When what you believe matters!

Rene Flowers

Rene Flowers


BY RENE FLOWERS, Contributor

On more than one occasion, I have had the pleasure of providing a presentation on the formation of what we have come to know as a two-party system. Yes, there are other parties of interest such as a registered Independent, members of the Green Party and others. However, for the most part, the electorate consists of two very distinct and different philosophical parties.

The Tampa Bay Times wrote an article during the primary that focused on whether or not a non-partisan race such as the current mayoral race should, in fact, intertwine party politics. Noted political analysts such as Herb Poulson and others agreed that party politics is inevitable. The question posed in the article was if we should consider revamping our local races to meet the partisan threshold.

No matter where you may fall in this race, one thing is for sure, those focal points in Midtown/south St. Petersburg surround jobs, healthcare, the economy, voting rights and true small business expansions have not taken hold nor have found roots as a place for change under the current Republican leadership.

In an article that I wrote weeks ago, I mentioned that the “Ban The Box” initiative gives hope to those desiring a chance to prove that they are worth investing in. Met with a colloquium of “be careful of the Okeedoke” really surprised me.

The Ban The Box initiative is an international campaign by civil rights groups for ex-offenders. For those of us who have a family member or friend who has a felony record will tell you that their application for employment has been met with total rejection once the interviewer visualizes the following:

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? ❏Yes ❏No. If yes, please state the offense, dates of incarceration and any other relative information____________.

Can you say File 13 (meaning thrown in the garbage can). As a result of removing the aforementioned statement, the possibility of an interview increases as well as an opportunity for the applicant to show and state why they are more than qualified for the job.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is an organization with more than 45 years of service focused on uplifting the economic impact of minorities in their communities. NELP further supports the merits of such a policy with glowing and remarkable benchmarks. Nationwide, 150 cities have adopted the “Ban The Box” policy, which focuses on the employer focusing on the applicant’s qualifications first! Born out of the of All Of Us Or None, a total of 29 states have adopted the policy to include those on the National level under the Obama Presidency.

The 2012 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also validated the Ban The Box imitative as a Best Practice.

It is not enough to remove a box. There has to be a guiding force behind it that provides action. That force, under the current administration, allows youth the opportunity to participate in a diversion program so that they can start anew. Remember, you are void of the ability to qualify for financial aid if you have a felony record. This can be devastating to a student who made a mistake and is now back on track for greatness.

Likewise, this same force provides a diversion opportunity for adults as well as employs individuals with a felony record as city employees, earning a living wage with health and retirement benefits. Yes, the current city administration did not just enact (adopt) a policy, they held themselves to the standards and intent of the policy.

At any point during the day, you can turn on your computer, go to your homepage, look to the right of your homepage and you will see a number of African-American men and women who have been arrested. Some, not all, on violation of probation charges with the violation being that of not paying their supervision fees.

The inability to retain employment because of a lack of a true “do the crime do the time and move on mentality” will land you back in jail. Is this really what we want or do we want to continue to embrace programs and practices that give our loved ones, friends, neighbors sisters, brothers, daughters and sons an opportunity – no the privilege to be productive and self- sufficient citizens.

From 2001-09, such a program did not exist. This Best Practice initiative, my friends, is no OKEEDOKE. It is the real deal to those like Eddie Pelham and others who are currently employed because the box was removed.

So you see, you matter and so does your loved ones. Your values and ideal should mirror your party affiliation. As a matter of fact, for those of us who are believers, we must admit that He gave us the ultimate second chance, third, fourth and fifth. I believe the scripture says we are to forgive 70 times 7 (and that’s just for one day at a time).

In less than 20 days, you will have the opportunity to decide if this city will continue to embrace everyone in our community, including those who have made less than 490 mistakes. You will have a chance to make marking a box as instrumental as the initiative to Ban The Box.

For more information, log on to bantheboxcampaign.org

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