My job is to put a new face on reentry.
by Tracey Syphax, #LwC2019
September 30, 2019
I am a formerly incarcerated person. I am also the founder of two million dollar corporations: Phax Group Construction & Design LLC., and Phax Group, LLC, a real estate development company based in Trenton, New Jersey, my hometown. I started my businesses just a few years after my release from prison after attending the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995. That experience changed my life. I took to heart the March’s message that if you couldn’t find a job, you should go back home and create one and build economic power in your community. So that’s what I did. My job is to put a new face on reentry by mentoring returning citizens on how to start and operate a business. In the last chapter of my memoir, “From the Block to the Boardroom” I share my blueprint of the tools I used to become a successful entrepreneur.
In 2014 I was selected to be a White House Champion of Change for my contributions in the field of Reentry and Employment. The award ceremony was at the White House, and I got to spend the day with other Champions from around the country talking about best practices and ideas about teaching entrepreneurship to people in prison and returning citizens. I’ve always known that some of the strongest and most creative business minds I’ve ever met I met in prison. I believe many of them have the talent and what it takes to succeed in business like me. They just need to be taught. Going to the White House was the catalyst for my newest creation: Reentry Ventures, an entrepreneurship program for returning citizens.
So far we’ve run several successful pilot programs. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser brought us in to work with fifteen returning citizens who were home or in halfway houses and we took them through a twelve week program out of which a number of jobs and businesses were created. One of the men in that program was in a wheel chair and told me he didn’t know whether employers were discriminating against him because of his disability or his criminal record. He said Reentry Ventures was his last hope for being able to support his family. Today he’s running his own transportation business with three vans and five employees, and he hasn’t looked back. Now we’re working with the Department of Corrections in New Jersey to build a program there. We have developed one of the only online courses in the country that I know of that has the ability to beam into any computer in any prison from our own secure site. We’re still tweaking it, but I believe 2019 is our year.
I spent seven years in prison, 17 years in the street, and 23 years in business and I count all of those years as experience. I believe that everything that’s happened in my life God allowed to happen, and those experiences have allowed me to do exactly what I do today. I am driven by the desire to make a difference in people’s lives. Leading with Conviction is one of the best moves I could ever make. The camaraderie and walking together with so many leaders on an issue that’s bigger than any one of us alone– it doesn’t get any better than that.
Tracey Syphax He is a board member of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey and made history when he was named the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the year in 2011, the first African American in its 51 year history. He received a pardon of his 29 year conviction from Governor Chris Christie in December, 2017.