20 graduates are celebrated at annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor kicked off Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend by celebrating 20 graduates from a reentry workforce program at their annual MLK Breakfast on Saturday, Jan 14.
The event was held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and had plenty of special guests including Senator Kamala Harris, the West Angeles Church of God and Christ Mass Choir and more. The day focused on helping people who have made mistakes instead of shunning them away. Many of the graduates were incarcerated as teenagers and through this second chance, they’ve turned their lives around.
“Last year John Lewis was here and we payed recognition to the great work that he had done, but this year was kind of different. It was more forward facing. It was a recommitment to fighting for social and economic justice and all the things that Dr. King believed in,” said Darryn Harris of the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats. “Coming to this event today I was really inspired. It was powerful.”
The 20 graduates were from a program called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition which partners rehabilitation with labor. The program has been growing since 2003 and has helped over 300 formerly incarcerated men and women with mentorship, housing and employment. After a 12-week intensive boot-camp, the graduates are now unionized plumbers, electricians, engineers and more.
“Some people make poor decisions in life, but to be given a second chance is so important. So often society makes one poor decision guide you for the rest of your life and that’s not true,” said Thomas Reese, 38, a graduate of ARC and unionized electrician. “One poor decision does not mark the rest of your life. You’re much better, you have more good in you than that poor decision that you made.”
The theme of this year’s breakfast was Freed to Succeed. The audience was full of hundreds of labor union workers, educators and activists listening to what they could do to make a better future for someone. The keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson spoke on proximity. He talked about how so many of the audience members work for the cause but how important it is to really have one-on-one interaction with people who have been incarcerated or who are having a hard time finding work so that the root problems can really be solved.
“Mr. Stevenson’s story and passion for the people made me want to be an activist and move the cause forward,” said Tenita Ballard, who works in diversity ad inclusion for AT&T. “We can’t just depend on our past. We have to use our presence to push it forward. Change is here and it’s for us to do it.”
The speakers and musical performers were not the only people to grace the stage. Everyone was brought to their feet as the graduates took the stage to talk about their journey.
“I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. It just said LA Fed of Labor Breakfast,” said Jason Thomas, 43, a graduate of ARC and unionized operating engineer. “But I’m very honored and grateful for the opportunity, support and congratulatory things I’ve been getting from people. It’s amazing, I love it.”
The Anti-Recidivism Coalition provides many resources and the member say that it is very easy to get involved. However, members have to hold up their end of the bargain as well and commit to living a crime-free, gang-free and drug-free life.
“ARC made me a better person and I made ARC a better program because we both kept our promises to each other. That was a big step,” said Michael Thompson, 36, a graduate of ARC and unionized plumber. A lot of programs fail because people give you their word on both behalves and then they don’t come through. So it’s more of a partnership to help the people coming in have hope and inspiration that it will happen at the end of the program.”
For more information on how you can get involved with ARC, visit www.antirecidivism.org.