TakeAction Minnesota Hosts First-of-its-Kind Public Meeting with Target Corp. Over Solutions to Reducing State’s Racial Jobs Gap

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – October 25, 2013
Contact: Greta Bergstrom, 651.336.6722, greta@takeactionminnesota.org


Target Corp. announces it will ‘Ban the Box’ on all job applications nationwide

Minneapolis, MN (October 25, 2013) –  In a first-of-its-kind public meeting  spilling into an overflow room at the Capri Theater on West Broadway Avenue, executives with Target Corporation came to North Minneapolis  on Thursday night to engage in a serious community dialog about how corporate hiring policies prevent people with criminal records – disproportionately people of color — from securing a job, a central factor in helping people rebuild their lives and keep communities safe and strong.  The community meeting was organized by TakeAction Minnesota through its Justice 4 All fair hiring campaign.

At the forum, Target’s Vice-President of Employee and Labor Relations, Jim Rowader, announced that the company would be instituting a nationwide ban on the checkbox included on employment applications that screens for an applicant’s past criminal history.  It is a significant step in removing a key employment barrier for those with records from one of the nation’s largest employers.

TakeAction Minnesota’s Executive Director, Dan McGrath, told the audience “ending racism in employment demands the leadership of Minneapolis’ Northside community.” McGrath said TakeAction Minnesota has worked for over two years to build a base of leadership on the Northside to address inequities in employment.  “No matter their credentials and work ethic, the fact is that there are structural barriers in place that stop people from getting jobs. Our Justice 4 All campaign was launched by leaders from this community so that no one who has been locked up is locked out of a job and a positive future.”

Nekima Levy-Pounds, of the University of St. Thomas, moderated a panel discussion between Rowader and three individuals leading TakeAction Minnesota’s Justice 4 All fair hiring campaign. They included Larcel Mack, a workforce coach at Emerge Community Development and small business owner, Ramsey County Workforce Solutions employment counselor Renee Zschokke, and James Cannon who serves as a Ramsey County employment guidance counselor.  A poem, narrated by Marcel Urman, alongside a powerful slide show of his life before and after his conviction, preceded the panel.

During the panel discussion, Rowader also announced Target would be contributing $100,000 to the Council on Crime & Justice to fund the “Second Chance Saturdays” program in Minneapolis that helps those with past records navigate barriers to employment.

Cannon , who is African-American, spoke of his own struggle to obtain employment after getting into a fight outside of University of Minnesota campus bar shortly before graduation.  The fight resulted in a felony conviction and it took several years for Cannon to re-establish his employment credentials and obtain a good-paying job.  Cannon spoke passionately saying “anyone with a record is basically shut out of society.”  He said programs like Second Chance Saturday, which he himself participated in, are critical to establishing second chances for ex-offenders yet receive little to no funding.  “People in the streets, people in this room, need help today.  People need help navigating the system that makes it so hard to find a job and get your life back on track.”

Several at Thursday’s meeting, including Levy-Pounds, noted that while the $100,000 from Target is much needed and will be a boost to Second Chance Saturday, much more is needed to truly make the necessary impact in the Northside community.  “Some could argue this is really just a drop in the bucket,” said Levy-Pounds who commended Target for the contribution but also noted “the millions and millions” Target donates every year to other endeavors.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Minnesota has the widest racial jobs gap in the nation and the worst recidivism rate in the country, with 61% of those leaving the criminal justice system returning within three years.  More than 92% of employers use background checks to screen applicants, with as many as two-thirds refusing to hire applicants with criminal or arrest records, regardless of the time lapse since conviction or the relevance of such a record to the job applied for.

Zschokke, an employment counselor who specializes in finding jobs for those with records, told the audience she is a survivor of crime.  “I went to school to get my degree in Criminal Justice and Police Science because I thought life-long punishment was a solution to crime.” But she changed her opinion as she worked to place ex-offenders in jobs and found one after the other not getting hired.

“Crime is not as simple as people doing bad things,” Zschokke said.   “We cannot just release people into a world that systemically keeps them unemployed.  It doesn’t work for people’s lives or our economy which is spiraling downward.”

Among the over three-hundred people in attendance Thursday night were numerous political and community leaders, including U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, State Senator Bobby Joe Champion, State Representatives Rena Moran, and several Minneapolis mayoral candidates including Don Samuels, Betsy Hodges and Jackie Cherryhomes. V.J. Smith, the President of MAD DADS, led the closing  benediction.

Justin Terrell, TakeAction Minnesota’s Justice 4 All program manager believes Thursday night’s forum is the beginning of a long overdue dialog. “The best way to stop a bullet is with a job,” Terrell said.  “There are solutions to making sure those individuals with criminal histories in their past — the vast majority non-violent misdemeanors – are given a fair opportunity to be hired.  That’s what tonight’s conversation is about.  It’s about all of us working together to remove the barriers and narrow this employment gap — corporate employers, policymakers and our community-at-large.”

For more information please visit www.TakeActionMinnesota.org or view video coverage of the event at www.theuptake.org.

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TakeAction Minnesota is a statewide people’s network of individual and organizational members working together to motivate people to act publicly in order to advance economic and racial equity in our state. The organization has offices in St. Paul, Duluth and Grand Rapids.

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