Dave Barringer, CEO of the Vincent dePaul Society USA, articulates something that many in the Vincentian Family can relate to: Doing good behind the scenes. And then seeing people finally catch on to an issue…even if they don’t recognize all the spade work that went into it. He writes…
Some athletes make great contributions but don’t get the credit. It’s the baseball player who made a sacrifice bunt that allowed his teammate to score. It’s the football player who made a great block while his teammate ran and scored. In any sport, it’s the teammate who perhaps never got on the field but who made their teammates better through hard work in practice. These players must look inward when their buddies set a record or are named Most Valuable Player.
The unsung contributor can still feel proud of his or her accomplishment without public celebration.
That’s how I feel for our Society of St. Vincent de Paul this week.
A few days ago the White House held a special gathering of major employers who all signed a pledge to “ban the box” in their hiring practices. Some touted that they have been doing this already.
Others recognized the social issues and costs surrounding the employment challenges of those with a criminal record, and have stepped up to remove the “Have you committed a crime/felony?” question from their employment applications. The event was a big splash and the news was full, for a day anyway, of how important it is for other employers to follow this lead and give returning citizens a fair chance at getting back into the workforce. Isn’t that wonderful?
Banning the Box does not guarantee employment. Most applicants will still need to go through background checks, drug testing etc., like all other applicants. They at least now have a fair shot at getting an interview and explaining their background, rather than having their application noting a conviction immediately tossed into the trash. The crime was committed, and the person doing the crime did the time. Now, though, the penalty doesn’t follow the returned citizen for the rest of his/her life. The debt is paid, and the person can start anew.
What happened that this pledge attempt rather suddenly came out of nowhere? As with many such events, there was a lot of quiet background work over months and years. The Catholic Church has been advocating for Ban the Box and similar reform efforts for many years. Our Society was already involved, but became even more directly engaged a few years ago with the funds granted by the USCCB’s (Bishops) Catholic Campaign for Human Development to explore community-organizing models that improve options for returning citizens. In the five demonstration states these programs have advanced with different partnering organizations and varying conditions. Public officials take notice, they learn from each other, and good programs eventually get national attention. I’d like to believe that’s what has happened with our collective efforts and early positive results.
Meanwhile, social scientists have successfully connected the dots between incarceration and poverty. When dad is in prison or has a resulting criminal record, mom and the kids find it harder to make ends meet. Finally the numbers were large enough and tested enough to show that mass incarceration and tougher sentencing were resulting in unintended consequences of family and community poverty, especially in minority populations. When this became better known, prison reform shifted from sentencing guidelines and housing capacity to more re-entry strategies.
Thus this week we had the public event, and I was invited with many others to be on a White House phone call to learn about this “new” pledge effort to Ban the Box among the nation’s employers.
Like the bunter and the blocker, I simply smiled. It’s quite okay that major employers are setting an example with their pledges to hire differently. It’s great that others are waking up to the solutions our members, especially our Voice of the Poor advocates, have been selling for quite some time.
More good people are joining in with us to produce good and just results. Our friends are getting back to work!
We don’t need the recognition or the media coverage. After all, we are the same people who quietly work year-round to end poverty in homes and neighborhoods. We Vincentians don’t work for the public or parish applause, we work for God’s favor. We respond to news of the Ban the Box pledge with “Isn’t that wonderful?” and continue our work. With a quiet, humble smile.
Yours in Christ,