By Anaré V. Holmes
Pierre “Pee” Thomas will never forget his life before music or the day he took control of his future and became an entrepreneur.
“I knew (that) working for somebody else wasn’t an option for me when I was on parole looking for work,” said Thomas, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based Quality Control Records. “I’d fill out different applications and there was this form I had to get [employers] to sign to verify my job search. I knew the odds of me getting those jobs were stacked against me.”
He soon started taking notes and educating himself about the music business through mutual friends in the industry. At the time, his brother Buck was managing Gorilla Zoe – best known for being a member of the rap group, Boyz N Da Hood.
“I learned what people did right and what people did wrong. I learned how to use talent in ways that create platforms to make money and change lives,” he said.
Armed with that knowledge and confidence, he teamed up with business partner Kevin “Coach K” Lee to start the boutique powerhouse label that put hip-hop sensations Migos and Lil Yachty on the map.
Along with financial success, the duo earned respect in the game as Billboard magazine’s 2018 “Executives of the Year.”
As they build a musical dynasty that now includes such acts as City Girls, Lil Baby and a deal to represent Cardi B through their Solid Foundation management division, they have not lost sight of the impact mass incarceration has on black families and many of their most loyal supporters.
The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality revealed that black people in the United States are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites; and, that one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids.
Here in Georgia, the state ranks first in the nation when it comes to the number of people on probation.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates about 5,600 people of every 100,000 adults in Georgia were on probation in 2015, the most recent figures available. These numbers are twice that of Rhode Island, which came in at second place in their report and about 3.5 times the national average.
As the First Step Act — a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law last year — begins to take shape with a goal to reduce recidivism, refine sentencing laws and expand in-prison and post-release employment programming, people in the trenches need relief now.
To connect these men and women to the lifeline entrepreneurship can offer in turning The Inmates to Entrepreneurs #SecondChances Atlanta Conference is set to take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Loudermilk Conference Center, 40 Courtland St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30303.
“We all come across roadblocks in life and some decisions and circumstances can put us in very harsh places,” Lee said. “That should never stop you from moving forward with growth and actually achieving your goals and getting a second chance to better yourself and make a great life for you and your family.”
Thomas and Lee were scheduled to share more empowering tips to participant attendees as the event’s keynote speakers; however, the death of Coach K’s mother and planned homegoing services have caused them to cancel.
Atlanta attorney Drew Findling, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers—who is also a trusted advisor and friend to Thomas, Lee and the QC family will step in to fulfill keynote speaking duties in their absence.
The conference is the brainchild of tech businessman Brian Hamilton of North Carolina. Hamilton recently sold his upstart Sageworks, a successful financial information firm, to devote more time teaching people involved in the judicial system how to operate legal businesses.
Hamilton said he was inspired to form the Inmates to Entrepreneurs and Brian Hamilton Foundation nonprofits as vehicles to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone, but particularly for people with the odds stacked against them, including those for whom a 9 to 5 office job is not a good fit, people are or have been judicially involved, and military veterans re-entering civilian life.
“People can change their station in life through education or entrepreneurship,” Hamilton said. “We teach people how to start their own small businesses right where they are, with the resources they have, specializing in starts ups that require less than $1,000 to launch.”
With a focus on developing service-based enterprises such as painting, janitorial, lawn care, auto detailing and other practical consumer deliverables, economic freedom is within reach for those willing to apply themselves.
That formula proved successful for Inmate to Entrepreneurs Co-Chairman AJ Ware.
After a stint in the Marines, Ware found himself serving a four-year sentence for committing robbery when he was 25. While participating in a work release program, he learned how to paint rooms and buildings.
After he paid his debt to society, Ware said he soon realized if he was going to make any meaningful money he would have to bet on himself.
With $24 in his pocket, he went to a Home Depot parking lot to scout his first client. Seeing a woman walking to her car with cans of paint, he approached her and learned she planned on re-painting a bedroom. He convinced her to let him do the job.
After he completed the room, she offered more work throughout her home. She later referred him to homeowners throughout her entire subdivision.
Ware grew his painting business to a team of 18 workers and picked up commercial contracts to grow the business to $3 million in annual revenues. Along the way, he read a story about what Hamilton was doing in North Carolina prisons to connect inmates to business opportunities.
“I was determined to meet him because the people he was helping were just like me. I wanted to add a contribution to his mission,” said Ware, who also facilitates some of the classes and conferences hosted by the program.
While it does not provide start-up funding, through mentorship, in person and online instruction, support and guidance the program has launched more than a dozen small businesses, contributing more than $200,000 in state and federal taxes, according to Hamilton and Ware.
“The #SecondChances Conference basically condenses our eight-week program into 4 hours, Ware said.
“We walk attendees through everything from how to structure and set up their enterprise to providing sales, marketing and administrative management skills needed to retain their business. We know it’s easy to start a business but harder to stay in business. Support is always available to our program participants as they grow and evolve.”
That mentorship and support are critical given the isolation and loneliness many experience while being incarcerated and re-acclimating themselves back into society after doing time, Ware said.
On average, 67 percent of inmates released for the first time return to jail or prison again, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of those who return again, 34 percent of them come back a third time.
It was his faith, raw determination and will to be more Pee Thomas credited as his motivators to press on during tough times and pursue a dream of starting his own record label.
“After I got out and did time, I got caught up again in the streets and went back,” Thomas said. “But I refused to give up. What I’ve learned is that nothing is owed to us. You gotta get out here and work for everything you get.”
To register for Inmates to Entrepreneurs #SecondChances Atlanta Conference, visit: secondchancesatlanta.com
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.
Black-Owned Newspapers and Media Companies Are Small Businesses Too!
NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Dear World, the entire planet is feeling the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News wrote to her readers. “We must be concerned about ourselves, as well as others. You may be aware that the media is considered ‘essential.’ So, guess what? We have a responsibility, a moral obligation to use this status to be a source of information, support, and inspiration, just as we are at all other times,” Smith wrote.
Financial Support is Essential to Delivery of These Essential Services
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
Publishers of Black-owned community newspapers, including Janis Ware of the Atlanta Voice, Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News, Chris Bennett of the Seattle Medium, Denise Rolark Barnes of the Washington Informer, and Brenda Andrews of the New Journal & Guide in Virginia, are desperately trying to avoid shuttering operations.
On Wednesday, April 29, Rolark Barnes, Andrews, Bennett, and Ware will participate in a special livestream broadcast to discuss how their publications are enduring as the pandemic rages on.
In a heartfelt and straight-to-the-point op-ed published recently, Ware explained to her tens of thousands of readers that The Atlanta Voice has boldly covered the issues that affect the African American community.
“Our founders, Mr. J. Lowell Ware and Mr. Ed Clayton, were committed to the mission of being a voice to the voiceless with the motto of, ‘honesty, integrity and truth,’” Ware wrote in an article that underscores the urgency and importance of African American-owned newspapers during the coronavirus pandemic. Ware has established a COVID-19 news fund and aggregated the Atlanta Voice’s novel coronavirus coverage into a special landing page within its website.
To remain afloat, Ware and her fellow publishers know that financial backing and support will be necessary. Following the spread of the pandemic, many advertisers have either paused their ad spending or halted it altogether. And other streams of revenue have also dried up, forcing Black-owned publications to find ways to reduce spending and restructure what were already historically tight budgets.
With major companies like Ruth Chris Steakhouse and Pot Belly Sandwiches swooping in and hijacking stimulus money aimed at small businesses, the Black Press — and community-based publishing in general — has been largely left out of the $350 billion stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program packages.
To make matters worse, there are no guarantees that a second package, specifically focused on small business, will benefit Black publishers or other businesses owned by people of color.
Publications like the New Journal and Guide, Washington Informer (which recently celebrated its 55th anniversary) and the Atlanta Voice have been essential to the communities they serve — and the world at large for 193 years.
Unfortunately for some publishers, the impact of COVID-19 has brought business operations to a near halt. While none are thriving, some publishers have developed ingenious and innovative ways to continue operations.
“Dear World, the entire planet is feeling the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cheryl Smith of Texas Metro News wrote to her readers. “We must be concerned about ourselves, as well as others. You may be aware that the media is considered ‘essential.’ So, guess what? We have a responsibility, a moral obligation to use this status to be a source of information, support, and inspiration, just as we are at all other times,” Smith wrote.
Smith’s statements echo the more than 200 African American-owned newspapers in the NNPA family. The majority of the publications are owned and operated by women, and virtually all are family dynasties so rarely seen in the black community.
The contributions of the Black Press remain indelibly associated with the fearlessness, determination, and success of Black America.
Those contributions include the works of Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and former NNPA Chairman Dr. Carlton Goodlett.
Douglas, who helped slaves escape to the North while working with the Underground Railroad, established the abolitionist paper, “The North Star,” in Rochester, New York.
He developed it into the most influential black anti-slavery newspaper published during the Antebellum era.
The North Star denounced slavery and fought for the emancipation of women and other oppressed groups with a motto of “Right is of no Sex – Truth is of no Color; God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.”
DuBois, known as the father of modern Pan Africanism, demanded civil rights for Blacks but freedom for Africa and an end to capitalism, which he called the cause of racism and all human misery.
Many large news organizations have begun targeting African Americans and other audiences of color by either acquiring Black-owned news startups or adding the moniker “Black” to the end of their brand. However, it was Black-owned and operated news organizations that were on the front lines for voting rights, civil rights, ending apartheid, fair pay for all, unionization, education equity, healthcare disparities and many other issues that disproportionately negatively impact African Americans.
Today, the Black Press continues to reach across the ocean where possible to forge coalitions with the growing number of websites and special publications that cover Africa daily from on the continent, Tennessee Tribune Publisher Rosetta Perry noted.
The evolution of the Black Press, the oldest Black business in America, had proprietors take on issues of chattel slavery in the 19th century, Jim Crow segregation and lynching, the great northern migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the transformation from the printing press to the digital age and computerized communication.
With the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling that said no black man has any rights that a white man must honor, there came a ﬂood of Black publications to advocate for Black rights and to protest the wrongs done to Blacks.
An expose in Ebony Magazine in 1965 alerted the world to a Black female engineer, Bonnie Bianchi, who was the first woman to graduate from Howard University in Electrical Engineering.
It was through the pages of the Black Press that the world learned the horrors of what happened to Emmett Till.
The Black Press continues to tackle domestic and global issues, including the novel coronavirus pandemic and its effects on all citizens – particularly African Americans.
It was through the pages of the Black Press that the world learned that COVID-19 was indeed airborne and that earlier estimates by health experts were wrong when they said the virus could last only up to 20 to 30 minutes on a surface.
Now, it’s universally recognized that the virus can last for hours on a surface and in the air.
“A few short weeks ago, life as we know it, was pretty different,” Ware told her readers. “These are unprecedented times, and we are working around the clock to provide the best possible coverage, sometimes taking risks to keep Metro Atlanta informed.”
Tune in to the livestream at www.Facebook.com/BlackPressUSA.
COMMENTARY: Young voters are going to be key to winning 2020
THE ATLANTA VOICE — In 2018, the youth vote increased in all 42 states for which youth voting data is available, according to the analysis by researchers at Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Based on this available data, which represents 94% of the American youth population, Tisch College researchers estimate 28.2% of young people nationwide voted in 2018 — more than double the national youth turnout in 2014.
By Dan Glickman and Alan Solomont
Politics is in realignment. And perhaps the most underappreciated change is this: Based on recent research at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, young voters, ages 18-29, played a significant role in the 2018 midterms and are poised to shape elections in 2020 and beyond.
For decades, this age bracket has turned out at lower rates than older voters, particularly in midterm elections. While experts have often attributed this to apathy, a complicated set of reasons may explain low turnout, including barriers to access, suppression, waning civic education and historic disadvantages. Despite these headwinds, 2018 marked a turning point.
In 2018, the youth vote increased in all 42 states for which youth voting data is available, according to the analysis by researchers at Tufts’ Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Based on this available data, which represents 94% of the American youth population, Tisch College researchers estimate 28.2% of young people nationwide voted in 2018 — more than double the national youth turnout in 2014.
Turnout among college students — an important subset of the youth vote — was even more impressive in 2018, at 40.3%. Research also showed that young voters preferred Democrat House candidates by 35 points, a massive margin that helped Democrats win back the House and far exceeded the highest gap of 27 points from 2008.
National statistics set the scene, but the stories on the ground are even more compelling.
Both parties have long tried to activate young voters, but with limited success. In 2018, however, Katie Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who won California’s 45th congressional district, hired an organizer specifically for campus outreach and campaigned on college campuses in the area.
In April 2018, Porter’s campaign had been listed in the Youth Electoral Significance Index, produced by Tisch College’s CIRCLE, as one of the top congressional races where young people could make the biggest impact, because of its youth population, prevalence of colleges, voter registration rates, historic turnout rates and turnout patterns where young people historically vote differently than older voters. Indeed, turnout in precincts on or near the UC Irvine campus surged in 2018, and outreach among young people has been credited as one reason for her victory.
Campaigns go where the votes are, and it’s still true that older voters are more reliable voters, especially in midterm and off-year elections. But increasing youth participation can have a tremendous impact on elections at all levels. And research tells us that voting is habit-forming. Those who begin to vote early are more likely to vote often and throughout their lives.
One election cycle isn’t a trend, but youth activists are certainly trendsetters when it comes to driving national conversations around public policy. On issues ranging from climate change to gun violence to voter suppression, young people are speaking up and encouraging their peers to register and vote, as we saw most recently during the climate strikes.
There is also increasing evidence that colleges and universities are getting involved. A recent report by Tisch College’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education found that half of colleges that responded are using their college-voting data to guide campus conversations about engagement, and nearly 60% are using that data to mobilize voters.
College campuses have always been hotbeds of student political activism, but the rate of engagement from these voters in 2018 is historically large. This can be attributed, at least in part, to colleges and universities investing in the civic development of their students by embedding political and policy discussions in classroom learning, encouraging non-partisan voter registration and helping students confront consistent barriers to electoral participation (such as providing information about where and when to vote).
This is happening, for example, at James Madison University in Virginia; De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, California; and the University of Texas at Austin.
As we head into 2020, both parties should focus more of their efforts on young voters. Their importance is often overlooked and dismissed by party leaders who assume their votes are “in the bag” for Democrats, or “gone forever” for Republicans.
Young people, who are less likely to respond to surveys, may be underrepresented in polls leading up to the election, especially if turnout remains high. Campaigns that base their outreach on these polls are taking a big risk if they ignore the importance of engaging with young people.
Both parties should get serious about courting this emerging part of the electorate, and that means seeking and valuing their input more and involving them in campaigns, or even encouraging them to run campaigns of their own.
Democrats shouldn’t take the current preference among young voters for granted. Young voters are suspicious of political parties, and their loyalty to either party is not particularly set. At least, not yet.
Republicans have a steep hill to climb when it comes to capturing more of the youth vote, but it is worth the effort. Donald Trump’s Republican Party has a strategy aimed at turning out a higher percentage of older voters, who tend to vote conservative. But there will be a Republican Party long after President Trump, and if that party hopes to compete, it will need to persuade younger voters to support its candidates.
Republicans may do particularly well if they focus on younger voters with libertarian tendencies. One possible reason, according to CIRCLE, is that young people are dissatisfied with the high amount of political polarization the United States has seen since the 2016 election.
If the GOP is committed to reaching new voters and trains its eye on this widely distributed and growing demographic, it may be forced to moderate its agenda and move more toward the middle of the political spectrum. Young voters in general hold more liberal views on nearly every issue than the current Trump-led Republican party ideology.
But as previously noted, young people are also not keen to identify with the Democratic party in particular. If they break from party dogma and adopt more moderate positions on issues such as climate change, the GOP might be surprised at the willingness of young voters to listen to their pitch for support. This may also put pressure on Democrats to take young people even more seriously and better respond to their demands for action on climate change and other issues.
However the data is interpreted by either party, the mere fact that this many young voters are engaging in the democratic process is a sign of future strength compared with the current national political frailty. With the passage of time, young Americans will inherit this country and its experiment in self-governance. To see them making their voices heard now gives us both hope.
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.
Stacey Abrams to executive produce CBS drama
ATLANTA VOICE — Abrams is getting into television. The former Georgia lawmaker and voting-rights advocate will executive produce a drama in development at CBS
Political powerhouse Stacey Abrams is stepping into the entertainment industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Abrams has inked a deal with CBS to executive produce a show based on a novel she wrote.
Abrams is getting into television. The former Georgia lawmaker and voting-rights advocate will executive produce a drama in development at CBS
The book—titled Never Tell—was released under Abrams’ alias Selena Montgomery. The novel, which made its debut 15 years ago, follows the journey of criminal psychologist Dr. Erin Abbott.
While investigating the whereabouts of a serial killer in New Orleans, she crosses paths with a local journalist and they end up forming a relationship. Talicia Raggs will serve as the writer for the project. Abrams will executive produce the project alongside Denise Di Novi and Nina Tassler.
Abrams—who served in the Georgia House of Representatives and as minority leader—is very passionate about writing. She has penned eight novels.
The last book that she released under the Selena Montgomery moniker was titled Deception which is centered around a woman who has to return to her hometown following a murder mystery. Although she likes to keep her political and literary work separate, Abrams says that both worlds are undeniably intertwined.
“Leadership requires the ability to engage and to create empathy for communities with disparate needs and ideas. Telling an effective story—especially in romantic suspense—demands a similar skill set,” she told The Washington Post in an interview. “When I began writing novels, I read Aristotle to learn how to perfect structure, Pearl Cleage to sustain tension and Nora Roberts for characterization.
“Good romantic suspense can never underestimate the audience, and the best political leaders know how to shape a compelling narrative that respects voters and paints a picture of what is to come.”
There is no word on when Abrams’ project will be released.
This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Voice.
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