The Power of Telling Our Stories: Fair Chance Employment
This legislative session we saw the power of storytelling and organizing with the passage of a “Fair Chance Employment” policy, in which private employers ensure that applicants with criminal records are evaluated on the merits of their qualifications and not their criminal records. The movement for Fair Chance employment is being led by the Connecticut Fair Chance Coalition, which is made up of individuals who are directly impacted, community leaders, organizations and elected officials. This is the first step in creating a more just Connecticut where people who have made mistakes in their past are not permanently barred from the workforce because of discriminatory hiring practices. Studies have shown that 1 out of 3 adults in the United States have some type of record and because of this record they are 50% less likely to receive a phone call back after submitting an application. The impacts of these discriminatory hiring practices span further than the individual but also directly hurts their family.
Storytelling is an integral part of the campaign for Fair Chance Employment. We were able to see how much of an impact one's story can make when demanding change. Through the stories shared by many of the courageous women of the CT Fair Chance Coalition, we saw just how much families are left behind when parents aren’t able to find employment due to their record.
Stories from people like Pam, who described herself as a hardworking mother who had never been in any type of trouble throughout her life. With extensive training and certificates from various professions she still found herself struggling to provide for her family and to make ends meet. She described herself as the head of her household and willing to do almost anything to make sure that her children are safe and cared for. Not fully realizing what the consequences of her actions would be, she decided that in order to keep her utilities on in her house, she would write a check to the company even though the funds were not available at the time. With the assumption that she would just have to pay it back at a later date and receive a late fee, Pam did what she thought was best to care for her family at the time. Unfortunately, the company decided to press criminal charges against her and she received a larceny charge that is permanently on her record. Because of this one decision she made as an act of survival, Pam and her family have been sentenced to a lifetime of unemployment.
Everyday as one of the largest reproductive health care providers and advocates we hear stories like hers. When people walk through our doors, they bring their whole lives with them, and that includes the weight of their past and systems of oppression that support injustice. It is our duty to center the lives of our communities and the patients we serve by standing with them and creating a space where our stories can be told and heard. Once a person has paid their debt to society they deserve the same FAIR CHANCE at employment and economic success as everyone. And yet, we know that a criminal record ends up being a life sentence for the entire family. We have an obligation to every person in our state to make sure they have the opportunities to provide for themselves and ensure their families can live with the dignity they deserve.
Centering our movements on people and their lived experiences is essential to build power in communities. We live in a society where the people who are most marginalized are systematically shut out and silenced and we have been taught our entire lives to keep our stories to ourselves. But owning our stories and telling them unapologetically is essential and revolutionary. This ends up working as an aid to injustice. When we shout our stories loudly, we let our oppressors know that we will not be silenced; that we will not stand by and let our freedom be threatened. It is then that systems begin to crumble and we get one step closer to living in a world where true freedom can be realized.
We have made the first step towards this reality and we will continue to FIGHT! We will continue to tell our stories and we will not rest until every person has the resources and security they need to live the lives that they want and to have the autonomy to make the decisions that are best for themselves and their families.
Join the fight with the Connecticut Fair Chance Coalition! You can do so by visiting us at https://ctfairchance.org/join-us/ or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or share your story, your voice is powerful and it needs to be heard. You are not alone and we are only stronger together! Forward.
Arvia Walker is a Community Outreach & Engagement Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.