As we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr it is an opportune time to reflect on how his vision for a better America dovetails with REDF’s mission to create jobs and employment opportunities for people facing the greatest barriers to work. Dr. King once said “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence”. Dr. King spent his adult life and ultimately lost his life, fighting for the betterment of not only black Americans, but actually for our society as a whole. He knew that as the most underprivileged and disenfranchised Americans became empowered through the delivery and embrace of their civil rights, the promise of “liberty and justice for all” became more than mere words.
Included in his message of justice, freedom, and dignity is the notion that fulfillment as an American meant that everyone was entitled to seek and obtain employment that would allow them to the American dream. Unfortunately, 85 years after his birth and 51 years after his “I have a Dream” speech, it still occurs that some Americans face significant barriers to gainful employment.
In my work in the Criminal Justice system I see every day a wide range of individuals, including those who’ve made decisions to change the their lives and become law abiding, positive contributing members of society. For many of those individuals, gainful employment is a vehicle by which their humanity can be restored and uplifted. Those of us who work in the system the transformative power of a job, and how it can provide dignity and pride to a person who perhaps may have spent a lifetime without experience either.
I can specifically recall a 21 year old youth who had spent much of his earlier years in the justice system and had been caught in world of gang banging and drug dealing, undereducated and unemployed. At one point with the help of a caring and diligent probation officer and other supportive persons in his life, he left prison and made the decision to change his life and leave the criminal world behind. In doing so, he made the effort to and was successful in obtain his first legitimate job. I will never forget the look of pride on his face as he talked about the time he received his first pay check. He said he felt “Free”.
The work of REDF does a great job of creating those opportunities for individuals facing barriers to employment.
Dr. King would be proud.
-Mack Jenkins is the Chief Probation Officer for the County of San Diego. He was named the “Law Enforcement Official of the year” by the San Diego County Crime Commission in 2011, and has more than 33 years of experience in the criminal justice field. Chief Jenkins serves on REDF’s Board of Directors.