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Equifax Data Breach Leaves at least 143 Million Consumers at Risk

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By Charlene Crowell (Communications Director, Center for Responsible Lending)

Record-breaking, back-to-back hurricanes in Houston and Florida brought unprecedented winds and rains affecting millions of Americans. Yet another storm just as brutal, but financial in nature, is raging and affects at least 143 million Americans: that’s the Equifax data breach that took place from mid-May to July of this year.

On July 29, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting corporations, discovered that unauthorized data access had occurred. Yet it was not until September 7 when the multi-national data breach was announced publicly. This massive cybersecurity breach includes federal income tax records, as well as employee records for government employees and those of Fortune 500 firms. Even recipients of major government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are affected.

For consumers, the personal information exposed to fraud and identity theft could mean a lifetime of closely monitoring and defending personal data to fight theft, fines and more. For businesses, questions will emerge as to whether millions of credit accounts were fraudulently opened and additionally whether they will be held partially responsible for its perpetuation.

In reaction to this cybercrime, a surge of federal class action lawsuits are going after Equifax. As many as 50 have been filed in at least 14 states and the District of Columbia as of September 12. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly examining what went wrong from a criminal perspective. On the civil side of the law, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is beginning its own independent investigation.

Now a growing number of bipartisan inquiries from Capitol Hill are demanding to know why these breaches of personally identifiable information (PII) came about, what actions Equifax took, and what the global firm intends to do on behalf of consumers whose names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security numbers and drivers’ licenses are all in jeopardy. Equifax also knew that an estimated 209,000 credit card holders and some 182,000 consumers in the U.S. who have a dispute on file with a creditor also had comprised PII.

“This hack into sensitive information compiled and maintained by Equifax is one of the largest data breaches in our nation’s history and someone has to be held accountable,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee in an article for “Business Insider.”

“Given the important role credit scores play in the lives and financial futures of hardworking Americans, Congress must diligently examine the way our credit reporting agencies are operating and impose additional statutory and regulatory reforms to protect the integrity of the country’s credit reporting system,” Waters continued.

In a September 11 letter to Richard F. Smith, Equifax’s Chairman and Chief Executive Office, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee went further to pose a series of questions to be answered by September 26. Issues raised in the letter include binding arbitration clauses that deny affected consumers the right of class action lawsuits, the firm’s security systems and controls, how consumers can expect to be officially notified, and what, if any, protections Equifax will offer to affected consumers.

“The scope and scale of this breach appears to make it one of the largest on record, and the sensitivity of the information compromised may make it the most costly to taxpayers and consumers,” wrote Senators Orrin Hatch, Senate Finance Chair and Ron Wyden, the committee’s Ranking Member.

The following day, September 12, another letter to Equifax included questions on what data changes to Equifax’s security plans and procedures were made as this breach now becomes its third one in only two years; the letter was signed by 24 Members of Congress, who serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and represent 15 states. Three are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Representatives G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Brooklyn’s Yvette Clarke and Bobby L. Rush of Chicago.

“Your company profits from collecting highly sensitive personal information from American consumers—it should take seriously its responsibility to keep data safe and to inform consumers when its protections fail,” wrote the representatives.

“The massive Equifax data breach is one of the largest in our country’s history, affecting half of the United States population and nearly three-quarters of consumers with credit reports,” said Chi Chi Wu of the National Consumer Law Center. “A security freeze is the most effective measure against “new account” identity theft, because it stops thieves from using the consumer’s stolen information.”

To follow Wu’s advice, consumers will need to contact all three of the major credit reporting bureaus and request that no new accounts be opened in their names. Once requested, consumers will not be able to easily apply for new credit accounts or apply for a loan. An additional layer of precaution would be to contact every creditor and request that respective accounts be flagged for unusual or new credit activity. Detailed information on how consumers caught in the Equifax breach can take these and other steps to protect their credit is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has another consumer-friendly rule that Congress is currently fighting: preserving the right for consumers to file lawsuits when financial disputes could not be resolved otherwise. Announced on July 10, Richard Cordray, CFPB Director explained why the rule is important.

“Arbitration clauses in contracts for products like bank accounts and credit cards make it nearly impossible for people to take companies to court when things go wrong,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together.”

Days later on July 20, Capitol Hill lawmakers turned to a seldom-used option, the Congressional Review Act, to deny the rule from taking effect. Sen. Mike Crapo, Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Chair of the House Committee on Financial Services announced a coordinated legislative attack to roll back CFPB’s arbitration rule. The law allows Congress to fast track a veto of new federal regulation with limited debate and a simple majority vote in each chamber.

On July 25, the House passed its resolution on a highly-partisan vote of 231-190. To date, the Senate has yet to take a corresponding vote.

“The Equifax data breach is yet another reason to support the CFPB’s arbitration rule that would restore consumers’ day in court,” noted Melissa Stegman, a senior policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). “When a company has injured consumers, it should not also decide whether those affected have a right to pursue justice. Although Equifax claimed it will not assert arbitration in the aftermath of its data breach, consumers must be able to challenge corporate wrongdoing in the courts and Congress should cease its efforts to quash the rule.”

Congresswoman Waters prefers a legislative approach – one that will ensure this type of financial disaster from happening again.

“I have long advocated for an overhaul of our nation’s credit reporting system,” said Waters, “and I will reintroduce legislation that will enhance consumer protection tools available to minimize harm caused by identity theft.”

Speaking directly to consumers, Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “Equifax proves why we must protect your right to join class actions.”

Freddie Allen is the Editor-In-Chief of the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Focused on Black people stuff, positively. You should follow Freddie on Twitter and Instagram @freddieallenjr.

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NBC4 Names Renee Washington Vice President of News

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — With over 20 years of working in television, Renee Washington has produced content at different stations in major markets across the country, including New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and more. She found her new home at NBC4 Southern California almost a year ago and last month was named their vice president of news.

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Renee Washington, the new Vice President of News for NBC4. (Photo Credit – Terri Rosales NBC4)

By Shannen Hill

With over 20 years of working in television, Renee Washington has produced content at different stations in major markets across the country, including New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and more. She found her new home at NBC4 Southern California almost a year ago and last month was named their vice president of news.

“The culture and community are really good here,” said Washington. “NBC embraces advancement and diversity, and everyone has been so supportive.”

Growing up in Indiana, Washington always watched the evening news with her family. It was something that she looked forward to every day and knew that she wanted to contribute to. Her first idea was to be a reporter in the nearest big city, Chicago, but life took her to another route.

“I had a broadcasting class in college where we went outside in a snowstorm and I realized that I was not cut out to work outdoors,” said Washington. “So, when I did an internship at a television station, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. They put me in a rotation of all the different departments at the station and that is how I figured it out.”

The last stop on Washington’s internship rotation was shadowing a newscast producer. She realized that there is a lot of power, control and impact working as a producer. Over the past 20 years, Washington has worked in television as an associate producer, producer, executive producer, assistant news director, and now vice president of news. Washington oversees almost every aspect of the news content on NBC4, from managing the content creators, to deciding how content is developed, produced, and distributed on different platforms. She also works in promotion, branding, and community affairs for NBC4.

When it comes to content, Washington tackles some heavy issues, including homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. She launched her biggest production at NBC4, Streets of Shame, this past October to not only bring awareness to homelessness, but to also show solutions and go after people who are responsible for making a difference. Streets of Shame shows the impact of homelessness throughout Los Angeles with video footage, statistics, tax costs, and more. They also show this information to city officials on camera and interview them about how they can be more effective in helping the homeless.

“I always wanted to be someone who could give the voiceless a voice. That’s why I wanted to get into television,” said Washington.

Washington is also working on some initiatives this summer. Starting July 15, NBC4 will start a two-week campaign, in partnership with Ralph’s, to raise money for School on Wheels, a nonprofit that helps homeless students. Along with School on Wheels, NBC4 has an initiative throughout this month called Supporting Our Schools where they will collect school supplies and donations for students in need. Next month on Aug. 17, the station will also have their Clear the Shelters event where people can adopt a pet for $20 and NBC4 will pay for the vaccinations.

For more information about the summer initiatives, visit www.nbclosangeles.com and Washington can be found on Instagram @nbclarenee.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel

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Dr. Patrice Harris Sworn-In as the American Medical Association’s First Black Female President

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was sworn-in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association (AMA).

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“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said. (Photo by Reginald Duncan)
“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said. (Photo by Reginald Duncan)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

In June, Dr. Patrice A. Harris, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was sworn-in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association (AMA). She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.

During her inauguration ceremony in Chicago, Dr. Harris said she plans to implement effective strategies to improve healthcare education and training, combat the crisis surrounding chronic diseases, and eliminate barriers to quality patient care.

She also promised to lead conversations on mental health and diversity in the medical field.

“We face big challenges in health care today, and the decisions we make now will move us forward in a future we help create,” Dr. Harris said in a statement.

“We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities,” she said.

According to her biography on the AMA’s website, Dr. Harris has long been a mentor, role model and an advocate.

She served on the AMA Board of Trustees since 2011, and as chair from 2016 to 2017.

Prior to that, Dr. Harris served in various leadership roles which included task forces on topics like health information technology, payment and delivery reform, and private contracting.

Dr. Harris also held leadership positions with the American Psychiatric Association, the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, the Medical Association of Georgia, and The Big Cities Health Coalition, where she chaired this forum composed of leaders from America’s largest metropolitan health departments.

Growing up in Bluefield, West Virginia, Dr. Harris dreamt of entering medicine at a time when few women of color were encouraged to become physicians, according to her bio.

She spent her formative years at West Virginia University, earning a BA in psychology, an MA in counseling psychology and ultimately, a medical degree in 1992.

It was during this time that her passion for helping children emerged, and she completed her psychiatry residency and fellowships in child and adolescent psychiatry and forensic psychiatry at the Emory University School of Medicine, according to her bio.

“The saying ‘if you can see it, you can believe it’ is true,” Dr. Harris said during her swearing-in ceremony.

“And I hope to be tangible evidence for young girls and young boys and girls from communities of color that you can aspire to be a physician. Not only that, you can aspire to be a leader in organized medicine,” she said.

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If You’re Poor in America, Debtor’s Prison is Real

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, according to a 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Despite a centuries-old Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the practice, debtor’s prison remains very much alive in America, experts told NNPA Newswire. Being poor is challenging enough, but some states, like Missouri, have continued to punish those of lesser means.

A federal class-action suit claims thousands of those living in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines – essentially, a debtor’s prison and conundrum for the poor.

Pro Publica reported that four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.

The report details the plight of Tonya DeBerry, who, in January 2014, was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.

“After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail,” according to Pro Publica.

“To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. However, even after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody.

Because DeBerry still owed fines and fees to the cities in Ferguson and Jennings, she remained jailed and her attorney likened it to “being held for ransom.”

“The crisis that is going on in Missouri is taking place all around the country. It is a rising issue amongst people who cannot afford to pay court fees and, or fines,” said Attorney Dameka L. Davis of the Davis Legal Center in Hollywood, Fla.

“I believe the more appropriate action is to implement programs and services that are free or offer a person to do community service in lieu of paying fines or fees,” Davis said.

“Our system is perpetuating a money-based system, which in turn systematically affects minorities and people of color,” she said.

Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the problem runs deeper than in Missouri.

“The American people would be horrified if they knew of just how many laws still exist which send poor people to prison over their inability to pay fines, court costs, and related expenses,” Pinsker said.

“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we will essentially have debtors’ prisons here in the United States of America,” he said.

In DeBerry’s case, Pro Publica reported that after the Michael Brown killing, “the city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong.”

Still, the lawsuit remains unresolved with the city seeking dismissal.

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed more than 1,000 cases in 26 states in which judges, acting on the request of a collection company, issued warrants for people they claimed owed money for “ordinary debts, such as student loans, medical expenses, unpaid rent and utility bills.”

The ACLU said it’s a system that breeds coercion and abuse.

The report concluded that, “with little government oversight, debt collectors, backed by arrest warrants and wielding bounced check demand letters, can frighten people into paying money that may not even be owed.”

Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said.

As an example, one 75-year-old woman subsisting on $800 monthly Social Security checks, went without her medications in order to pay the fees she believed were required to avoid jail time for bouncing a check.

And as one lawyer in Texas, who has sought arrests of student loan borrowers who are in arrears, said, “It’s easier to settle when the debtor is under arrest,” the report’s authors found.

The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, the report said.

Many were struggling to recover after the loss of a job, mounting medical bills, the death of a family member, a divorce, or an illness.

“They included retirees or people with disabilities who are unable to work. Some were subsisting solely on Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, or veterans’ benefits – income that is legally protected from outstanding debt judgments,” the report’s authors wrote.

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Film, fellowship puts Memphian Jamey Hatley on course for the big screen

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Hatley is the recipient of the inaugural Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Fellowship in Screenwriting. Funded by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”), the two-month fellowship comes with a $7,500 unrestricted cash grant to help Hatley develop her screenplay, “The Eureka Hotel.”

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Jamey Hatley (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)
Jamey Hatley (Photo: Demarcus Bowser)

By Karanja A. Ajanaku, New Tri-State Defender
kajanaku@tsdmemphis.com

Jamey Hatley is from Walker Homes and while debates still rage over whether that’s in Whitehaven or Westwood, there is no question that Hatley’s writing career is on an upward trajectory.

Hatley is the recipient of the inaugural Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Fellowship in Screenwriting. Funded by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”), the two-month fellowship comes with a $7,500 unrestricted cash grant to help Hatley develop her screenplay, “The Eureka Hotel.”

Jenkins also handpicked Raven Jackson, another native of Tennessee, as the winner of the Indie Memphis national Black Filmmaker Residency for Screenwriting. The two-month residency, including travel and housing, affords Jackson, a thesis student in New York University’s Graduate Film program, $7,500. Her feature film product is “all dirt roads taste of salt.”

“As an artist, I’ve always admired Memphis and what it’s meant to black artistry across many forms and genres,” said Jenkins. “To partner with Indie Memphis in supporting Jamey Hatley and Raven Jackson in taking the next steps in their quest to creatively engage and contribute to the diaspora is an honor most high.

“In their work, I find resounding proof that Memphis both raises talent from within (Hatley, a native Memphian) and inspires it from abroad (Jackson).”

A Whitehaven High School alum, Hatley had definite plans – attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and become a corporate executive – the day she walked off the graduation stage.

What happened? So many things, she said, including an internship that contributed to her rethinking her plans. Later, she got a journalism degree from the University of Memphis and at one point got mixed up in the music industry via a connection.

“…(W)ords and books were so important to me that I could not imagine myself being a writer. I tiptoed up to it,” she said. “I was doing everything to run away from these stories, but I was still scribbling. The stories ended up catching up with me.”

Screenwriting came into the picture by email and out of the blue last September.

“At that time, I had no job. My literal organization had gotten defunded, it had fallen apart. It was like, ‘Oh, this fancy director considers you an ideal collaborator. Would you do it?’ I’m like, ‘I like to eat, I like to pay my rent, so OK.’”

That project, which is for a major network, still is in development. The experience opened the door to the Writer’s Guild and primed her for the Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker Fellowship in Screenwriting opportunity.

“I think one of my superpowers is knowing, ‘Oh, here’s your door. Are you going to walk through it?’ If it’s a door and I feel like it’s mine, then I’m going to run through it and I’ll figure it out on the other side.”

That the fellowship was being funded by Jenkins was a huge attraction. She’d met him at an event in New Orleans (where she was living at the time) and had summoned the resolve to share with him her first – and then recently published in the Oxford American – short story.

Content to “just watch Barry’s beautiful movies for the rest of my life,” she learned on Twitter that she had won the fellowship and the opportunity to learn more directly from him.

“I still can’t believe it,” she said.

Hatley entered a treatment into the fellowship, eager for the resources and support to create a finished version of her screenplay, “The Eureka Hotel.”

The Eureka Hotel was a real place in Memphis. Hatley became aware of it while researching for her novel, learning that it had operated out of a Victorian-styled home that she had stared at so many times while visiting a friend’s Downtown Memphis art gallery.

“The Eureka Hotel,” Hatley says, is “a journey story because the Eureka was a colored hotel. … Their tagline was ‘Always open.’”

A short film based on the screenplay now is in post-production.

“It’s beautiful. Absolutely beautiful,” says Hatley, who must deliver a script for a feature-length film to Jenkins.

She also has “a few things else that are secret that are working in the background that happen to be scripts.

“But I’m also going to finish my novel, because I’m still a novelist….”

The novel is about Memphis.

“Everything I write is about Memphis, and it’s about Walker Homes. It’s called the ‘Dream Singers.’ It takes place in the wake of the King assassination, and there is a woman … I call her a dream singer. …She has babies, twins. One is born at the moment that King is assassinated. One is born at the moment that he dies, and all the hopes and dreams of this community, that’s based on Walker Homes, reside in these babies. In three months, four months, later in July, one of the babies passes away. That stymies the community. …

“I feel like Memphis feels a debt about King dying here that we’ve never fully acknowledged. …To me, dreams are debt. Anybody’s dream, somebody else pays for it. …It’s really exploring who gets the dream and who pays the price for that.”

America, she says, has never been honest with itself, regarding the root-level issues that existed before Dr. King – issues that brought him to Memphis and ultimately led to his assassination.

“I think art gives us an opportunity to at least explore being honest in a way that’s not comfortable, but more successful.”

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‘My background don’t define me’: Forum aims to connect employers, ex-offenders

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In a capacity crowd at the University Center Ballroom at The University of Memphis, Lori Black blended right in with the business owners, the city officials and corporate execs who gathered there on Tuesday. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was there, as was Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Even Gov. Bill Lee made remarks. And there Black was, rubbing shoulders with all of them, trying to network to find work.

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Lori Black (right) shares her information with a new contact interested in helping the 52-year-old ex-offender find work. The two met at a forum aimed at connecting employers with the formerly incarcerated. “My background don’t determine me,” a defiant but determined Black said. “Not today, it don’t.” (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

By Lee Eric Smith, New Tri-State Defender
lesmith@tsdmemphis.com

Lori Black is looking for work. She also knows you have to dress for the part, which is why the slim 52-year-old Memphis native made sure she was sharp in her dark pinstripe pants suit – nails done, shoulder length hair flowing.

In a capacity crowd at the University Center Ballroom at The University of Memphis, Black blended right in with the business owners, the city officials and corporate execs who gathered there on Tuesday. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was there, as was Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Even Gov. Bill Lee made remarks. And there Black was, rubbing shoulders with all of them, trying to network to find work.

“I look like I belong here, don’t I?” she said, with a wild gleam in her eyes.

Of course, she was in the right place to find work. The event was “How to Help Your Business and Community: A Forum Connecting Memphis Area Businesses with Sources of Skilled, Qualified Employees Who Are Ex-Offenders,” which was held Tuesday morning at The University of Memphis.

“Part of criminal justice reform, being tough on crime and smart on crime is finding ways for those who will be coming back to find meaningful employment,” Lee told media after addressing the group. “When we make reentry more successful through employment, then we save taxpayer money, because we lower the recidivism rate. And ultimately, we lower the crime (rate), right?”

Lori Black, an ex-offender determined to get a job, pleaded with employers and elected officials to help people like her become productive citizens again. “I’ve got something to contribute,” she said. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Lori Black, an ex-offender determined to get a job, pleaded with employers and elected officials to help people like her become productive citizens again. “I’ve got something to contribute,” she said. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

The idea of the forum was to get government officials, prospective employers, ex-offenders and the agencies that help them all in the same room. Government officials made the case for how jobs can reduce recidivism. Agencies laid out the hidden challenges ex-offenders face after release.

“When an offender is released, they’re already battling someone who doesn’t have a crime for $7 and $8.15 an hour,” said Stacey Books, an ex-offender who’s now a program director with Persevere, an agency that helps ex-offenders find jobs.

And ex-offenders made the case for themselves.

“Taking up the trades I did on the inside helped me build my skill set for where I am now,” said Robert Woods, who is now thriving in what he calls “probably the best job I’ve had in my life.”

But for many prospective employers, a nice suit and friendly personality won’t overcome the fact that ex-offenders are legally required to “check the box” when filling out job applications.

Despite the fact that Black said she’s 10 years sober and has left a troubled past behind her, she’s still an ex-offender. And the stigmas that go with that label has been just too much to overcome.

“I go to put an application in, but all they care about is my background,” she said. “They don’t call me back or nothing. All I hear about is my background.

“My background don’t determine me,” a defiant but determined Black said. “Not today, it don’t.”

Getting employers to see past the offense to the opportunity is paramount, Lee said.

“The key is connecting employers with those that are coming out and breaking down the stigmas and making them understand that there’s a real opportunity for them,” Lee said. “It’s actually a win-win.”

Harold Collins, who heads the Shelby County Office of Re-Entry, echoed that sentiment.

“We tell our prospective employers, we will not send you anybody that we wouldn’t support as being ready to work for you,” Collins said. “That means they have gotten trained, they’ve done the job readiness program. They’ve done the mental health part of the trauma that they’ve experienced while they were incarcerated. They’ve done some mental work about reconnecting with their families. And then they’ve also been drug screened randomly.

“So, we’re not sending you anybody that’s not ready for work. We will put our stamp on that individual let you know that this person is ready,” he continued. “And on top of that, we will bond them. So, there’s really no financial loss to you, should that employee do something wrong.”

Meanwhile, Black just wants another shot. She admits she was out in the streets in her younger years, stealing things to support her addiction to crack.

“I got to running the streets,” Black said. “Got turned out by boys and men. That’s what it was then. But I was chasing that high. I was getting it too.”

Black said she spent a year in a women’s prison but was in and out of jail repeatedly. But she says she never committed a violent crime, and she accepts responsibility for her actions. “I wasn’t doing nothing to nobody but myself,” she said. “If I hurt anybody, I hurt myself.”

So, what does she want to do now? What’s her dream job? “Own my own restaurant,” she said. “I know how to cook, clean up. Hotel work. I can do it all. I got all kinds of experience. I just ain’t been able to use it.”

She may get her chance. While being interviewed for this story, Black was approached by Phunda Sanders, an offender workforce development specialist at the Mark Luttrell Transition Center. “We have clients that we work with, and she had a need. So we had to help her with her need,” Sanders said.

“Somebody is expecting her call,” Sanders said. “It will work out for her.”

When the TSD caught up with Black later in the event, she was chatting up another contact who had asked for her information. Networking had put some pep in her step.

“It makes me feel like I’m worth something,” she said. “I know I’m worth something. I need some help. And I’m determined to get me some help. I’m determined to get me a job. And I’ma keep on till I get it.

“Somebody’s gon’ hire me.”

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Women in Worship host Marketplace Panel

MILWAUKEE TIMES WEEKLY — Women in Worship was a two-day gathering for women to pray, worship and hear the word of God. As part of the event a Marketplace panel featuring some to the community’s most notable female business leaders who talked about how their faith has helped and guided them to both spiritual and business success.

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Melissa Goins and Megan Westra at the Woman in Worship Collage (Photo by: Yvonne Kemp)

On Saturday, May 25, 2019, Melva Henderson Ministries presented the “Woman in Worship Collage,” at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. Women in Worship was a two-day gathering for women to pray, worship and hear the word of God. As part of the event a Marketplace panel featuring some to the community’s most notable female business leaders who talked about how their faith has helped and guided them to both spiritual and business success.

The panel featured Maures Development Group, LLC founder and president Melissa Goins; author Megan Westra; Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Director of Public Affairs and Community Engagement Faithe Colas; Social Development Commission Marketing and Social Media Specialist Chantell Sain; TMJ4 News Anchor Shannon Sims, who served as event MC; and Melva Henderson Ministries founder and president Pastor Melva Henderson, who hosted the event.

This article originally appeared in Milwaukee Times Weekly

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