home for the Dream Corps and our initiatives.

Here at the Dream Corps, we support economic, environmental and criminal justice innovators. We serve to uplift powerful voices of those impacted by the criminal justice system--like this group of incarcerated men--and ensure that we are working towards an inclusive green economy.

We are deeply inspired by this effort. To support the efforts of the incarcerated men at Oregon State Penitentiary, the Dream Corps has committed to raising a matching donation of $800 for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. Help us raise matching funds for every child, family, and business in the community of Flint affected by the water crisis.

 


John Anner, PhD, joins The Dream Corps as the First Chief Executive Officer

John Anner, PhD, joins The Dream Corps as the First Chief Executive Office 

Oakland, CA-- Feb 23, 2016 -- The Dream Corps announced today that John Anner, PhD, will be joining  the organization as the first Chief Executive Officer.

Dream Corps President Van Jones said, “John is a world-class talent in building high-performance organizations. We are excited to have him on board at a time when Dream Corps is growing rapidly.”

 

Dr. Anner will be leading most of the operational, fundraising and program areas, with Van focusing on strategy, vision and external relations.

 

“Van and I will make a good team,” said Dr. Anner. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work side-by-side with Van, who I have known and worked with for many years.”

 

Before joining The Dream Corps, Dr. Anner was the CEO of Thrive Networks. Prior to that he held the same role at the Independent Press Association, which he founded. Dr. Anner holds a PhD in Public Policy and Administration. He did his doctoral work on impact measurement in social enterprises.

 

Contact Dr. Anner

415.846-4257
Skype johnanner
johnanner@dreamcorps.us 

You can find his research at http://johnanner.squarespace.com/research

 

About The Dream Corps

 

The Dream Corps is a social justice accelerator backing initiatives that close prison doors and open doors of opportunity. Founded in 2015, the Dream Corps helps cutting-edge initiatives grow big enough to impact millions of lives working. The Dream Corps initiatives Green For All, #cut50 and #YesWeCode work at the intersection of economic, environmental, and criminal justice.


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Russell Simmons Convenes Allies for #JusticeReformNOW

“Every once in awhile a book comes around that changes the conversation,” said Van Jones, President of Dream Corps and co-founder of #cut50. He was introducing Shaka Senghor, author of Writing My Wrongs and director of strategy and innovation at #cut50, to a house full of friends and allies on a rainy night in Los Angeles.

That evening, music executive Russell Simmons, who has been a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform, hosted stars like Alicia Silverstone, Aloe Blacc, and Harrison Barnes to learn more about the fight for reform in 2016 and hear Shaka’s story of redemption and transformation.

“We need criminal justice reform now because there are far too many men and women being locked up and not given a second chance,” said Shaka, who gave one of the top 10 TED talks of 2014. Members of his audience had tears in their eyes as he recounted his 7 years in solitary confinement and the difficulty of watching his children grow up while he was incarcerated.

Shaka Senghor and Russell Simmons

“There are far too many children growing up without parents. My parents had to drive for 12 hours just so I could touch my own children for a moment, before they were taken away again.”

 Shaka is co-founder of #BeyondPrisons, a new initiative of #cut50 and Dream Corps.

Shaka is set to become a household name in 2016. His soon-to-be-released memoir traces his journey from childhood to the streets of Detroit, where he sold drugs and lived a life of crime that resulted in a 19-year-prison sentence.

Note: Pre-order your copy of Writing My Wrongs and receive an exclusive excerpt from the book: http://bit.ly/1SI51tR

 

Shaka Senghor and Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors

 “Incarceration destroys individuals, families, and communities,” said #cut50 National Director Jessica Jackson Sloan, whose husband was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a non-violent crime, leaving her with a small daughter who asked everyday to see her dad. Sloan talked about the inhumane hardships their family faced, like not even knowing which facilities he was being moved to, or not being able to afford the weekly $21 phone call.

#cut50’s Jessica Jackson Sloan

 “The idea we can all get behind is the economics,” said former BET President Reggie Hudlin. “It costs so much more to send a person to prison than to college. As a nation we are hurting ourselves putting so many resources into warehousing people, where they arguably become worse criminals. The tragedy of the prison system is no one is talking about breaking the cycle, rehabilitation, and reducing crime in a meaningful way.”

 #cut50 urged everyone to sign the petition asking Congress and the President to end the culture of punishment run amuck.

#cut50 team directors Shaka Senghor, Van Jones, and Jessica Jackson Sloan


Article 3 Advisors: The Crisis of the American Criminal Justice System is Bad News for Everyone

static1.squarespace.pngWritten by Richard Branson and Van Jones, exclusively for the A3A criminal justice blog series.

From the perspective of philanthropic institutions and individuals, criminal justice is not a distant problem that primarily concerns governments. The failures of the criminal justice system, from mass incarceration to egregious racial inequalities, have had such profound corrosive impacts that they can no longer be ignored. 

With 2.3 million people in the US prison system, 7 million on parole or probation, and 1 in 3 African-American men expected to go to prison at some point in their lifetime, we are facing a crisis of dramatic proportions. The system is so fundamentally broken that its very capacity to deliver justice has to be called into question. Equality before the law, the right to a fair trial and due process are frequently and often quite deliberately violated, tipping the scales to a point that conviction or acquittal are no longer a question of guilt or innocence, but rather a matter of socio-economic status and race. If you can’t pay for a good defence, the odds are stacked against you. If you are black or Hispanic and can’t pay for your defence, you are screwed. 

It’s an unacceptable status quo that also weakens America’s moral authority abroad. Indefinite solitary confinement, life without parole for minors and the fact that one in nine death row inmates will eventually be exonerated do not exactly strengthen our negotiating position when trying to stand up for human rights elsewhere. 

Beyond the staggering facts, the broader consequences are quite clear: this crisis threatens to roll back and undo years, if not decades, of social progress, much of which was accomplished with passionate support from the philanthropic community. Public health goals are undermined by everything from stress related-illnesses to high HIV transmission rates within prisons. Family formation is interrupted; children lose contact with incarcerated parents. Economic development is undercut when large numbers of African-Americans have felony convictions that lock them out of the job market. No question, if the legacies of the civil rights movement, of the fight for equality and of the war against poverty are to endure, we are all called upon to join forces and help restore justice, dignity, fairness and equality – the bedrock principles of healthy, equitable and prosperous societies.

To be frank, this is a momentous challenge many philanthropic organisations have to come to terms with as they seek to find their own role in the 21st century. Much of philanthropy still prefers to treat symptoms, rather than pushing for systemic change. It’s time to shift our priorities. 

How can this be done? First of all, reform needs champions and resources. Modern philanthropy should be prepared to provide both.

Part of the exercise is to listen to the voices of the criminal justice reform movement. The wider public, as well as mainstream media, are only slowly beginning to understand the extent of the problem. As advocates, champions and thought leaders, philanthropies can help amplify awareness of the causal relationships between a broken system and its devastating impacts. There is enormous room for positive and meaningful programmatic work to highlight best practices, vocally support reform efforts and grassroots initiatives. 

The good news is that change is happening. Ballot initiatives and legislative proposals seek to undo years of injustice. Unlikely alliances are forming across party lines and ideological positions, recognizing that the human and economic cost of these continued injustices, estimated as in excess of $80 billion a year, is not just unsustainable, but also deeply un-American 

While the window for change is open -- with so much at stake for so many -- philanthropy needs to continue working open doors of opportunity, while doing everything possible to close prison doors. Both are necessary. 

Source: Article 3 Advisors


Less Equal than Ever

 

In a city that has come to symbolize the growing inequality gap, The Nation magazine hosted a conversation about the country’s inequality crisis with a panel of experts. San Francisco was the city, and Less Equal than Ever was the theme, and the occasion was the 150th birthday of the magazine begun by anti-slavery abolitionists in 1856.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Dream Corps Founder Van Jones, National Domestic Workers Alliance Director Ai-jen Poo and The Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel talked about “the greatest threat to the world,” according to a 2014 Pew survey. It’s a core issue on which The Nation has long been sounding the alarm. The event was  co-presented by the Commonwealth Club November 17 at the packed Herbst Theater.  

 Moderator Judge LaDoris Cordell opened with a trick question: “Who said this? ‘‘Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.’”

 The answer surprised the crowd. It was Mitt Romney, earlier this year, just one example of how Republicans are now incorporating this message along with Democrats.  

“The wealth controlled by the top tenth of the top 1 percent has more than doubled over the past 30 years in the United States, approaching unprecedented levels,” said Cardell. “Are we about to tip?” she queried the panel.

“No,” said Robert Reich with finality, then dramatic silence that brought a laugh from the audience. Then he continued, “The good news is inequality is something people are talking about. For Republicans, this is fashionable to talk about now.”

For Ai-jen Poo, a conversation about inequality starts with wages. “Low wage workers are organizing now, fighting for $15. Starbucks baristas. Walmart workers--they’re organizing with the same vibrance of Black Lives Matter. We are in the early stages of next great social movement,” said Poo.  

“From an African American perspective, the conversation about inequality starts with mass incarceration. It is, in fact, the most significant defining issue of the African American community,” said Van Jones, founder of #Cut50, a national initiative to cut prison population by 50% in 10 years. “The incarceration rate of African Americans is six times that of their peers, though their white counterparts are doing drugs at the same rate. You can’t give African Americans a fair shot at equality in this society if you’re making them felons for doing the same thing as young kids in college or some of you are doing this weekend.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel, who has been Editor of The Nation since 1995 and a frequent commentator on inequality, said, “Cynicism about government is the wrong way to go. Blaming people is dead politics on arrival. Show how you can improve the conditions of people’s lives.”

Poo jumped in to give concrete ideas for improving 27 million lives in the upcoming “silver tsunami”: The senior (85+) population is the fastest growing and soon to be the largest demographic ever. Homecare is such a fast-growing occupation that the average median income is still just $13,000. By 2050, 27 million people will need care. “If we could connect the dots, we could invest in an infrastructure now,” said Poo. “This is the kind of inequality agenda that connects people across race and ideology.”

Cordell concluded the evening asking each panel member, “What would you do about inequality if you were elected President?” Poo said she would create a new system to support caregiving for families. Jones said end mass incarceration. Vanden Heuvel said end America’s endless engagement in wars. Reich had the last word. “Get big money out of politics,” he said. Reich underscored his optimism to close out the evening. “I’ve been teaching for 35 years,” said Reich, a professor at University of California, Berkeley.  “I’ve never seen a more idealistic group of young people than the current one. We can build a coalition working toward equality based on interconnectedness. As the market tilts and the wealthy have even more power, grassroots organizations will be the countervailing power in working for equality.”

   

 


Alicia Keys and Van Jones Take Justice Reform to Capitol Hill

Alicia Keys took to a different stage this week to ask Congressional members to sign a petition for justice reform that she will deliver to President Obama once it reaches 1 million signatures.

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Alicia Keys speaks to lawmakers. 

"I am a mother," said Keys. "My heart is breaking for mothers left behind by incarceration, struggling to hold it all together. There are 1.1 million fathers in prison and 5 million children with a parent in prison. Is that our America? Is this who we are now?"

Keys began the day in East Baltimore with #Cut50's Van Jones. Her organization We Are Here joined forces Monday with #Cut50, which aims to reduce prison sentences by 50 percent in 10 years.

In the same community where unarmed black man Freddie Gray died earlier this year in police custody, Keys talked to children and mothers forced to support their children alone, stigmatized. "Their lives are full of stress and they do their best not to lose hope. In a way they have been imprisoned too," said Keys.

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Van Jones, Alicia Keys and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. 

She spoke to children affected and mothers whose children were tried as adults when they were as young as 14. “We can no longer afford to be this cruel to our young," said Keys. “These are just regular boys and girls trying to find their way."

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson of the HBO series "The Wire" gave Keys and Jones a tour of the street where she grew up, of boarded-up row houses and a funeral home where many of her friends ended up way too young. Snoop was born a premature crack baby to a mother who was in and out of prison and a father she never knew but who was believed to be a local stick up artist. She was convicted of second-degree murder at age 14, sentenced to 16 years, and released after 6½. Snoop spoke of the difficulty of re-entry into society, a subject Keys addressed later that day on Capitol Hill.

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Snoop gives Jones a tour of the street she grew up on. 

"Currently, when released, ex offenders are forced into a life in the shadows," said Keys. "They can’t vote, they’re ineligible for public housing, food stamps, and often barred from formal employment due to their status as convicted felons. We need to ban the box on job applications. It's up to the private sector. Starbucks and Facebook have no box to tick, showing us the power in believing in second chances."

In less than 30 years, since the "war on drugs" began, the penal population has risen from 300,000 to 2.3 million. It costs between $30,000 and $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison, and reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders could save $40 billion a year. "Can you imagine the good a mother could do with that money?" Keys asked Congressional lawmakers, urging them to sign the petition. 

"Moments of opportunity like this come along once in a generation," said Jones, who also spoke to the packed room about letting judges judge and providing alternatives to prison like rehab and job training.

Jones introduced one of the most vocal leaders of criminal justice reform, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who spoke of the progress in introducing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. It would be the most significant federal action in decades and has the backing of the White House, where Obama has made criminal justice reform a pillar of his second-term agenda.

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Keys meets with Baltimore kids affected by incarceration. 

Keys' deep, rich voice filled the room as she spoke of an extraordinary moment to change the country, and her performer's instincts crept in as she punctuated her words with expressive hands and measured each word musically: "You have the ability to change things. Not them. You. Us. We."

 


This Week in Dream Corps

As this is our first This Week in Dream Corps blog, let me explain how it is here. At our Dream Corps office in downtown Oakland, you could be talking about ending mass incarceration one minute, training disadvantaged youth to code the next, then getting dirty energy to invest in the communities they pollute. You have to think fast because there’s breaking news in each of our three arenas all week long. It’s kind of fun to try to keep up, and to see all the connections from our Oakland office to current events--for example:  

  • Oprah recently bought the movie rights to our own #cut50 Director of Strategy Shaka Senghor’s memoir.

  • Or there was the time last week that a police officer assaulted a non-violent student in South Carolina, and our #Cut50 Director of Policy Matt Haney quickly responded in the press because he happens to be VP of the San Francisco School Board and championed an innovative alternative to student discipline that avoids herding kids into the legal system.

  • Twitter, eBay, Yelp, Pinterest, Square and dozens of other tech leaders recently announced they are teaming with #YesWeCode to hire non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years in light of a million-worker shortage coming by 2020.

  • And when the EPA added the Clean Power Plan to the Federal Registry in late October and 26 states immediately sued to block it, our #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong took to the road to bust the myths and share the success stories of real Californians whose energy bills did not in fact go up as the naysayers predicted--like Maria Zavala, whose bill went from $200 a year to $1.50.    

 Maria Zavala & family, photo courtesy of The Greenlining Institute and UpLiftCA

This week brought the usual whirlwind of interesting developments, and as usual our Dream Corps team was traveling all over the place.

Wednesday #GreenForAll Director Vien Truong and Dream Corps President Van Jones were speaking to a Hollywood crowd hosted by Mark Ruffalo that included Normal Lear and Alicia Silverstone. The event was called Hollywood United for a Healthy California, and the point, says Vien Truong, was “to tell Governor Brown to leave oil in the ground.” She talked to the entertainment industry crowd about the lies being told about how the green movement hurts low-income people. Van Jones said, "Good people got together and said let's take dollars out of polluters pockets and use those dollars to green up poor communities. It went from being a fantasy that people like me wrote bestsellers about but didn't know how to make happen to a fact today in California. California has invested $1 billion dollars in a clean power economy for poor folks in the last two years."  

#GreenForAll's Vien Truong and Mark Ruffalo

Another cool conversation occurred in San Jose at the Verge sustainability conference between Van Jones and Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager and founder of Farallon Capital Management. Their keynote was called “The Business Opportunity Hiding in Plain Sight,” which was about getting the business crowd to engage all communities in the sustainability movement.

Van Jones, who is a CNN Political Commentator, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday as a panelist, and offered this meaty bone to chew on, “What’s so weird is that we’re in this moment where we have a white female who’s a front-runner for the Democrats. We don’t even notice that anymore. We now have an African-American man, front-runner for the Republicans. Ben Carson bewilders, I think most black Democrats. I mean, he certainly is professionally impressive. Personally, he can be somewhat impressive. Usually politically he’s probably the least impressive on that stage and yet, this morning, he was great.”

Finally, this week #YesWeCode got to pick the brains of the best in the business when they were selected out of 100 nonprofits to come to the Schwab Pro Bono Challenge in San Francisco and sit down the Charles Schwab’s CFO, two VPs, and a senior manager and discuss how to beginning thinking about the scholarships they will offer to 100,000 low-opportunity youth. The lightbulb moment for the #YesWeCode team was learning from the experts that when you go to a corporation to get money, fit yourself into their models--take advantage of H.R., because that’s where the money is, so instead of asking for donations, #YesWeCode should consider themselves a placement service thereby getting a fee for bringing in talent from an untraditional pipeline. It was a very practical conversation, which is exactly what the team was looking for.

Oh boy, next week we’ve got a lot more coming down the pike to tell you about...   


CNN: Getting Smart About Justice

cnn

(CNN) Everyone knows that ambitious, bipartisan legislation is completely impossible to pass in today's divided and dysfunctional Washington right?

Wrong.

By year's end, President Barack Obama could sign into law major criminal justice reforms -- passed because of the leadership and full engagement of the congressional GOP.

On Thursday, key leaders took a major step toward that outcome as Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, and Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act of 2015, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that will start chipping away at our unjust, unaffordable system of mass incarceration.

Over the past 40 years, the United States has fought the drug war in the worst way possible -- by jailing those who simply needed help with their addiction or mental illness. Meanwhile, we have targeted and disproportionately sentenced black and brown Americans, as well as those from poorer neighborhoods. And we have created a system that costs too much, imprisons too many, and does too little to truly keep us safe.

Now, nearly 25% of the entire world's prison population is behind bars right here in the land of the free. The federal prison population in particular has skyrocketed, soaring more than 800% since 1980.

With all this in mind, there are three reasons we should all be excited about the SAFE Justice Act.

First, the act will safely and smartly reduce our prison population over time. It will refocus our prison system on those who are an immediate threat to others, not people caught in a police sweep with a small amount of marijuana. The act will also reform mandatory minimums to help snag big traffickers -- but without condemning nonviolent offenders to long prison sentences. Instead, it will expand the use of alternative sentencing like probation, drug courts, and medical treatment for addiction or mental illness. And finally, it will help people get their lives back on track when they get home.

It does all this in smart, sensible ways that have already been piloted and proven at the state level. Both red and blue states have shown that you can lower prison populations, reduce costs, and cut crime by instituting evidence-based alternatives to sentencing, giving judges more discretion, and allowing targeted releases of those who are unlikely to offend again.

In short, the SAFE Justice Act will bring those who pose no danger back to their families by taking the best of state policy and implementing it at the federal level. That is how our system should work.

Second, the act offers a chance at comprehensive justice reform legislation.

The reality is that our system of mass incarceration is simply too interconnected and complex to fix piecemeal. It makes little sense, for example, to send people home from prison without changing the way the "felon" label marks them for life -- preventing them from voting, getting jobs, or even having roofs over their heads. Reforming re-entry into the community without revising mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes leaves too many in jail for far too long -- far longer than other advanced nations. Reinvent prisons without transforming policing and sentencing, and you simply replace one generation of the needlessly jailed with another.

There are a number of good bills that have been introduced in the Senate that do in fact accomplish pieces of what the SAFE Justice Act does. But to reform an interlocking and tightly woven system, we need comprehensive fixes like this one.

Finally, the SAFE Justice Act presents a chance for bipartisan justice reform.

Both parties created this mess. Both parties must fix it. Richard Nixon may have declared the war on drugs, and Ronald Reagan may have turned it into a war on the impoverished, but Bill Clinton also helped create today's mass incarceration nightmare.

Republicans control both houses of Congress, meaning nothing will move without bipartisan support. Indeed, in the real world, there is no functional difference between holding out for justice reform with no Republicans involved and opposing reform altogether. It is time to come together, because suffering families do not have the luxury of waiting for ideological purity.

In states across the nation, leaders have taken a deep breath, stepped across the aisle, implemented serious reforms -- and it has worked. In fact, a range of existing justice reform legislation in the U.S. Senate has bipartisan co-sponsors. Criminal justice is one of the few issues where right and left agree, most recently demonstrated by a huge Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington.

That potential is coming together in a big way. Can such promise be fulfilled? I believe there is nobody more trusted to fix the prison system than Bobby Scott. And there is nobody more committed to cheaper, more effective government than Jim Sensenbrenner. If these two men can work together, then so can everyone else.

The next year will be full of partisan bickering and political grudge matches. But, just maybe, it will also see real bipartisan reform, sparked by two leaders who dared to think big.

Read full article at CNN 


How Big Tech Will Save Big Money

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“Diversity in tech is not about guilt, morality, or the word ‘should,’” said Van Jones, president and co-founder of #YesWeCode. Diverse companies are showing strong evidence of outperforming non-diverse companies, Jones explained. Diversity in tech is about the bottom line.

“At this moment, we have reached a breakthrough level of Bay Area employers committing to the idea of apprenticeships sourcing talent from nontraditional pipelines,” said Jones at the Diversity in Tech Summit at the Oakland Museum October 19. #YesWeCode announced a new Employers’ Council of 30 leading tech companies who have committed to 300 paid positions for non-traditional candidates over the next 5 years.

The Oakland summit brought together leaders from Twitter, Yelp, Lyft, Pinterest, eBay, Square, SolarCity, Pivotal Labs, thoughtbot, NationBuilder, and Good Eggs to address head-on how to get more diversity in the tech economy.

"The reason diversity is a priority for companies and the reason the government is getting involved is there will be a million-worker shortage by 2020,” said Dave Hoover, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, which transforms beginners into full-stack Web developers in 19 weeks. “Finding non-traditional talent sources is a very cost-efficient alternative to outsourcing.”

“Silicon Valley was built on a particular monocrop of genius,” said Jones. “Oakland is the most diverse city in the country. Every kind of human ever born lives in Oakland. 37 languages are spoken in our public schools. There’s an extraordinary amount of genius in this town 38 minutes — without traffic — from an industry built on scaling genius. How do we connect the brilliance of Oakland to these opportunities?”

#YesWeCode facilitates access for companies to nontraditional pipelines such as community college, an online degree, military schooling, or boot camp.

“We aren’t going to use PC terms. We are talking about young poor kids,” Jones told the crowd that included representatives from three mayors’ offices and US Rep. Barbara Lee. ”When we held our national Hackathon, there were engineers from top companies literally with jaws hanging open at how incredibly smart these kids are, trying to solve problems the engineers had never heard of. Like the kid who had an idea for an app for court date reminders. Now when I went to Yale, 80% of my peers were unpoliced drug users. But these kids are from a different world and end up in the system, and that’s a whole untapped world. There is opportunity here.”

“There was a young woman in foster care who said her clothes were all hand me downs from charity,” Jones continued. “‘People laugh at us,’ she said. ‘We do things you wouldn’t want your daughters to do so people don’t laugh at us.’” But she had a great idea: what if we had a way to pick our own clothes from uploaded photographs? Now, the secondhand trade is worth a billion dollars, so here you’ve got a foster kid with a billion-dollar idea in her head.”

“Motivated young people may have circumstances that prevent them from attending 4-year colleges,” said Johnnie Williams, #YesWeCode’s Apprenticeship Director. “The talent is there. It’s all about providing resources.”

Hoover, who ran Groupon’s apprenticeship program, explained how apprenticeship is ideal at this moment because of the way hiring has changed, “There’s a lot of great potential out there, and there’s a new industry saying, ‘potential over credential.’ The great thing about software development is that when bringing someone new on board, you can ask them to code something and look at the product.”

Marcy Tavano, Director of People at Pivotal Labs, echoed that analogy: “When hiring we think of ourselves as the basketball coach considering a new player. Let’s get you on the court so you can show me how you play.”

“Software is a team sport,” said Dan Croak, chief marketing officer of thoughtbot, “The internship that tech companies use has evolved into a more structured mentorship. You come on board as a second pair of hands on a client’s project. But your primary purpose is to learn, so you are encouraged to pause client work and go deep into a topic when you need to. We hire two-thirds of apprentices, and recently there’s been a 10% lift of people of color in the program.”

It’s no longer enough to hire exactly the right narrow candidate, because that role might last, say, 8 months. Companies have learned that when hiring, it’s more cost-effective to think like a skill producer than a skill consumer. “Your business is your talent,” said Hoover. In an age of non-templatized jobs, the ability to transition roles is key, and apprenticeship is the perfect platform for cultivating the full-deck, evolving developer.

Tamika Ross, chief of staff for Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, said, “The word we like to use now is ‘tequity.’ We have a new talent pipeline. The growth can be shared. New cities can connect to a regional economy. And we can set young people up for success.”

“We think a lot more is possible,” said Jones. “It’s like Prince said — the older people in the crowd know who Prince is — you can have more Mark Zuckerbergs and Marissa Mayers if you have different expectations of people.”

Source: Medium


The New York Times: Silicon Valley, Seeking Diversity, Focuses on Blacks

From left, Mohammed Abdulla, Isaiah Martin, Matthew Jones and Zebreon Wallace take part in the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland, Calif., a program that teaches technological development and entrepreneurial skills to African-American students.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

Having grown up in a single-parent home with an absent father who was frequently incarcerated, Mr. Young, 33, can identify with other young black men he now calls “hidden geniuses” — the promising male teenagers who grow up in challenging circumstances mere miles away, but light-years apart, from Silicon Valley’s tech money machine.

That experience led Mr. Young to found the Hidden Genius Project two years ago. The program immerses high school men of color in coding, web and app design, team building and other skills intended to give them a leg up in the tech economy. Mr. Young says he focused on young men because similar groups existed for young women, and because young males face particular challenges in school and their communities.

His project is one of a multitude of grass-roots efforts that have sprung up recently to address one of Silicon Valley’s most acute diversity problems: the scarcity of African-Americans in the tech industry.

“We are helping these young men to understand who they are and what they’re capable of,” said Mr. Young, who runs his education technology start-up, MindBlown Labs, in the same Oakland building as Hidden Genius Project. “We’re giving them a pathway and putting them on it.”

Silicon Valley has been engulfed in a diversity debate for more than a year, in part because data released by giant tech companies like Google, Facebook and others showed how overwhelmingly tilted the population of tech workers is to white males. The data highlighted that the low number of African-American tech workers is particularly acute, worse than even the dearth of women and Hispanics in the industry.

Google revealed that its tech work force was 1 percent black, compared with 60 percent white. Yahoo disclosed in July that African-Americans made up 1 percent of its tech workers while Hispanics were 3 percent. In areport last month, Apple said it had made progress increasing diversity in hiring in the last year, though African-Americans remained the smallest fraction of its tech work force at 7 percent, compared with 53 percent white, 25 percent Asian and 8 percent Hispanic; the rest were undeclared, multiple or other.

According to the United States Census Bureau, African-Americans and Hispanics have been consistently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations. In 2011, blacks represented 11 percent of the total work force but only 6 percent of STEM workers. Hispanics were 15 percent of the total work force and 7 percent of STEM workers.

The figures released by the tech companies have led to a flurry of initiatives to address the issue. Spurred by advocates like the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., who runs the nonprofit Rainbow PUSH Coalition, there are now “black tech” summit meetings and efforts by historically black colleges and universities to produce more science, technology, math and engineering graduates. These have been joined by a growing number of professional networks, including a new Black Tech Employees Resource Group, and nonprofit groups like Black Girls Code and Code2040, which are bushwhacking the professional trail.

“A lot of African-Americans want to grow up to be LeBron James, Jay Z or Barack Obama,” said Van Jones, the CNN political commentator and founder of #YesWeCode, a year-old program that has raised $3 million to connect young adults in Oakland to apprenticeships in tech companies. “They don’t hear about David Drummond at Google, who is at the center of one of the biggest companies in the world.” (Mr. Drummond is a senior vice president and Google’s chief legal officer.)

The idea with all of the new efforts, Mr. Jones said, is to create a generation of black entrepreneurial “uploaders” — those who create profit-making apps instead of simply downloading them.

How effective some of these initiatives will be remains unclear. “No one new idea will drive systemic change,” said Rosalind L. Hudnell, the chief diversity officer at Intel, which has pledged $425 million over the last few years to diversity efforts. “There is no quick fix.”

At the heart of the issue, underrepresented minorities “are up against a series of barriers and obstacles that their Caucasian and Asian counterparts don’t have,” said Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute in Oakland, which sponsors programs to increase diversity in technology. “The farther outside the tech ecosystem they are, the harder it is.”

And entry into the tech firmament remains challenging, even for African-Americans with engineering degrees. Consider Erin Teague, 33, director of product management at Yahoo, who grew up in a predominantly black suburb of Detroit and later became the only black woman among 1,200 students at the University of Michigan’s engineering department.

At left, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Van Jones, a civil rights advocate, addressed the Push Tech 2020 gathering.CreditPeter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

“Everyone around me believed in me and saw me as smart,” she said. “But there was an exposure and access gap. I didn’t know what to dream for.” Eventually she received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and became one of the first 500 employees at Twitter.

With only 1 percent of venture-capital-backed start-ups led by African-Americans, access to capital is also being viewed as a civil rights issue.

“If you’re a 20-something in Atlanta or Oakland, you might not have the familial wealth or the network you need to raise seed-stage funding from angel investors, who are mostly white men of a certain age,” said Monique N. Woodard, the founder and executive director of Black Founders, a group dedicated to increasing the number of black tech entrepreneurs.

Now new networking groups, both formal and informal, are trying to shift that equation. At a “blacks in tech” gathering in Oakland in May, nearly 100 African-American entrepreneurs and diversity advocates brainstormed about Oakland as “the soul city of tech.” A new Bay Area Blacks in Tech organization also met in July at the San Francisco offices of Pinterest, the online scrapbooking start-up.

“Seeing almost 200 black engineers gathered together isn’t a common sight,” said Makinde Adeagbo, 29, a Pinterest engineer and one of the organizers. “We heard about what awesome things black engineers were working on at all these different companies. Events like these remind you that you aren’t alone.”

Ken Coleman, who is African-American and chairman of the data analytics firm Saama Technologies, started a “More Diverse Silicon Valley” event in 2013 at the exclusive Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, Calif. — the Main Street of venture capital — with the goal of enhancing upward mobility and access to capital for blacks and others.

“The most important ingredient for a tech company is talent,” Mr. Coleman said. “It’s shortsighted to overlook talent anywhere.”

Promoting entrepreneurship and increasing the numbers of math, science and engineering graduates has also become an imperative for historically black colleges and universities. About 28 percent of all math and tech-related degrees awarded to African-Americans are from those institutions.

Two years ago, the United Negro College Fund collaborated with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and others to hold an “innovation summit” at Stanford University, which was attended by provosts, deans and faculty members of some of these colleges and universities and intended to forge closer relationships with tech companies.

“It was a very powerful event,” said Chad Womack, a director at the United Negro College Fund, who added that the group visited Facebook and was greeted by Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer.

Still, the hope that a consortium of tech companies would get together after the event to collectively invest in pipeline issues has yet to materialize. “If you look at the scale and speed with which the Valley moves, if they wanted to solve this problem, they could,” Dr. Womack said.

At the still-fledgling Hidden Genius Project, progress has been incremental, but there is traction. In total, 33 young men have completed the program or are in it, including 19 who just started. Mr. Young said the project had improved the academic performance of young people like Matthew Jones, 18, a student from East Oakland who described himself as a onetime “knucklehead.”

Because of Hidden Genius Project, Mr. Jones said he went from being a C student to graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. He starts college at California State University, East Bay this month, with plans to major in computer science and the goal of becoming a software engineer.

“It’s taught me critical thinking skills and made me a better person,” Mr. Jones said. “I want to keep going.”

Source: The New York Times


EBONY: 8 Companies Attack the Digital Divide

#YesWeCode is proud to included in this great roundup of companies attacking the Digital Divide. 


 

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Back in 2014, when it became public knowledge that the big tech players (Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google) weren’t hiring enough women and people of color, there became what seemed like a national call to action to get these underrepresented groups ready for tech careers.

With this big diversity push also came an increasing number of organizations creating tech opportunities for communities of color by launching coding academies and schools, providing programs that offer tech entrepreneurs much-needed resources, and directly connecting young people to tech careers and opportunities. Here are eight of them.

Starter League

Founded in Chicago in 2011 by two African-American men (Mike McGee and Neal Sales-Griffin, both Northwestern graduates) as Code Academy, Starter League is an 11-week program that teaches people how to build web applications. With a mission to teach people to solve the problems they care about with technology, the program also partners with Chicago public schools to train teachers how to code, so they can teach their students.

To date, over 1,000 people have taken classes at the tech school, learning everything from web development, HTML and even user experience. When the founders first launched the school, they did it because they find a dearth of in-person code training around the country. “So we decided to build it,” McGee told Emerging Prairie.

Black Girls Code

After working in the chemical engineering and biotech field for 25 years, in 2010 Kimberly Bryant decided she wanted to become an entrepreneur. After networking a bit, she kept hearing about the lack of women and people of color in tech. So she connected with a developer from Code for America and two biotech colleagues to launch a pilot program in 2011 in a low-income community.

Now in 2015, the San Francisco-based tech company, with a mission to increase the number of women in color in the tech space, has reached over 3,000 girls of color ages 7 to 17. With chapters in nine cities as well as pilot programs in Dallas and Miami, the program offers afterschool and weekend workshops and summer camps in programming, game development, robotics and tech entrepreneurship. There are also hackathons, where the girls work together to build problem-solving apps.

AllStarCode

AllStarCode prepares young men of color for full time employment in the tech industry by providing mentorship, industry exposure and intensive training in computer science. After seeing programs aimed at preparing women for careers in tech, Christina Lewis Halpern (a former journalist for The Wall Street Journal) discovered there weren’t many programs aimed at young Black men.

An increasing number of organizations are creating tech opportunities for communities of color by launching coding academies and schools.

“This is a group that doesn’t have advocates and needs more people who are able to speak for them in this industry,” Lewis Halpern told FastCompany. “I saw that that’s something I could do, and also it seemed that if I didn’t do it, I didn’t think anyone else would.”

The daughter of the richest African-American man in the 1980s, Reginald E. Lewis, Lewis Halpern credits her father’s success to the Harvard Law School summer program he attended when he was young. The program runs year-round workshops, hackathons and a six-week summer intensive. Some of the program’s alumni have gone on to run high school hackathons, intern at tech companies and win full scholarships to Ivy League universities.

Hack the Hood

Funded by the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation, Hack the Hood launched its first full summer program in Oakland in 2013. The program introduces low-income youth of color to careers in tech by hiring and training them to build websites for real small businesses in their own communities.  

During workshops and six-week boot camps, young people gain valuable hands-on experience building mobile-friendly websites, executing search engine optimization, and helping businesses get listed in local online directories. In turn, the youth get to develop portfolios of the work they’ve done to prepare them for landing jobs in the tech sector. In addition to relevant technical skills, youth also learn critical leadership, entrepreneurship and life skills under the guidance of staff members and volunteer mentors who are professionals working in the field.

In 2014, the program was awarded a $500,000 grant after placing in the top four of the Google Impact Challenge—a contest that gave $5 million to nonprofits with innovative ideas to make the Bay Area stronger. By 2016, the program officers plan to train over 5,000 young people and build over 10,000 websites for local small businesses.

The Hidden Genius Project

The Hidden Genius Project trains and mentors Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship and leadership skills in hopes of getting them ready for the high-tech sector. In Oakland, not far from Silicon Valley, these young men are learning new languages like Python, HTML5 and Ruby on Rails. With companies like Pixar, Pandora and Ask.com housed in Oakland, it’s disconcerting that they’re not tapping into the talent right from the local community. The project aims to prepare young men for careers at those companies.

To join the program, the young men have to apply; once accepted, they must commit to attending classes twice a week, beginning with an eight-week long, 40-hour-a-week summer school. Over the course of two years, participants develop a mobile app from concept to completion. After the first year, students get to work on projects from paying clients.

Founded by Jason Young, Kurt Collins, Kilimanjaro Robbs, Ty Moore and others, the Project wants to create an ecosystem for tech talent. “The goal is, after we’ve worked with them for an entire year, to then have them stay involved at a different level,” Hidden Genius Project volunteer Kilimanjaro Robbs told Mashable. “Maybe they become mentors to the younger students while they’re still working on something at a higher level. But at the end of the day, the end goal is to make them all employable. That’s the bottom line.”

BLUE1647

Since August 2013, Emile Cambry’s BLUE1647 launched to provide a co-working space for local tech startups and serve as a learning lab for students on the south and west sides of Chicago. The organization also hosts a summer youth coding boot camp. Having worked with thousands of Chicago students, BLUE1647 is teaching a host of technology skills in web, mobile and game development.

“I saw a bunch of youth what needed jobs and opportunity. And I saw a lot of stuff in tech. I thought, lets try and educate the next group,” Cambry told ChicagoInno. High school students create projects directly related to their lives, like a DJ app program or projects in fashion tech, like necklaces created on 3D printing machines.

#YesWeCode

Van Jones, along with Global Social Enterprise expert Amy Henderson and Internet tech expert Cheryl Contee, started #YesWeCode with the plan of preparing 100,000 low-income kids for careers in technology. Launched at the 20th annual Essence Festival last year with a hackathon and headline performance by Prince, the organization (in partnership with Facebook) powered its website as a search tool for youth to find local coding education resources, linking them with coding schools like Black Girls Code and Hack the Hood.

#YesWeCode also launched a $10 million fundraising drive to provide scholarships to youth who can’t afford to pay for coding classes on their own. “#YesWeCode aspires to become the United Negro College Fund equivalent for coding education,” Jones told USA Today. “#YesWeCode exists to find and fund the next Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in communities you would never expect to find them.”

CODE2040

Demographers believe that by 2040, minorities will become the majority in the United States. Tristan Walker and co-founder Laura Weidman Powers want to capitalize on that by preparing Black and Latino engineers to become part of the innovation economy. Less code school and more an internship mentorship program, CODE2040 started in 2012 to place the top performing Black and Latino engineering undergraduates in internships in tech jobs in Silicon Valley. Often tech companies say they want to increase diversity, but they don’t know where to find the talent. That’s the problem CODE2040 is helping to solve.

“The reason we called it CODE2040 is that in the year 2040, Black and Latinos will be the majority of the country. If we are not incorporating the perspective of what will be the majority of our country in 20 or 30 years, something is wrong,” Walker told Mashable.

On the other side, for students it increases awareness about the kind of careers that can be available to them and provides them with the access to those careers. Before entering the fellowship, applicants must pass a coding exam, a phone screen, and then a matching process with one of the organization’s host companies. This year, Google will back a new pilot program for CODE2040 in Chicago, Austin and Durham, North Carolina, giving minority entrepreneurs in each city a one-year stipend and free office space.

Read original article on EBONY


Media Impact Forum 2015: Unlocking Opportunity in Diverse Communities

The Media Impact Forum kicked off its symposium with a moving presentation by CNN Commentator and former Obama Administration official Van Jones, who laid out a vision for greater inclusion in the technology industry, focusing on the #YesWeCode initiative run by his organization, Dream Corps, with support from The Atlantic Philanthropies.


The Washington Post: Silicon Valley struggles to hack its diversity problem

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Yahoo disclosed last week that African Americans made up just 2 percent of its workers, while Hispanics stood at 4 percent. Those revelations came days after Facebook reported that in 2014 it had employed just 81 blacks among its 5,500 U.S. workers.

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, a contentious issue that has come into sharper focus in recent months as tech firms have sheepishly released updates on their hiring of minorities. The companies have pledged to do better. Many point to the talent pipeline as one of the main culprits. They’d hire if they could, but not enough black and Hispanic students are pursuing computer science degrees, they say.

But fresh data show that top schools are turning out black and Hispanic graduates with tech degrees at rates significantly higher than they are being hired by leading tech firms.

Last year, black students took home 4.1 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology and computer engineering, according to an annual survey by the Computing Research Association of 121 top U.S. and Canadian colleges. That’s double the average of blacks hired at the biggest tech firms. Hispanics accounted for 7.7 percent of the degrees.

“It would be a more convincing argument if their numbers more closely tracked what we were producing,” said Stuart Zweben, an Ohio State computer science professor who helps conduct the survey. And Silicon Valley’s diversity problem exists not just on the tech side.

Tech’s largest firms also significantly lag in their hiring of minorities for sales, marketing and public relations jobs.

At Google, blacks and Hispanics each accounted for just 4 percent of Google’s non- technical workforce last year. At Facebook, blacks made up 3 percent of its non-tech workforce in May, while Hispanics were at 7 percent.

In the overall U.S. workforce, blacks made up 13 percent of employees and Hispanics were at 16 percent.

The lack of minorities in Silicon Valley has been met by a rising sense of urgency. Firms began disclosing their diversity data last year under pressure from groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. And those numbers have underscored the extent of the problem in this tech hotbed, where former start-ups have matured into some of the nation’s leading economic engines. Further doubts about workplace equality in Silicon Valley were stoked this year by the high-profile trial involving former Reddit chief executive Ellen Pao, who lost her sex discrimination case against storied venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Jackson rebutted claims by companies that there simply isn’t a robust talent pool of blacks and Latinos. He for years attended shareholder meetings for Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google and demanded that the companies release data on their workforces.

“They aren’t looking in the right places,” Jackson said in an interview. “And this doesn’t answer the question of why the vast majority of their workforce — which is non-tech — is also lacking diversity.”

Challenging issue

For a tech sector accustomed to hacking its way out of problems, making its workforce more diverse has emerged as a major challenge. And the industry has only recently admitted its shortcomings. Until last year, Google, Apple and Facebook, among others, declined to disclose data on workforce diversity. Some firms — such as Oracle, which has 122,000 workers worldwide and declined to respond to a request for comment for this article — still haven’t. Yahoo also declined to comment.

In tech’s data-driven world, the numbers were bruising. For example, Facebook’s data showed that it added only seven black employees from 2012 to 2013, before hiring 36 between 2013 and 2014.

“We know we have work to do,” said Ime Archibong, a Yale grad who is black and works at Facebook as its strategic partnerships director. “We know that.”

Others said it will take time for efforts to reflect in their employment data.

“The pipeline is just a piece of it. Our main issue is that any meaningful change for a company our size takes time,” said Roya Soleimani, a spokeswoman at Google.

Facebook’s challenge is that it is looking for a very specific group of computer science graduates, for instance, people who understand data systems and algorithms, said Maxine Williams, the global head of diversity at Facebook.

“We are trying desperately to have a more diverse workforce and deal with the constraints on the pipeline,” Williams said.

But some in the tech world believe the focus on the pipeline overshadows the wealth of qualified minority candidates already out there.

“It’s not even remotely a pipeline issue,” said Andrea Hoffman, who runs Culture Shift Labs, which helps companies find minority and female talent. Her company recently hosted a brunch in Palo Alto, Calif., for minority job-seekers in tech and finance. The 200 seats were snapped up, and she had to make a waiting list for 200 more.

“For anybody to tell me the talent isn’t out there,” she said, “I know emphatically that’s not true.”

Asians are the exception. They have been hired at rates far above other minority groups and even above their representation in the overall U.S. workforce. At Facebook, for example, 41 percent of the tech workforce is Asian.

The strong recruitment of Asians is attributed to the hiring of skilled immigrants, particularly from China and India, and high U.S. graduate rates of Asians in computer science programs. Asians have also established tight-knit networking organizations such as The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TIE, a business networking group that began in 1992 in Silicon Valley and now has
13,000 members around the world.

Tackling bias

Big tech companies, aside from their concerns about the pipeline, also point to a tangle of challenges, including unconscious biases that have given preference to white men. That bias shows up in recruiting, with companies drawing from the same top universities, where black and Hispanic graduates are still lagging behind other groups.

“Once you have a Latina Marissa Mayer and a black Mark Zuckerberg, a lot of these problems will go away,” said Van Jones, one of the founders of Yes We Code, a group that aims to teach 100,000 low-income people to write computer code. “The pipeline isn’t big enough, and the uptake isn’t aggressive enough.”

The problem is particularly acute at start-ups, where black founders are just 1 percent of venture-invested firms, according to a 2011 survey by CB Insights. Venture capital firms — mostly led by white men — have admitted that they are often introduced to start-ups from their own business contacts — also largely white men. And then the big firms acquire these start-ups or hire from them in a self-perpetuating pattern.

More comprehensive data on the number of black and Latino partners at venture firms isn’t yet available, said Kate Mitchell, a partner at Scale Venture Partners and the head of a diversity task force for the National Venture Capital Association trade group.

“I think it says something that we don’t even have the numbers,” Mitchell said. “How do we even know it’s a problem if we don’t have the numbers to show it exists?”

There is a rich body of research that shows how big companies used specific plans to increase diversity. A 2015 study by the McKinsey consulting firm showed that companies with more diversity in leadership were 35 percent more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median.

The issue of diversity “hasn’t moved into the top priorities so that it is something the CEOs are talking about constantly,” said Megan Smith, the national chief technology officer, who was appointed by President Obama to lead tech policy. “That is something the research shows works; that if your leadership team is constantly talking about it and iterating on it just like they would on products and businesses, that will move the needle.”

In 2000, Coca-Cola settled a $192.5 million racial discrimination lawsuit brought by black employees who accused the company of race-based pay discrimination. Throughout the 18-month court battle, the company’s reputation suffered as the case drew international attention.

As a result, the company rewrote its employment policies and doubled the number of minorities in management positions. Today, African American staff make up 21 percent of the company, while Hispanics are at 18 percent.

Surge in programs

In the past year, the biggest tech firms have announced a slew of programs aimed at increasing diversity in their ranks.

Facebook expanded its summer internship program for minority computer science majors and started a new internship for minority business majors. Facebook also implemented a rule that requires recruiters to interview minority candidates.

Google, Facebook and Apple expanded the number of colleges for recruiting. Google said it found that 35 percent of black computer science graduates were coming from historically black colleges. So two years ago, it began to embed engineers at those schools to teach and mentor students into careers at the company.

Intel has been particularly aggressive. Earlier this year, the chipmaker pledged that its workforce would reflect the broader U.S. labor pool by 2020, and it created a $300 million venture fund designated for minority-led start-ups.

Christopher Hocutt is one of those who have benefited from the efforts. The Howard University student, who is black, struggled to get a summer internship in Silicon Valley, even with solid grades and after serving as president of the school’s Association for Computing Machinery.

During his junior year, Google began its guest teaching program and sent an engineer to Howard. The Google employee became a mentor to Hocutt, teaching the Richmond, Va., native what to expect in a summer internship interview and making important introductions to recruiters.

“I didn’t even know where to start, and I didn’t know how important it was to know how the process worked,” said Hocutt, who got the summer internship.

This summer, Google hired 30 college students from the historically black colleges for summer internships. Hocutt graduated from Howard in June and began as the first full-time hire from the search-engine giant’s program.

Read original story at The Washington Post.


Innovating the Future at #EssenceFest 2015!

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EPIC is the only way I can describe last week’s historic 10-Day Road to #YesWeCode Bus Tour and Hackathon.

More than 80 students took a road trip with #YesWeCode and Estella’s Brilliant Bus across seven cities before arriving at Essence Festival in New Orleans.

At the TECHJXN Innovation Summit and Hackathon kick off in Jackson, Mississippi, students designed mobile app concepts designed to improve their communities. The top teams pitched their app ideas on the main stage at Essence Festival in front of a panel of judges. One of our celebrity guest judges was singer India Arie

CONGRATS to the grand prize winning team who pitched G.E.C.C. This app crowdsources and reports on local infrastructure issues, such as potholes, so government officials can better address them. In addition to taking home brand new tablet devices, the winners will also receive six months of professional mentorship from a tech firm in New Orleans.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors, partners, supporters, volunteers and students for showing the world, "YES WE CODE." 

Check out our digital recap and relive the magic >>

- Van

 


CNN: Mental illness is no crime

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By Van Jones and Newt Gingrich

(CNN) Before Paton Blough got his bipolar disorder under control, it nearly cost him everything.

The Greenville, South Carolina, resident was arrested six times in three years, each for an episode related to his illness. Instead of receiving treatment, he was thrown in jail. In the rough prison environment and without proper treatment, he ended up with two felony convictions for crimes committed while incarcerated.

Blough managed to find a path to treatment. That makes him one of the lucky ones. Today, mentally ill Americans are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, incarcerated, suffer solitary confinement or rape in prison and commit another crime once released.

Quick: Name the largest provider of mental health care in America. If you guessed "our prisons and jails," you would be right.

A 2006 U.S. Department of Justice study found that three out of four female inmates in state prisons, 64% of all people in jail, 56% of all state prison inmates and 45% of people in federal prison have symptoms or a history of mental disorder.

America's approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes -- locking them up without addressing the problem -- is a solution straight out of the 1800s.

When governments closed state-run psychiatric facilities in the late 1970s, it didn't replace them with community care, and by default, the mentally ill often ended up in jails. There are roughly as many people in Anchorage, Alaska, or Trenton, New Jersey, as there are inmates with severe mental illness in American prisons and jails, according to one 2012 estimate. The estimated number of inmates with mental illness outstrips the number of patients in state psychiatric hospitals by a factor of 10.

Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital. With2 million people with mental illness booked into jails each year, it is not surprising that the biggest mental health providers in the country are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County Jail in Chicago.

Our system is unfair to those struggling with mental illness.

Cycling them through the criminal justice system, we miss opportunities to link them to treatment that could lead to drastic improvements in their quality of life and our public safety. These people are sick, not bad, and they can be diverted to mental health programs that cost less and are more effective than jail time. People who've committed nonviolent crimes can often set themselves on a better path if they are provided with proper treatment.

The current situation is also unfair to law enforcement officers and to the people running our prisons, who are now forced to act as doctors or face tense confrontations with the mentally ill while weighing the risk to public safety. In fact, at a time when police shootings are generating mass controversy, there is far too little discussion of the fact that when police use force, it often involves someone with a mental illness.

Finally, the current approach is unfair to taxpayers, because there are far more cost-effective ways for a decent society to provide care to the mentally ill. Just look at Ohio, where the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is projected to spend $49 million this year on medications and mental health care, on top of nearly $23,000 per inmate per year.

Paton Blough is proof that there is a better way. After eventually getting the treatment he needed, he is out of jail and now helps teach law enforcement officers effective ways to intervene with people with mental health needs.

His focus is just one of a surprising number of proven, effective solutions with broad support. Both advocates for the mentally ill and the law enforcement community have lined up in support of increased training for officers. The psychiatric community as well as those focused on reducing crime can all agree on expanding mental health courts, crisis intervention teams, and veterans' courts.

A new initiative, "Stepping Up," unites state and local governments and the American Psychiatric Foundation to promote research-based practices to tackle our overreliance on jail as mental health treatment, such as in-jail counseling programs that reduce the chances of repeat offenders.

State and local officials have shown us the way.

We've seen large communities such as Miami-Dade County, Florida, completely redesign their systems at every level, training police officers in crisis intervention, instituting careful assessments of new jail admissions and redirecting their mentally ill populations into treatment, effectively reducing the rates of re-arrest.

We've seen smaller rural counties faced with tight budgets collaborate with neighboring communities to pool their limited resources to pay for new programs and properly track progress to promote accountability.

Perhaps most surprisingly in these partisan times, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to support mental health reform. The bipartisan Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Senate, passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

The legislation includes simple measures that would fund alternatives to jail and prison admissions for those in need of treatment and expand training programs for law enforcement personnel on how to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The notion of bipartisan, comprehensive criminal justice reform is not just idle talk. It is happening.

Both sides see practical alternatives to incarceration that can reduce prison populations, improve public safety, save lives and save money. If Congress moves swiftly to pass the great ideas now percolating in the House and Senate, it will become a reality.

Take it from a conservative and a liberal: A good place to start is by addressing the needs of our mentally ill citizens in jails and prisons.

Click to original full article here.


USA Today: Atlanta's Cheating Teachers are Not Mobsters

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Our out-of-control criminal justice system has forgotten about justice.

Last Tuesday, eight Atlanta Public Schools employees were sentenced to prison in one of the largest school cheating scandals in American history. But you wouldn't know they were cheaters based on how they were treated in court. The educators were convicted of racketeering — a felony typically reserved for mob bosses, drug kingpins and terrorists.

The Atlanta teachers are now the latest victims of overcriminalization. They were charged under a law that had nothing to do with their actions. For years, the educators quietly changed students' answers on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced CompetencyTest, dramatically boosting the scores. They did so because the tests are tied to the state's funding for schools affecting their pay and employment.

The educators should be held responsible for their actions, but the punishment should also fit the crime. While similar scandals have occurred in 39 different states and Washington, D.C., the offenders have rarely been prosecuted as criminals. Yet in an unprecedented move, the prosecutors in Atlanta charged the educators under Georgia's "Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act" — a law passed in 1980 specifically to combat the scourge of organized crime. RICO laws, which exist at the federal level and in 33 states, empower prosecutors to go after the leaders of organized crime who order but do not personally commit crimes such as robbery, money laundering and murder. Individuals convicted under such laws can face up to 20 years in prison.

As nonviolent first-time offenders, the Atlanta educators would not likely have received any jail time but for prosecutors' unprecedented use of RICO. Three were sentenced to seven years in prison, two received two-year sentences and two will sit in jail for a year. Two others accepted plea deals with lighter sentences. Most must also pay a fine and serve probation and community service.

These punishments do not fit the crimes. Yet this is not a rarity — similar stories play out all too frequently around the country.

Overcriminalization is rampant in America's legal system. A Florida fisherman disposed of undersized fish yet was convicted of violating a law passed to prevent destruction of business records. An Arkansas company ran children's clothing consignment sales staffed by parents and volunteers and was charged with violating federal employment policies. A jilted wife in Pennsylvania doused over-the-counter chemicals on the doorknobs of her husband's lover's house and was prosecuted for violating an international treaty meant to prevent chemical warfare. The list goes on.

These and countless other examples are the result of America's unwieldy and unjust criminal code. Today, there are estimated to be about 4,500 federal crimes scattered throughout the U.S. Code's 54 sections and 27,000 pages. Add state laws plus the federal regulations that include criminal penalties and this number grows into the hundreds of thousands.

The criminal code is so broad and so confusing that Americans sometimes can't help but run afoul of it. Once they do, their lives can quickly and permanently be ruined. A staggering number of criminal laws and regulations lack "intent" and "knowledge" requirements, which protect unwitting Americans who have no reasonable way of knowing they committed a crime. The list of nonviolent offenses is so broad that everyday activity can often be criminal. And many federal and state crimes are accompanied by mandatory minimum sentences that force minor lawbreakers into unjust prison terms.

The lawmakers and regulators who created this system were well-intentioned, but we can see the harmful results all around us.

America, with over two million prisoners, now accounts for a quarter of the world's prison population. No other industrialized nation comes close.

This mass imprisonment worsens America's poverty crisis. According to a Villanova University study, "had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20%" in recent years. This makes sense, given that a stint in prison leads to nine fewer weeks of annual work and 40% lower annual earnings for former inmates, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Overcriminalization hurts the Americans who can least afford it.

These problems will get steadily worse until policymakers reform the broken criminal justice system. State and federal elected officials can start by cutting the criminal laws that go too far — especially for nonviolent offenses — and clarifying the ones that are overly broad and subject to frequent abuse. When new laws are established, lawmakers should ensure that they enhance public safety and satisfy the requirements laid out in the Bill of Rights. And they should only expand the criminal code when there is broad consensus.

The need for action is urgent. Eight Atlanta educators are on their way to prison because they were prosecuted and convicted as if they were mob bosses, which their actions, while reprehensible, did not warrant. How many Americans have to be similarly mistreated — and how many people's lives have to be ruined — before policymakers act?

Van Jones, founder of Dream Corps/Rebuild The Dream, is a former special advisor to President Barack Obama. Mark Holden is general counsel of Koch Industries which supports the Coalition for Public Safety.

Click to read original article.


Usher's New Look: Detroit Participates in #YesWeCode Hackathon at Ford STEAM lab

Last Friday and Saturday, Usher’s New Look Detroit participated in a hackathon at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in partnership with #YesWeCode. New Look Mogul in Training, Ciarah Lee, and Leadership Academy Senior, Dante Hollis, participated by helping lead activities for middle school youth including ‘Expressions’, a New Look tradition where students step out of their comfort zone and share their talents.

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In the Ford STEAM lab, 100 Detroit middle school students from five middle schools in the Detroit metropolitan area got the chance to become software designers. Youth invented a range of mobile applications to make learning easier, from catching up on missed assignments, to studying math and music through gaming – all the while earning $42,500 in awards and scholarships.

The two-day event challenged students to learn the basics of software coding, and then produce, or “hack”, an application to help them in school. Thank you FORD and #YesWeCode for continuing to invest in the future of the Detroit community, our youth!

Click to read at original source. 


Medium: A letter of Forgiveness From The Family of The Man I Murdered.

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Today, nearly five years from the day I was told I was being paroled after serving 19 years in prison, I found myself searching for my parole papers. As I searched through the footlocker that contained my journals,personal letters and legal documents, I was stopped in my tracks by the letter that set me on the path of transformation. Dated July 31, 1997, exactly 6 years and 3 days after David’s death, it remains just as powerful and meaningful to me today. It is by far one of the most influential letters I received in my life and guides the restorative justice and criminal justice reform work I do. Here is the letter in its entirety.

A few days ago it was the 6th year anniversary of my son’s death. I call him my “son” because he lived with me much of his life.

I’m sure you remember him in some way or another because you are the man who murdered David ******** on July 28, 1991.

It was a very difficult day for me and my family. I had spent 3 years being a caregiver for David’s mother, and she had just died of cancer in December of 1990. And now, 6 months later, I received a phone call that David was dead.

His brother was devastated. To this day, he says he didn’t only lose a brother — he lost his best friend.

David had a new baby son which God blessed him with-the baby was only 10 months old in July, 1991. David never got to see his son celebrate his first birthday- or any of them- And it was also a very painful day on July 28 because it was my daughter’s birthday. She and David were born only 3 months apart. Every year on her birthday, our hearts ache for the dear one we’ve lost.

David also had 2 daughters. One is now in college, and although she is a very bright girl, she is having terrible bouts of depression because her dad is gone. The rest of our family tries to help her but there is an emptiness in her life that no one else can fill.

Now what I want you to know, other than these painful things that you have brought upon my family, is that I love you, and I forgive you. How Can I do less? Because God loves you, and I am a Christian so I humbly follow his guidance. His word tells me (in the Bible) that He loves us all, no matter what we have done or how bad we think we are. And we are to love one another no matter what the circumstances. You may think your life is a mess but you are special. And God’s able to pick you up and cause you to go on. He can clean up your messes, no matter WHAT they are. God can be your best friend. Nobody in the the whole world will ever love you like God loves you.

Because I know God brings hope and joy into our lives if we let Him, I suggest you set aside a year and just let God love you. Just approach him as a little child would…Crawl up in his lap and let Him love you. Through his son, Jesus, he can fill that empty hole down deep inside — the part of us that is missing if we live our livew without Him. God says, “You shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free.” (John 8:32) God is the Truth, and He can bring peace and rest, and so many other wonderful things.

Sincerely

Nancy

Nancy gave me a second chance and today I am the founder of the Atonement Project, a recipient of the 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award, a 2013 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network, and teach a course on the Atonement Project at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2014, I shared my story on the world-renowned TED stage and in just four months my talk reached more than 1,000,000 views.

I currently serve as the Director of Strategy for #Cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to safely and smartly reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years by convening unlikely allies, elevating proven solutions, and communicating a powerful new narrative.

Click to read at original source.


Huffington Post: Seizing the Moment to Reform a Criminal Justice System that Hurts Families and Communities

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On July 24, 2004, I stood in an overly air-conditioned courtroom in Gainesville, Georgia, and watched as my then-husband pled out to six years in prison for a non-violent crime. As the bailiff handcuffed him and began to lead him out of the room, I looked down at my two-month-old daughter and felt fear wash over me. Without having gone to college, I'd been unable to find a job making more than the minimum wage, and I knew that my income alone would not be enough to pay for our household and provide food for my daughter and me.

As the days passed, I began to feel a growing sense of rage. Sentencing a person to six years in prison would not only rip apart his family, but he would lose his job, his home, and any support he had within the community. How could there not be a more logical approach to addressing crime?

My husband was taken out of the courtroom that day and sent to a diagnostic facility, where we would be unable to have any contact with him for the first six weeks of his incarceration. Not knowing anything about prisons besides what I'd seen on television, I imagined the worst. I lay in bed terrified at night, kept awake with worry, wondering if I would get a call telling me he'd been hurt or possibly worse.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a family member of a prisoner is the ambiguity. Due to overcrowding in the prison system and constraints on space, inmates are moved around frequently and without warning. You have no idea whether or not your loved one will get the letters you send, what time they will be able to call you, or even if they will be there when you show up for a visit.

The experience of having a family member in prison was not only emotionally debilitating, but financially, as well. Phone calls were $17. We could barely afford the cost of gas to drive hundreds of miles to a county facility far away from our home. I watched every penny I spent so I could add funds to his commissary to buy basic provisions like pens, paper and shampoo, which in my mind, should have been provided by the prison itself. It's almost as though the system was set up to destroy families and disintegrate any support networks an inmate may have.

Determined to find solutions to the injustice I'd experienced, I decided to pursue my education and become a criminal-defense attorney. I took my first job out of law school representing death-row inmates in California. I continued to learn how the prison system's poor design actually encouraged crime by dehumanizing inmates and forcing them to focus all their energy on surviving its harsh and dangerous conditions, rather than providing meaningful opportunities to learn new skills or prepare for successful reintegration back into society. Frustrated with the system, I co-founded #cut50 and set out to smartly and safely cut the prison population in half in the next 10 years.

At #cut50, we believe there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform our broken criminal-justice system and institute smarter, cheaper, and more efficient ways of addressing crime. We also believe that incarceration impacts all of us and it will take a wide range of voices -- especially those directly impacted by the system -- to create a new narrative of justice and redemption. Most importantly, we see each of the more than two million people currently locked behind bars in this country as individuals who have the potential to contribute to their communities and succeed outside the walls of prison and jail.

And we are not the only ones. Last month, more than 600 people -- including 10 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, three GOP governors, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and even the President, who appeared via video -- took the day to reflect on our justice system and band together to call for reform at the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. Their powerful voices echoed the same message throughout the day -- putting more than two million Americans behind bars has made our streets more dangerous, wasted our precious resources, and created an even bigger racial divide in this country. It is time to change not only how we, as a nation, address crime, but how we view and treat those who have committed crimes.

Over the past three weeks, we have highlighted What's Working in Criminal Justice Reform. These innovative programs and policies, coupled with the political energy and determination we saw at the Bipartisan Summit, will lay the foundation for real transformative reforms.

Let us work together to ensure that individuals are successfully diverted from entering the prison system to begin with and help restore justice to communities, empower people with new opportunities, and save precious tax dollars to make neighborhoods across the country stronger. We are at a unique moment in time. Let's seize the opportunity and tear down walls of injustice to build new hope for millions of people around the country.

Click to read article at original source.


msnbc: Detroit works to close gender gap in tech


msnbc.pngMarlin Page, founder of Sisters Code, speaks with Joy Reid about efforts to close the gender gap in coding and emerging technologies. Plus: Sisters Code graduate Sherri Crowe, #YesWeCode founder Van Jones and the Detroit Free Press' Stephen Henderson join the discussion.

 


TIME: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

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There's bipartisan backing, but that doesn't mean a bill will pass

Van Jones likes to call his Republican buddies “brother.” As in Brother Mark (Holden, the general counsel at Koch Industries), or Brother Matt (Kibbe, the CEO of the conservative group FreedomWorks). Jones, a Democratic activist and former Obama adviser, beamed as he strolled the halls of a cavernous Washington hotel Thursday, clasping shoulders and squeezing hands with one unlikely conservative ally after the next. And Jones wasn’t the only one basking in the warm vibes of bipartisanship.

If you mistakenly wandered into the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, you might have thought you had fallen into an alternate universe. Scores of liberal and conservative activists, policy wonks and lawmakers gathered for an all-day conference that seemed to defy all the old saws about Washington gridlock. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich lauded Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who volleyed back praise for his Republican partners. Even Attorney General Eric Holder drew warm applause in a ballroom dotted with conservatives.

But as unusual as that may be in Washington, it’s becoming a routine sight when it comes to criminal justice reform. In recent months, a growing bipartisan alliance has formed around the need to change a prison system that critics say is broken and bloated. Thursday’s crowd was the clearest sign yet of the coalition’s breadth. “When you have an idea whose time has come,” said Jones, one of the hosts of the summit, “it winds up being an unstoppable force.”

Maybe. But it’s never easy in Washington to channel a cause into actual change. A show of force is not a strategy. Despite general agreement about the problems riddling the justice system, it remains unclear how a collection of interest groups with divergent ideologies can marshal their money and organizing muscle to move bills through a fractious Congress—all before the 2016 presidential election puts the legislative process on pause.

Click to read full article here.


CNN: How 2016 race could boost justice reforms

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Washington (CNN) An overhaul of U.S. criminal justice laws looks increasingly possible, and the 2016 presidential campaign just might give the effort a shot in the arm, says Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey.

The issue was the focus of Thursday's Bipartisan Summit for Criminal Justice Reform. The event was sponsored by groups that make odd bedfellows -- from the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union to the conservative Koch Industries.

Booker and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich were among the headliners for the day-long summit, intended to build momentum behind a host of reforms that so far haven't gotten much traction in Congress.

Also there: Big crime-drama names like David Simon, who wrote HBO's "The Wire," and Piper Kerman, the inspiration behind Netflix' "Orange is the New Black."

The White House released a video of Simon and President Barack Obama discussing the criminal justice system and "The Wire's" depiction of the issues contributing to high rates of incarceration. In it, Obama emphasized the need to "humanize" both criminals and police, to create a better dialogue on criminal justice reform.

"In the same way you've got to be able to humanize those involved in the drug trade, we have to remind ourselves that the police — they've got a scary, tough, difficult job and if the rest of society is saying, 'Just go deal with this, and we don't want to hear about it ... just keep it out of our sight lines, and it's not our problem,' we're betraying them as well," he said.

But he expressed confidence the current interest in criminal justice reform would at least produce a "more productive way of thinking" about the problems.

Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said at the summit that there were still challenges in enacting real reforms.

"There is a lot of good legislation and a lot of good energy, but I'm telling you there is tremendous work to do to get those bills out of committee and onto the floor," Booker said.

Though void of any likely 2016 aspirants, Booker said reform supporters such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will help raise the issue's profile.

Booker said each of them have backed key measures that are pieces of the broader push to overhaul a system that he said leaves people facing far-too-long "mandatory minimum" sentences for non-violent offenses, and then imposes more burdens upon their re-entry to society.

"The reality is what has made this issue have so much more strength in force has really been the courage of Republican leaders around the country to step up and step out," Booker said, crediting libertarian super-donors the Koch brothers, anti-tax leader Grover Norquist as well as other fiscal and religious conservatives.

Booker and Paul last year introduced the REDEEM Act, which would divert child offenders from the criminal justice system, automatically seal or expunge their records in some cases, and prohibit child offenders from being kept in solitary confinement.

"There is a growing consensus across the political spectrum that our criminal justice system is in need of reform," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R, Virginia. "The issue of over-criminalization is an issue of liberty. We must work together to improve our criminal justice system so that it works fairly and efficiently and reduces crime across the United States."

Click to read full article here.


The Hill: Labor secretary: We're 'all in' on justice reform

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The Obama administration is “all in” on criminal justice reform, Labor Secretary Tom Perez said Thursday.

"We’re all in on this, we’re all in at the Department of Justice, we’re all in at the White House. We’re all in throughout this administration,” he said at a conference on the issue. "This is the real deal.”

The secretary had just finished a speech on putting ex-cons back to work, and getting people into the workforce instead of prison in the first place.

“A good job is the most effective recidivism reduction strategy I can think of,” he said.

He made the remarks at the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington. His speech came after a day of panels and speeches from notable advocates for criminal justice reform — a broad issue area that ranges from changing prison conditions to altering the mandatory sentences for drug crimes.

There was a significant administration presence at the event. President Obama appeared in a video with “Wire” creator David Simon, while Attorney General Eric Holder appeared earlier in the day. 

“There is an increasing realization on the left, but also on the right, politically, that what we’re doing is counterproductive,” Obama said in the video. “We’re all responsible for at least finding a solution to this. 

Holder was equally emphatic.

"We must keep fighting for the high ideals that have animated our nation since its inception. And we must keep standing up and speaking out — no matter the challenges we face — to eradicate victimization and end injustice in all its forms," he said.

"As you know, my time in this administration will soon come to an end. But I intend to remain engaged in this work — because, for me, it has never been only a professional obligation; it is a personal calling, and a moral imperative," he added.

The comments — and the administration’s visibility at the event — signal the growing interest in pursuing criminal justice reform  on both sides of the aisle. 

Several lawmakers appeared at the conference in the morning, including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) appeared in a video shown at the event.


Al Jazeera America: Bipartisan fervor on criminal justice reform reaches fever pitch

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WASHINGTON — The conference rooms of a Marriott hotel in Washington turned into the headquarters of an unlikely mutual appreciation society on Thursday as progressives and conservatives met to discuss what has become a rare, and surprising, bipartisan issue: criminal justice reform. 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican who once made tough-on-crime policies a plank of his 1994 Contract with America, complimented Sen. Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, for spearheading efforts in Congress to overhaul the statutes that flourished during that era. Booker, in turn, praised the work of conservatives on the issue, among them the Koch brothers, who are best known for pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into electing Republican candidates for office, but have now turned their attention to criminal justice advocacy

Less than a decade ago, it would have been unimaginable to see groups as varied as Koch industries and the American Civil Liberties Union working together on criminal justice reform. This is perhaps the only forum in U.S. politics where civil rights activist Van Jones, one of the organizers of the summit, and Piper Kerman, author of the memoir "Orange is the New Black" on which the Netflix series is based, might share a common agenda with Matt Kibbe, the director of the tea-party aligned libertarian advocacy group, Freedomworks. 

“Fifteen years ago, criminal justice reform was a pretty lonely endeavor,” said Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights attorney at the Department of Justice. “There were few people, I would say, from the right or the left that were taking on the issue and championing the cause. And when those of us from the right and the left started working together several years ago, we got sideways looks at us, suspicion, and skepticism. Our day has come.”

Still, reaching consensus on the need to re-examine the policies contributing to the United States’ unprecedented prison populationthe largest in the world, may actually be easier, according to activists and elected officials at the summit, than getting reform passed through Washington’s partisan gridlock.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said the politics of the issue are still fraught. “There’s no downside to voting stupid on crime,” Scott notes. “Have you ever heard anybody get in trouble by voting for mandatory minimums?”

So far the available solutions are piecemeal: a number of bills addressing various components of the criminal justice system have been introduced in Capitol Hill. A broad coalition of lawmakers, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho has come together to sponsor the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, which would cut mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in half. Booker and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. teamed up to introduce the REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent offenders to petition a judge to have their criminal records sealed. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga. and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. are working on a bill that would strengthen resources for mentally ill offenders, directing them to treatment facilities instead of jail cells. And Senators John Cornyn, R-Tex. and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. have sponsored a bill setting up a system that allows federal prisoners to shave time off their sentences by attending programs intended to reduce recidivism.

But none of those bills have yet made it out of committee. “There’s a lot of good legislation and a lot of good energy but I’m telling you there’s tremendous work to do to get those bills through committee and onto the floor,” Booker said. “My dream is that … we as a nation decide, before we even get into this presidential election, let’s make this one of the top issues in America.”

Other promising reform efforts have been felled by partisan politics and mistrust. Comprehensive immigration legislation in Congress also attracted the bipartisan support of lawmakers and stakeholders, but it eventually met its doom in the GOP-controlled House

And some liberal commentators have questioned the motives of those on the other side of the political aisle when it comes to criminal justice reform—particularly the involvement of the Koch brothers.

Click to read full article.


CNN: A cause that unites the left and right

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(CNN) In Washington, we are seeing the re-emergence this year of a phenomenon that many Americans were afraid had gone extinct: real live no-joke bipartisanship.

Heavyweights from both parties are attending the March 26 Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. The event is co-produced by Gingrich Productions (on the right) and by my project, #cut50 -- an initiative that aims to safely halve the number of people behind bars within 10 years.

Attorney General Eric Holder will be speaking. So will Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, will be there. So will Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Donna Brazile, a co-host of the summit.

Republican power players like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, will address the gathering by video.

So will President Obama.

Progressives like myself will rub shoulders with representatives from Koch Industries.

Everyone keeps asking me, "How is this possible?"

I have five words for you: "Liberty and justice for all."

The ever-expanding incarceration industry has begun to violate some of the deepest and most sacred principles of BOTH major political parties.

Therefore, conservatives, libertarians and liberals have their own objective interests in reform -- and their own values-based incentives to make real changes.

For example, the right takes very seriously the concept of "liberty." Conservatives and libertarians want to defend the rights of every individual to pursue his or her dreams. They favor limited government. They hate massive, failed, bloated government bureaucracies that suck up more and more money and get more and more power, no matter how badly they perform.

In America today, we have 5% of the world's population -- but we have nearly 25% of the world's incarcerated people. Nearly 1 in 100 American adults is behind bars. One out of every four people locked up anywhere in the world is caged in America's prisons and jails.

And most people come out more damaged, more hopeless and less able to thrive than when they went in. (So much for "corrections"!)

That's the opposite of limited government -- and liberty.

On the other hand, progressives like me care passionately about the "justice for all" part -- including racial justice and social justice. We are incensed by a system that locks up the poor and racial minorities in numbers that are massive -- and massively disproportionate. We oppose a system that forever tars people as "felons," deemed permanently unfit for employment or the right to vote, possibly because of one mistake, early in life.

When any system violates the principles of both "liberty" AND "justice," Americans of all stripes should stand together to change it.

That is exactly what is starting to happen. This year, we are seeing the birth of an honest-to-goodness "Liberty and Justice for All" coalition.

Still struggling to believe me? I was on "Anderson Cooper 360" on Monday night to discuss the movement for criminal justice reform.

Here is a quote:

"A lot of kids I grew up with, grammar school, middle school, high school, were in prison. They were the poor kids and they had drug addictions. They had drug problems, they didn't have any money, they got caught, and they got caught in the poverty cycle, and they are at the bottom of society and they can't get out of it. ... People with drug problems, people who have mental illnesses, they probably shouldn't be in the criminal justice system. And people who make mistakes, let's not write them off forever, let's give them a chance to reintegrate and reenter society."

There is just one catch: I'm not the one who said that. That is a direct quote from Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries.

On practically every other issue, the Koch brothers and I are still fierce opponents. I doubt if we will ever agree on tax policy, campaign finance reform, environmental rules or the Keystone Pipeline, to name a few. But on criminal justice reform, it's different.

Mark speaks eloquently about the way the criminal justice system violates the Bill of Rights and criminalizes behaviors that should not result in prison terms.

And he is not alone, on the right.

Fiscal conservatives decry the money wasted on a system that is too expensive and produces poor results. That's one reason that red-state governors, like Georgia's Nathan Deal, have acted boldly. Leaders with roots on the religious right, including summit co-host Pat Nolan, insist on the Christian value of redemption and second chances for those behind bars.

Our values may not always be identical, but they can find common expression in fixing this broken prison system. Progressives and conservatives don't have to trust each other -- or even like each other -- to vote together on this issue.

Usually, "bipartisanship" is just another word for cheap, political gamesmanship. It is too often invoked by one side, simply to gain advantage and to cloak a more narrow set of interests.

But on criminal justice reform, something different is happening. Criminal justice reform is the one place where many Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians actually agree -- and are willing to work together to get something done.

Over the last 30 years, both parties helped lead us down the path to mass incarceration. It will take both political parties to reverse course.

Perhaps the March 26 Bipartisan Summit will represent the first major bend in the road back toward sanity.

Original Source


The Root: Jesse Jackson: Access to Technology Is the Goal of Our Next Big Movement

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Speaking at South by Southwest, the veteran activist said that opening the doors to the tech industry for people of color is the first step.

Fresh off the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the Rev. Jesse Jackson brought his message of going “beyond the bridge” to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Jackson said that while the 1965 march was a major moment in the struggle to get blacks the right to vote, the new challenge will be opening up access to technology and Silicon Valley.

“Voting has its place, but the fastest-growing industry, I believe, is high tech, so we need to get in there,” he said. “We must make access to technology and this new machinery a crusade for everybody, not just a campaign for the few.”

Jackson has been instrumental in convincing major technology companies to release their diversity figures, which have shown that on average, just 2 percent of their workforce is black.

When #YesWeCode founder Van Jones, who moderated the conversation with Jackson, asked how many in the SXSW audience knew that the veteran activist has been pivotal in making this happen, very few people raised their hands.

How Jackson went about getting companies to cooperate illustrated a new way of taking protest from the pavement to the boardroom, he explained.

“The magic is going from a protester to a shareholder,” said Jackson, whose organization the Rainbow PUSH Coalition bought shares in tech companies to push for change from the inside.

“Ours was a social-justice agenda to change the conditions,” he said. “The argument that we made was not so much of a negative one but of a value-added argument.”

And Jackson hasn’t just been giving speeches; he’s getting action, Jones said. Just last week, Apple became the third tech company this year to announce a donation of funds to help increase the number of women and people of color in the tech industry. Apple is committing $50 million to the cause.

In January, Intel announced a gift of $300 million, and in February Google donated $775,000 to Code2040, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and minorities find tech jobs.

Jackson pointed out that blacks can be just innovative as whites and have been demonstrating this since the beginning of time.

“We can turn garbage into energy,” Jackson said. “Everyone has a place if you make room for them.”

He also wants to start an “underground railroad,” from Oakland to San Francisco, with the idea being to provide more inner-city black youths access to Silicon Valley.

Jackson said, however, that members of the black community have to do their part in forging their destiny in the tech world. “I don’t think we are doing as [well] right now as we should because people tend to be what they see,” Jackson said. “They don’t see it; they don’t want to be it.”

Technology must be taught in school, talked about at home and popularized through music, Jackson declared.

“It’s not just about being locked out; it’s about charging to open the door,” Jackson said, adding that it’s about not only opening the door but also being able to go through when it does open. 1 million-worker shortfall (pdf) in the tech industry. (Some, however, dispute that number.)

“If you start telling African-American and Latino and Native American grandmamas alone that their grandkids can make $70,000 a year if they work hard and study well for just six months, you’re not going to have a problem in terms of people wanting to be part of this,” Jones said.

He and Jackson are also pushing for big tech companies to start recruiting from HBCUs, not just from the usual feeder schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford.

Students from historically black colleges are just as qualified and should not be overlooked, Jackson said, adding, “Whenever the playing field is equal, we can make it.”

Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

​[Original Source]​


DevBootcamp & #YesWeCode Diversity Scholarship

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We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Dev Bootcamp to launch the Dev Bootcamp and #YesWeCode Diversity Scholarship. 

In an effort to encourage more underrepresented racial and gender minorities to enter careers in the tech sector, Dev Bootcamp has pledged to offer $425,000 in tuition scholarships over the next year to reduce the cost of tuition from $13,000 to $1,000.

This scholarship initiative supports both our missions to provide more people the skills they need to access high-paying jobs as well as to help companies benefit from a more diverse talent pool.

Apply for a scholarship here.

Check out the FAQ below: 

How do the scholarship programs work?

Dev Bootcamp runs on a rolling cohort schedule, where new students begin our program every 3-weeks. Through this scholarship program, we will offer one student a spot in our New York City program and one student a spot in our Chicago program in each of the next 17 cohorts.

The application deadline for this scholarship is April 15.

Who Can Qualify?
  1. You must be 18 or over, and:
  2. You must identify as a woman (or other gender minority)
  3. And/or you must identify as Black, Chicano/Latino, Pacific Islander or Native American
How do I apply?
  1. Go to apply.devbootcamp.com to start your application and select "I qualify for the Dev Bootcamp + YesWeCode Scholarship Fund"
  2. Once your Dev Bootcamp application is submitted, you’ll be directed to complete the "Dev Bootcamp + YesWeCode Scholarship Application"
  3. Complete the interview prep instructions and schedule your Dev Bootcamp interview! (note: Applicants will be notified of their admissions status within 24 hours of completing their interview. You must be accepted into the program to qualify for the scholarship)
  4. Scholarship recipients will be notified on May 1st

To learn more about our efforts to promote greater diversity within our organization and the tech community at large, please visit our Diversity page.

 


msnbc: msnbc and #YesWeCode Grow Hope In Detroit

On March 27th and 28th, hope will turn into action in Detroit, Michigan, as msnbc, #YesWeCode, and Ford host a special Growing Hope event at the Ford STEAM Lab. Here, 100 students from five Detroit-area middle will participate in a two-day “hackathon”. They’ll have a chance to learn computer programming skills that help pave the way towards high-tech education and careers.

The tech products the students create at the hackathon will be judged by a high-profile panel, and over $30,000 in scholarships will be awarded. The panel will include Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press and co-host of Detroit Today on WDET, and Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder and environmental and civil rights advocate.

msnbc will present a special live broadcast from the event, hosted by Joy Reid, on March 27th at 2pm ET. Join us as we explore the remarkable work of young people who represent the hope and ingenuity that is essential to the continued revival of Detroit.

Click here to read full story.


White House: #YesWeCode and TechHire Initiative

It’s been a historic week for #YesWeCode!

On Monday, The White House officially announced its TechHire Initiative, which includes:

  • #YesWeCode’s commitment to raising and delivering $10 million in scholarships for 2,000 underserved minorities across the nation, to attend coding bootcamps over the next ten years.

  • #YesWeCode's plan to launch a national job-training pilot in Oakland, California in 2015. Through this pilot, we will design a 9-month, industry-driven model to successfully prepare students from low-opportunity backgrounds for careers as software engineers.

  • #YesWeCode’s partnership with celebrities, athletes, tech and political leaders, and other influencers, to support the mission of #YesWeCode to find, finance, and encourage 100,000 non-traditional students to become top-level coders. 

TechHire is a bold multi-sector initiative of the White House. It aims to empower Americans with the skills they need through universities, community colleges, high-quality online courses — as well as nontraditional approaches like “coding boot camps”, to secure well-paying jobs. Read the full White House Fact Sheet here.

Click below to watch an excerpt from President Obama’s TechHire announcement

"At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a way to do so, a pathway to do so." - President Obama

Spread the good news! Please share this tweet:

  • For @WhiteHouseOSTP #TechHire initiative, #YesWeCode will target diverse communities for careers in tech! http://bit.ly/1GCrdj3

Wired: Obama has $100 million plan to fill the tech shortage

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BUSINESSES IN THE US are on a hiring spree, but jobs that require tech skills sit open—500,000 in all.

It’s that gap that the Obama administration hopes to close with its new $100 million TechHire Initiative, announced by the president today. At its core, TechHire aims to convince local governments, businesses, and individuals that a four-year degree is no longer the only way to gain valuable tech skills.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

That’s an idea that training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing for years. Now, the White House is urging businesses and local governments to embrace that concept, as well.

In Silicon Valley, the idea of non-traditional training as a viable alternative to college is a familiar concept. In the rest of corporate America, not so much. And yet, non-tech industries like financial services and healthcare, are where two-thirds of the country’s tech jobs exist. So, to make this idea more palatable to non-tech employers, TechHire is working to develop some standards for alternative education.

“When companies have job openings they cannot fill, it costs them money,” he said, speaking to thousands of local leaders at the National League of Cities’ annual conference. “If these jobs go unfilled, it’s a missed opportunity for the workers, but also your city, your country, your state, and our nation.”

Setting the Standards

To create these standards, the Obama administration is working with the business advisory firm CEB to develop a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places. It’s also working with a company called Knack to make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations. The goal is to make it easy for employers to assess the quality of a job candidate, who doesn’t have a computer science degree on his resume.

There are financial incentives, too. In his speech, Obama announced that the Department of Labor would run a $100 million grant competition to fund programs that have a proven track record of helping underrepresented groups, like women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities, land tech jobs. Through TechHire, the group #YesWeCode also committed to donating $10 million in scholarships, which will fund 2,000 coding bootcamp scholarships for minorities.

Read the full article here.


The Atlantic: Do the Koch Brothers Really Care About Criminal-Justice Reform?

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Some liberal critics see the conservative billionaires' latest crusade as a PR stunt. Could it advance the cause anyway?

Here is the thing the Koch brothers wish their critics understood: They just want to help people.

"Everything we do is designed to help people improve their lives, whether you're talking about our business or our philanthropy," Mark Holden, the senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, told me recently from his office in Wichita, where the multibillion-dollar international manufacturing conglomerate that Charles and David Koch inherited from their father is headquartered. "We think a free society, consistent with classical liberalism and individual liberties, is the key to success for everyone, and that's what drives a lot of our activities. And criminal-justice reform is good for all of us—the rich, the poor, and everyone else."

Though the Kochs are best known—and, to liberals, notorious—for the massive amounts of money they pour into politics, they have lately been calling attention to a less polarizing crusade: an attempt to address what they term "the overcriminalization of America." But not everyone is convinced that their efforts are quite so sincere.

Critics such as Robert Greenwald, director of the documentary Koch Brothers Exposed, suspect that the push to roll back the criminal code is really just the brothers' deregulatory agenda by another name. Indeed, Charles Koch, the company's chairman and CEO, has said he became interested in criminal-justice reform after a grand jury's 1995 indictment of a Koch refinery in Texas for 97 felony violations of environmental law. The company spent six years fighting the charges and eventually settled with the government for $10 million. Seen in this light, the criminal-justice pitch is just another attempt to manipulate the political process to advance the company's financial interests. That's the view of the liberal group American Bridge, which maintains the anti-Koch "Real Koch Facts" website. "Their own bottom line isn't just an important factor in their activity, it's the only thing," a spokesman for the group, Ben Ray, told me.

This is the question that has always swirled around the Kochs and their political efforts—the massive juggernaut of funding for conservative activism and candidates that critics dub the "Kochtopus": Are the brothers sincere ideologues dedicated to a libertarian vision for America? Or are they simply trying to tilt the political system to favor themselves and their companies?

Various tentacles of the Kochtopus have been involved in criminal-justice issues for about a decade; during that time, Charles Koch has quietly made contributions amounting to seven figures to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, money that has been used to provide lawyers for poor defendants. In 2011, the group honored Koch Industries with its annual Defender of Justice award. "They are in complete agreement with us on the fundamental policy—to make the Sixth Amendment a reality for every person in the country," said the association's executive director, Norman Reimer.

But the Kochs' advocacy has become more vocal in recent months, from public statements to new partnerships with such groups as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Civil Liberties Union, and even the liberal Center for American Progress. The bid for more attention for the reform effort has received overwhelmingly positive attention, and coincides with a new PR push to show Koch Industries in a friendlier light, including a "We Are Koch" national television campaign that casts the company as heartland job creators—prompting the Kochs' critics to suspect a whitewash. After all, the investment in criminal-justice reform pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions the Kochs and their donor network have spent electing Republicans, many of whom don't share their views on civil liberties, Greenwald noted. "Certainly the scales tip against the impact of this, except from the press point of view," he said of the reform push.

And yet the Kochs have found many willing partners on the left for this effort, even among their erstwhile critics. In 2011, the civil-rights activist and former Obama administration adviser Van Jones cited the Kochs as emblematic of the "economic tyranny" plaguing America, declaring, "We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers." He appears in the Koch Brothers Exposed(tagline: "The 1% at its very worst"). But Jones has welcomed the Kochs' support for his new Cut50 project, which aims to halve the prison population over the next decade. At a recent panel discussion in Washington, he sat next to Holden and gave him a hug. Koch Industries has agreed to participate in an upcoming conference Jones is sponsoring on prison reform. When I asked Jones if it made him uncomfortable to team up with people he's previously depicted as villains, he responded, "When you've got more than 2 million people behind bars, I'll fight alongside anybody to change those numbers."

Click to read full article.

 


The Marshall Project: How to Cut the Prison Population by 50 Percent

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A growing number of criminal justice reform organizations, among them the ACLU, Rebuild the Dream, and Just Leadership USA, are uniting behind one big goal: to reduce the prison population by 50 percent within the next 10 to 15 years.

With 2.3 million Americans incarcerated in prisons and jails, a 50 percent reduction would mean changing sentencing and parole rules to cut the net population by more than 1 million people, either by releasing current inmates or by not incarcerating future offenders.

Left mostly unsaid is that achieving the goal of this “Cut50” movement would entail touching what has long been a third-rail in criminal justice reform. To halve the prison population, sentencing would have to change not only for the so-called “non, non, nons” — non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender criminals — but also for some offenders convicted of violent crimes.

These changes could include shortening sentence lengths; making it easier for prisoners to win parole; deciding that probation or community service are more appropriate consequences than prison time for entire classes of crimes; diverting more suspects to mental illness programs or addiction treatment; and even redefining what offenses are considered violent in the first place.

Simple math shows why violent offenders would have to be part of any serious attempt to halve the number of prisoners. Consider the nation’s largest incarcerated population, the 1,315,000 held in state prisons. Only 4 percent are there for drug possession. An additional 12 percent are incarcerated for drug sales, manufacturing, or trafficking. Eleven percent are there for public order offenses such as prostitution or drunk driving, and 19 percent for property crimes such as fraud and car theft, including some property crimes that many consider serious or violent, such as home invasion.

That leaves a full 54 percent of state prisoners who are incarcerated for violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, and armed robbery.

So if 100 percent of all people convicted of drug, public order, and property crimes were released early or sentenced to punishments other than prison time, you would still need to free, say, 30 percent of robbery offenders to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the prison population.

Click to read full article.


Sacramento Bee: Finally, a movement to roll back the prison industry

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The “tough on crime” movement of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s ended up as a movement toward mass incarceration. The “lock ’em up” mentality succeeded at turning the home of the free into the land of the imprisoned – but it failed at making us safer.

Today, we are seeing the rise of a new movement – one that aims to roll back the prison industry by using hard science, objective data and innovative models that work.

It’s about time. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but we are responsible for 25 percent of the jail and prison population. More Americans are under correctional supervision than live in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area. At a time of tight government budgets, we spend billions each year to put people behind bars – including many who sit in a jail cell simply awaiting trial.

Making even less sense, a disproportionate number of people are behind bars for nonviolent, drug-related crimes. Six out of every 10 people who leave a California prison return within three years; our “corrections” system is not correcting much.

Worse, people of color bear the brunt of this broken system. The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that African Americans receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than those for whites convicted of the same crime. And The Sentencing Project found that black defendants are 20 percent more likely to face prison time.

California and the nation are left with a massive incarceration industry that locks up too many people, wastes too much money, ruins too many lives and violates our sense of racial fairness – all while failing to make our communities much safer.

So how do we get smarter on crime? That question is bringing together unlikely allies from opposite sides of the political spectrum around novel solutions.

State legislatures across the country are finally undoing many failed, inhumane and costly sentencing laws. Here in California, Proposition 47, passed last November, reduced six low-level felonies that can carry prison time to misdemeanors. Just three months later, the law is credited for reducing crowding in jails and prisons – helping the state meet a court-ordered population cap a year earlier than scheduled.

In additional to long-standing reformers who supported Proposition 47, conservatives including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky lent their support. The campaign’s single largest individual donor was B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative billionaire from Southern California.

That’s why my organization, the Dream Corps, has launched #cut50, an initiative to safely and smartly reduce America’s prison population by 50 percent by 2025. Our surprisingly broad sweep of partners include everyone from Gingrich to the ACLU.

Meanwhile, there are innovative new approaches to harness data and technology to improve the criminal justice system. DNA testing has reduced the number of people locked up for crimes they didn’t commit; vehicle and body cameras may be able to help improve police-community relations; and gunshot location devices can pinpoint shooters. And we can make better criminal justice decisions by incorporating the kind of data used by health officials to track diseases, by cities to reduce rush-hour traffic and, perhaps most famously, by general managers trying to build a winning baseball team.

In Kentucky, judges in all 120 counties have been using a new risk-assessment tool to assist them when they consider whether to lock up or release defendants between their arrest and trial. This tool is already being used in counties in three other states, including Santa Cruz County here in California. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which developed the tool, found that in the first six months, a greater percentage of defendants in Kentucky were released before trial. At the same time, crime among pretrial defendants went down by about 15 percent. Especially important, the tool is race-neutral and relies on a defendant’s criminal history rather than demographic information.

Ultimately, the status quo in our jails and courthouses is bad for California, bad for America and bad for communities of color. The incarceration industry needs a top-to-bottom overhaul – from pretrial detention through to sentencing and rehabilitation. But if we want to reverse this untenable situation, we need to consider creative, data-driven solutions such as Kentucky’s pretrial tool and execute them wisely.

If we are willing to step out of our comfort zone, the result will be fewer people behind bars, less bias and discrimination, lower costs – and safer communities. Now that is getting smart on crime.


Fast Company: It's Time for Tech to Embrace Prison Reform

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LET'S EMBRACE PRISON REFORM, RATHER THAN JUST RETHINK EDUCATION AND IMMIGRATION, TO HELP ADDRESS OUR LABOR ISSUES. 

BY BARATUNDE THURSTON

Shaka Senghor spent 19 years in prison for murder. Since his release in 2010, he’s become a teacher at the University of Michigan, a published author, a sought-after speaker (his 2014 TED talk is a must-see), and an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, which is how he and I met. Senghor paid his debt, and he’s a one-person testimonial to the value that exists in everyone.

And he doesn’t want to be the only one.

There are currently two separate, parallel debates taking place in Silicon Valley about the future of its workforce. One is about how the technology industry can be more diverse. Much of the effort to that end has focused on encouraging girls and people of color to embrace tech at a young age. The other conversation centers around immigration reform. Industry leaders argue that it’s vital to lure the talent necessary to fill the engineering jobs at companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Dropbox. This is why Mark Zuckerberg created the lobbying group Fwd.US, although its record has been spotty.

I’m all for promoting tech and welcoming immigrants. But neither of these are enough. Not when there are more potential Shaka Senghors behind bars. There are more than 1.5 million prisoners in the United States, many of them nonviolent drug offenders. Our society is just now coming to terms with the cost of letting these people rot away in jail for decades. When rehabilitated ex-cons reenter their communities, they face a jarring cultural disconnect. Not only is it hard to find employment, it’s challenging to adapt to a world that presumes ever more technological ­literacy. When Senghor went to jail, laptops and suitcases were indistinguishable in size. The only talking car he’d ever hear of was on Knight Rider. But when he was released five years ago, "It was really like, ‘Welcome to an urban episode of The Jetsons!’ " he tells me.

Senghor admits that he still struggles with life beyond bars, and he’s made it his mission to help reintroduce others to society, including an immersion in tech. He’s teamed up with Van Jones­—founder of Rebuild the Dream, onetime Obama green jobs czar, and CNN ­commentator—on #Cut50, Jones’s initiative (with Newt Gingrich!) to trim by half the U.S. prison population. Senghor believes his efforts can help reduce recidivism.

Other people are working to create opportunities related to technology for reformed felons. A program in California called The Last Mile is working to provide entrepreneurship training in prisons. Isidore Electronics, run by Kabira Stokes, hires formerly incarcerated ­individuals to recycle the electronics we might otherwise toss into landfills, proving that we don’t have to waste our gadgets or our fellow human beings.

We can do even more, which is why we should add tech’s biggest brains to the conversation. "The whole idea of coding is ­iterating and innovating around necessity," Senghor says. "Well, in [a prison] environment, innovation and iteration are happening out of necessity." He then regales me with stories of inmates creating tattoo guns out of tape players and heating water without a microwave. In prison, terms like DIY, makers, hacking, and minimum viable product come to life every day.

What if the resourcefulness and hustle currently trapped behind bars could flood back into a nation that needs it? The labor potential of these soon-to-be ­returned citizens could be as profound as getting an 8-year-old excited about tech. And the payoff could come much sooner.

Click here to read more.


THE CAP TIMES: Van Jones, Scott Walker agree on MLK Day: 'There's more we can do'

It was a collision of past, present and future as elected officials, dignitaries and citizens gathered in Wisconsin's Capitol rotunda to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Speakers including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconisn Public Radio broadcaster Jonathan Overby, environmental advocate and civil rights activist Van Jones and Gov. Scott Walker paid tribute to the civil rights leader in a Monday afternoon ceremony.

Some noted that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches. Some called attention to the renewed push for racial justice, as protesters respond to the highly publicized killings of black men by police and to racial disparities across the country.

Political opposites Walker and Jones found some common ground, agreeing there's more to be done to address racial disparities in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Click here to read more.


USA TODAY: Van Jones on teaching 100,000 low-income kids to code

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SAN FRANCISCO — Shortly after the Trayvon Martin verdict, Van Jones says he was talking about race with his friend, music legend Prince.

"Every time you see a black kid wearing a hoodie, you say: there's a thug. If you see a white kid wearing hoodie, you say: there's Mark Zuckerberg," Jones said. "I said, 'that's because of racism. And Prince said, 'maybe so, or maybe you civil rights guys haven't created enough Mark Zuckerbergs.'"

That challenge inspired Jones to create Yes We Code, an initiative of his Rebuild the Dream organization that aims to teach 100,000 low-income kids to write code. Prince promoted the initiative in July by headlining the Essence Festival in New Orleans where Yes We Code held its first hackathon.

"How do we create a situation that when you see a young black kid in a hoodie, you think, maybe I should go up and ask the kid for a loan or a job as opposed to assuming the kid's a threat," Jones said during an interview in USA TODAY's San Francisco bureau.

Computer science is one of the fastest-growing and best-paying career paths in the USA. Yet most computer science students are white men, and too few African-Americans and Hispanics even consider it.

Yes We Code is helping dozens of organizations around the country that are trying to address high-tech's racial and gender gap from Black Girls Code to Hack the Hood. It connects those groups with the resources they need, Jones said.

"Yes We Code aspires to become the United Negro College Fund equivalent for coding education," Jones said. "Yes We Code exists to find and fund the next Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in communities you would never expect to find them."

Yes We Code counts among its partners Facebook and Google. And for good reason. The tech industry needs these kinds of efforts.

In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly underemploy African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Tech companies are mainly staffed by white and Asian men. African-Americans and Hispanics make up 5% of the companies' workforces, compared with 14% nationally.

That means Silicon Valley may be missing out on the next big idea or company because it employs too few women and people of color, Jones said. And young people are missing out on their chance at a better life.

"Aptitude tests show one out of five kids of any color have an inherent aptitude for the kind of problem solving that is required to be a computer programmer. So that means one out of five kids out here in low-income communities, Native American reservations, Appalachia, housing projects, barrios, ghettos could be on the Mark Zuckerberg track," Jones said. "The problem is their mother doesn't know, their father doesn't know, the coach doesn't know, the teacher doesn't know, the preacher doesn't know. So they all want to be LeBron James.

"The math doesn't work. You have a million low-income kids playing basketball this weekend all trying to get into the NBA. The NBA has 450 players and they hire 15 kids a year So you have 1 million mostly black kids trying out for 15 jobs. Meanwhile the technology sector says they are going to be a million workers short in eight years. And if we are not careful, we will have 15 black Urkels trying out for a million jobs." Click here to read more. 


MSNBC: Meet a young genius at Philadelphia's #YesWeCode Hackathon

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MSNBC.com follows promising teen Zachary Dorcinville through an inspiring weekend of "apps not raps" at the My Brother's Keeper #YesWeCode Hackathon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Click here to watch the video.

 


The Reid Report: Teaching the next generation of coders

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Kwame Anku, director of strategic development at #YesWeCode, joins Joy Reid to discuss teaching African-American and disadvantaged youths how to code. Click here to watch the video.

 

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The Reid Report: How #YesWeCode is building a brand new future

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Joy Reid will be participating in the “YesWeCode” event, which hopes to link kids in low-income areas with some of the brightest minds in tech. Kalimah Priforce, Zachary Dorcinville join the show. Click here to watch the video.

 

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Pew Trusts: Van Jones and Newt Gingrich on reducing the prison population

On November 17-19, 2014, policy makers, experts, and other key decision makers from more than 30 states met to discuss the past, present, and future of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The event was co-hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. Click here to read more.

 

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CNN: Seize the moment to reform our failed prison system

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With Republican majorities coming in both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, many people in Washington believe nothing will get done. We'd like to nominate an exception to that expectation: Criminal justice reform.

Newt has talked about the need for "confidence-building measures" between the President and Republicans in Congress. The idea is that we should work on easier things first, so that we can work on harder things next.

Transforming our nation's failed prison system looks like it could be easier now than anyone expected. Leaders in both parties agree on the need and direction for reform.

They recognize that locking up millions of people for very long periods of time at ballooning costs is not a wise response to nonviolent crime. Warehousing nonviolent offenders for years behind bars has been an economic, moral and human catastrophe. Click here to read more.

 

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USA Today: #YesWeCode as a diversity pipeline for high-tech


USA TODAYOAKLAND, Calif. -- There are a dozen reasons why Jahmil Eady was an unlikely computer coder.

In college, Eady was a media studies major with a concentration in film. Her loves were "history and art and English," as she told the New York Times. She didn't attend a university like MIT or Stanford, with a powerhouse reputation in the computer sciences.

Perhaps most notably: in a technology industry dominated by white men, she is an African-American woman.

But her life was changed forever by a modest fellowship to attend a little-known computer training program. And thanks to a bold move by New York City's new mayor, that fellowship program is set to grow -- significantly.

Today, Eady works as a junior applications developer at Fox News. More importantly, she has gone from being yet another underemployed young person to a full-time employee with a good salary, health insurance and a 401(k).

Christine Beaubrun, a graduate who went from working at the front desk to front-end engineering at Intel, has a similar story. So does Lavoisier Cornerstone, a rapper turned developer who now works as a developer at a start-up, and teaches kids to code on the weekends.

How did Eady, Beaubrun, and Cornerstone beat the odds? How can others like her do the same? Click here to read more.

 

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CNN: 'Hunger Games,' a mirror of America's inequality

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The latest installment of the epic "Hunger Games" series hit theaters this Friday, and it promises to be the year's biggest blockbuster yet.

You can chalk up a lot of these films' popularity to the star power of leading actress Jennifer Lawrence. Certainly, the great action scenes and special effects do not hurt, either. But the real reason "Hunger Games" has captured public imagination is that its fictional world of Panem is, in so many ways, an extreme version of our own America.

For those who have not seen the movies or read the books, the "Hunger Games" tells the story of a young woman -- Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen -- and her defiance of her society's wealthy, exploitative ruling elite. These elite, the dastardly "Capitol," reinforce their power by making the children of oppressed regions battle to the death in what are called "Hunger Games."

It is a far-fetched fairy tale. But if you get caught up in the details of the story, you might miss themes -- crushing inequality, unaccountable governance, violence against children -- that resonate with the daily lives of millions of Americans.

These books and films are not popular because we want to escape to Katniss Everdeen's world. They are a phenomenon because we suspect her world is our own. Click here to read more.

 

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Huffington Post: This is how we diversify Silicon Valley

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Morehouse College was founded just two years after the Civil War. The Atlanta, Georgia historically black college would go on to be one of only two to produce Rhodes Scholars, and count among its alumni none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Oct. 24-26, its historic grounds will be the setting for a one-of-a-kind event: The Platform Summit. Luminaries from the arts, business, and politics will join together with young people and future luminaries to produce powerful solutions to diversify the innovation economy.

Today, Dr. King's dream feels in jeopardy. It is harder than ever to get a good job that pays a fair wage. Technology is transforming the economy in ways we cannot yet predict. Blacks, Latinos, and women are horribly underrepresented in Silicon Valley and across the information economy. If you see a black kid walking down the street wearing a hoodie, you are more likely to think of Trayvon Martin than Mark Zuckerberg.

All the more tragic is that the technology sector is crying out for talent. By some reports, there is a shortfall of more than one million high-tech jobs -- while meanwhile, a kid in Oakland has no idea and no access to the help he needs to get himself into one of those high-tech jobs just down the road in Silicon Valley.

Diversity in the tech sector is a problem for all of us. And initiatives like the Platform Summit are the answer. Click here to read more. 

 

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