Justice reform in America has never been more vital to our country’s health or more urgent than it is today. There are 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S.¹, who together make up 20% of the worldwide prison population.² When formerly incarcerated people are released in America, they’re confronted by a harsh and unforgiving job market, with unemployment rates nearly five times as high³ as those faced by other job seekers. But there are actions we can take to create new opportunities for these individuals and change that statistic for the better.
As Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says, “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
That’s why Slack co-created Next Chapter, an apprenticeship program designed to bring formerly incarcerated individuals into highly skilled engineering roles. And today we are announcing that Dropbox and Zoom are joining us to launch Next Chapter within their own organizations.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dropbox and Zoom to the Next Chapter program,” says Natrina Gandana, the project director for Next Chapter. “The two companies’ involvement in the program is critical to helping advance justice reform. Our focus is not only to help formerly incarcerated individuals secure these positions. Our goal is to transform the tech sector and make it an equitable and inclusive space in which to work.”
Eight apprentices are starting the program this year and will receive financial support, professional and technical mentorship, and reentry services. The apprentices will begin working with their respective companies this summer and fall.
A partnership for change
“If you want to solve any problem, you have to understand what the problem is first. You have to get close to the issues in order to do that,” says Kenyatta Leal, the reentry director for Next Chapter. “With the addition of Dropbox and Zoom, we’re going to be able to make an even broader impact together.”
This partnership is a small but meaningful step toward addressing the long-term, systemic changes that are needed to make our companies and our country more just and inclusive places to work and live.
“Providing a critical investment in the skills and potential of formerly incarcerated people and working closely with employers to shift how they work to be more equitable and welcoming are key to Next Chapter’s success,” says Tameshia Bridges Mansfield, a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a Next Chapter partner. “It is this combination of individual investment in the people and partnership with leaders in the tech sector that creates the conditions for systemic change necessary to realize the vision that we hold for children, families and communities.”
A small but significant step in the right direction
Since graduating from Next Chapter’s pilot last year, all three former apprentices have joined Slack full-time as engineers.
“All three are thriving in their roles within Slack Engineering and are making significant contributions to the company,” says Drew McGahey, a senior engineering manager at Slack. “Our former apprentices, now engineers, are on different teams: building our product design system, working on our product onboarding flow, or building tooling for our Engineering Productivity organization. The work ethic and determination displayed by all three of them is inspiring and a stark reminder that there is untapped talent just waiting for an opportunity.”
“If you want to solve any problem, you have to understand what the problem is first. You have to get close to the issues in order to do that. With the addition of Dropbox and Zoom, we’re going to be able to make an even broader impact together.”
Charles Anderson, a former apprentice who is now a full-time Slack engineer, observes that program participants bring more than coding skills to the table. “We’re hardworking, we’re passionate about change, and we’re going to try and give back in so many different ways,” he says.
Besides excelling as engineers, the former Next Chapter apprentices have found ways to give back to their communities. Shortly after finishing the program, Anderson began tutoring young adults from local youth detention centers.
“I let them know about my experience and that no matter what, if you truly want to change, that it’s possible, and there are people out there who care about you and support you,” he says. “My hope is to get a group of kids prepared, get them into a coding boot camp, and then, with the connections that I’ve built, get them a job in engineering.”
Apprentices, and the communities they serve, aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Next Chapter program. Participating companies stand to gain engaged, committed employees—a huge boon in tech’s hyper-competitive talent marketplace.
“We might not have the same education as the typical engineer, but we haven’t been given many chances in our life,” Anderson says. “Every chance that we now have, especially after we’ve decided to change and do something with our lives, we don’t take lightly.”
While the Next Chapter program has a significant impact on the lives of the apprentices and their families, we recognize that it is just one small step forward for participating companies and the broader technology industry.
Call to action: How can you help?
“For companies committed to making a difference for formerly incarcerated people, simply donating isn’t enough,” says Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield. “You have to create opportunity, and you have to start by looking inward. Through programs like Next Chapter, we believe the technology industry has a chance to design new pathways to skilled, high-paying jobs that can create a better future not only for people leaving prison but their communities.”
If you are reading this and wondering how your company can get involved, please find more information on Next Chapter’s blueprint for action in our August 2018 and November 2019 blog posts, or reach out to Slack for Good at firstname.lastname@example.org.