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


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 below and relive the magic >>

- Van

 


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!

essence fest

 

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

 


MSNBC’s Touré Hopes to Connect Kids in Oakland to Jobs in Silicon Valley

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MSNBC’s Touré took his afternoon show The Cycle to Oakland for a one-hour live special aimed at connecting young African-American men with the training they need to succeed in high-tech careers. “I love Oakland, it’s a great town,” Touré told TVNewser.

The effort, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, was launched last year and MSNBC hosted another special, Growing Hope Live from Detroit with Joy Reidin March. “It’s extremely important to help steer young people into technology where there’s lots of jobs and opportunity,” said Touré, noting that Oakland presents a unique challenge for young people who live there. “They live so close to Silicon Valley and yet are so far from it unless they get a helping hand. #YesWeCode is trying to make that important bridge.”

A Growing Hope Special: The Cycle Live from Oakland aired Friday, June 19 at 3 p.m. ET. The event served as the kick-off for #YesWeCode and the Hidden Genius Project’s Summer of Innovation Program.

Click to check out the event gallery here.


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.

Shaka Senghor Letter

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.

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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.

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A Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform

With one in 100 Americans currently incarcerated at costs upwards of $80 billion per year, political leaders from across the political spectrum united for reform. From ALEC and Koch Industries to ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance, the summit served as the launchpad for unlikely alliances in 2015. 

The summit - hosted by Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Donna Brazile and Pat Nolan - brought together more than 90 speakers to share insights and innovative solutions to our country’s mass incarceration problem.

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Among the speakers were 3 GOP Governors and 10 members of Congress - both Republicans and Democrats - who participated in person or by video.

Featured speakers included: Attorney General Eric Holder, David Simon (The Wire creator), Donna Brazile, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, John Forté (Fugees), Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black author) and Sen. Cory Booker.

President Obama, himself, even made a cameo — via video.

In a pre-taped interview between he and David Simon, the President talked about the national shift in conversation about prison reform and the real-life inspiration behind "Omar Little,” Obama’s favorite character from the hit show. Watch the full video here.

Did you miss the summit? 

WE’RE JUST GETTING STARTED. This is just one of many upcoming bold, bipartisan and high-impact convenings to promote one idea: American can safely and smartly cut our prison population in half over the next 10 years.