Everybody should have the opportunity to thrive in life.
by Marlon Chamberlain, #LwC2019
November 8, 2019
I am the Greater Englewood Community Project Manager for READI Chicago, an anti-violence initiative of the Heartland Alliance. I manage an 18-month transitional jobs program that offers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other supportive services. Our target population is men who are either the perpetrators or victims of gun violence. It’s been shown that 200 hours of trauma-informed CBT can lead to positive lifestyle changes by helping participants slow down their reactions and process events in a different way. Instead of responding to things with violence, we talk through what it looks like to walk away from a volatile situation. This is desperately needed in Chicago. One hundred people were shot here between July 3rd and July 8th this year. Our program is being evaluated by the University of Chicago Crime and Poverty Labs, and once our success is documented, as I believe it will be, READI Chicago will become a model for other cities.
When I was in prison, I benefited from the Fair Sentencing Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. It reduced the crack-powdered cocaine sentencing disparity and eliminated the five- year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack. Along with many other black and brown people in prison, I was given an early release date. I was so thankful that there were groups and organizations working to change policies that would affect a lot of people in prison and would allow us to come home earlier than what we expected. That moment triggered me to ask, “Who are these folks and how did they get involved in policy work?”
So I started reading a lot of books about the government and about how the legislature works and when I was released from prison I bumped into the person who is now a senior director at READI Chicago. He was working for the Community Renewal Society and he invited me to view a documentary film about mass incarceration. At the end he stood up and said that he’d served fourteen years in prison and he was now doing organizing and policy work. At the end, 30 or 40 people walked up to him and got one of his cards, but he told me only two of us followed up, and I was the one who was consistent and got involved in the work. So that was my introduction, but it was almost like God sent me to there because it was something I really wanted to do and then I ended up running into somebody who introduced me to the work. From there I just took off.
What drives me is knowing that in Chicago, your zip code determines what type of education you receive and the type of lifestyle you experience. I have four sons and one daughter, and I wake up every day believing the work I do is changing that negative dynamic. I may never experience the end result of that work, but each day I’m planting the seeds of change. Everybody should have the opportunity to thrive in life. If you grow up on the South Side you should have access to the same resources as someone born and raised on the North Side.
Leading with Conviction is the best training I’ve been to, and my life has changed professionally and personally. Professionally, I’ve learned to use the principle of taking responsibility for the results that I produce and not look to blame other people. Do I need to make some adjustments to be a better leader? Also, being connected to other members of my cohort has been great. I’m on the phone with someone almost every week talking about different strategies and different initiatives people are working on. The training and the networking opportunities offered by JLUSA are invaluable.
Marlon Chamberlain is the recipient of the Purdy Award from the Community Renewal Society in recognition of his outstanding leadership in organizing and policy work, and the Visionary Award from the Safer Foundation.