In 2017, John Legend’s FreeAmerica program partnered with Unlocked Futures to develop a 14-month accelerator program centered around formerly incarcerated social entrepreneurs, according to Forbes.
Legend announced the second cohort of participants for the program that also advocates for employers to be more open-minded in their hiring process and include job seekers who have a criminal background.
“If we want the full human potential that is contained in our communities to be maximized, we need to include formerly incarcerated people in conversations around hiring, and how we develop the workforce,” Legend said, according to Forbes. “These folks are valuable and they’re worth reintegrating into our society.”
Legend’s vision is to end mass incarceration and give a voice to those negatively affected by America’s criminal justice system, according to the FreeAmerica site. Its partnership with Unlocked Futures provides participants with coaching on leadership skills, including board governance, communications, fundraising, and talent strategy, Forbes reports.
Participants are also assessed to find areas for improvement and receive mentorship from organizations like Bank of America, who reportedly committed to $500,000 grants for both cohorts that totaled to $1 million.
“We started this as a collaboration, saying, ‘Let’s not just tell folks to hire formerly incarcerated individuals, but to invest in their ideas,” Legend said. “All of the members have business ideas that will help them feed their families, employ others, and strengthen our communities.”
Participants in the program like, Teresa Hodge, who served 70 months in federal prison for a non-violent white-collar crime, have moved on to become founders of their own companies.
Out of the 5 million formerly incarcerated individuals in the U.S., there are many who struggle when seeking employment after their release and eventually take the entrepreneurship route. Unlocked Futures will be able to provide those entrepreneurs who have “fully operational businesses” with the proper skills plus a $50,000 unrestricted grant.
As the second cohort launched, Legend sat down with the class of participants to discuss their stories, ideas, and plans for the future. Hopefully programs like this succeed in reintegrating the formerly incarcerated back into society.