On Feb. 9, Van Jones visited the New School to share his vision for Rebuilding the Dream: Framing Civil Rights for the 21st Century.
The 2015 Henry Cohen Lecture Series, Public Policy in Action, is devoted to advancing social equity in America. The series examines how public policy serves as a vehicle to advance economic and social inclusion in the context of evolving demographic, economic, and political shifts in America. This series serves as a catalyst for the continuing dialog on the state of social justice in America.
Watch the full video below.
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.
#cut50 packed the house with political movers and shakers on Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. to address the critical need for criminal justice reform. Speakers included our own Van Jones, Right on Crime's Vikrant Reddy, Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Cory Booker, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
Social good organizations deserve the most innovative technologies. That's why Social Good Tech Week will be featuring the coolest technology companies and highlight stories of social good organizations and startups using technology to solve some of the world's most challenging problems.
Get 50% off tickets to Social Good Tech Week from Jan. 27 - Feb.1 Use code: SGTWSPEAKER50.
And you don't even have to be in the Bay Area to participate. There will be plenty of satellite events and workshops for virtual participants.
Plus, watch #YesWeCode founders Amy Henderson and Cheryl Contee give ignite talks on Friday at the Victoria Theater // 2961 16th St. in San Francisco
Afternoon Ignite Talks (2pm)
- Jobs for the Future: Using Technology to Empower in the 21st Century Economy, Tess Posner, Managing Director, SamaUSA
- How Technology is Helping Detroit Get Access to Water, Tiffani Ashley Bell, Founder, Detroit Water Project
- Useful, Beautiful, Data, Matthew Scharpnick, Elefint Designs
- Thumbs for Good... How Our Cell Phones Can Advance Social Good // Dominique DeGuzman, Software Engineer, Twilio
- What I Learned From Kittens, Puppies and Goats About Social Media for Social Goood, Cheryl Contee, Co-Founder, Attentive.ly
- How Africa's Tech Revolution is Shaping the Next Generation of African Social Entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, CEO & Co-founder of the Akilah Institute for Women
- How Technology Activated Over a Million Asian Americans at the Ballot Box, Samala, Founder, 18millionRising
- How #YesWeCode is Using Technology to Transform the Lives of 100,000 Low-opportunity Youth, Amy Henderson, #YeWeCode, Co-founder & Chief Innovation Officer
Check out the full schedule for Social Good Tech Week or buy tickets: http://socialgoodtech.org/
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.