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America Healing Grantee: Transforming backgrounds, improving futures

In the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side, unemployment rates hover around 27 percent, well above the city’s nine percent average. Many of those unemployed have faced challenges finding employment because of their criminal records.

When Brenda Palms Barber founded the North Lawndale Employment Network in 1999, she envisioned a program that would help formerly incarcerated individuals transcend labels and stereotypes to become productive members of their local communities. From her vision grew a unique transitional jobs program called Sweet Beginnings. The program gives these adults the opportunity to gain work experience and job training by harvesting honey from bees at local apiaries and using the honey to make beelove™, a series of all-natural skin care products including body creams and scrubs, and lip balm that the workers sell.

To support this innovative program, the North Lawndale Employment Network held its 7th Annual Sweet Beginnings Tea on February 7, 2012. As part of that event, Dr. Gail Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shared her insights on why the organization’s work to address biases that prevent formerly-incarcerated individuals from having a promising future is reflective of the Foundation’s vision of a racially-healed America.

Dr. Christopher highlighted the need for individuals to understand the legacy of racism and how its embodiment in America’s legal and political foundations contributed to the obstacles facing people of color. She added that healing from the legacy of racism can be achieved by reflecting on past injustices, understanding those wounds and then acting collaboratively to build better outcomes for children, families and communities. 

Dr. Christopher sees this kind of work in North Lawndale, where Sweet Beginnings is transforming individuals who have challenging pasts, including those who have been formerly incarcerated.

“The support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation allows Sweet Beginnings to truly benefit the community it serves,” said Ms. Palms Barber. “Stereotypes abound when working with a population that makes people feel uncomfortable. Our partnership with the Foundation is instrumental in helping us dispel myths that people have about ex-offenders.”

The recidivism rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is below four percent, compared to the national average of 65 percent and the Illinois average of 55 percent. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports the North Lawndale Employment Network to fosters healing, provide meaningful employment and transform the futures of fellow community members.

Please visit us on Facebook at America Healing to share good work being done in your own community.  To learn more about North Lawndale Employment Network‘s Sweet Beginnings program, please visit www.NLEN.org.

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