“Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” said Justin Terrell, the Justice 4 All program manager at TakeAction Minnesota. Terrell spoke to a full house of over 400 people at the Capri Theater on October 24, where he hosted a panel discussion about the importance of closing the racial jobs gap in Minnesota. He said that Minnesota currently leads the nation in this gap. The focus of the event was to have a discussion with a representative from Target, Jim Rowader, about what Target’s role in working to fix the racial jobs gap should be.
But, Terrell insisted, “Tonight is not about Target coming to the rescue…This is about us. We are the solution our community has been waiting for, no one else is coming.” The Northside community in Minneapolis has already taken the lead with this issue, organizing the first meeting with a Target representative to discuss their hiring practices in two years. Rowader announced that Target would be ‘banning the box’ on its applications nationally for the first time. ‘Ban the box’ legislation passed earlier this year in Minnesota, which will require employers to remove the question asking about an applicant’s criminal history (though the question still can be asked during interviews. Minnesota is only the third state to pass such a law, but Target pledged to remove the question in all states.
Kandace Montgomery described the difficulties faced by people with criminal records seeking employment, and said, “We have a system that doesn’t actually give people a fair second chance.” Montgomery, an organizer for the Jusice 4 All campaign, was among the many who shared their personal stories of how Minnesota’s racial jobs gap has affected them. “[My] Dad was in and out of prison…I believed that my dad was the bad guy, it wasn’t til later in life that I realized that wasn’t true,” Montgomery said. Montgomery knows that the event at the Capri was just the beginning in this campaign. “The way we start is with conversations. We don’t believe we have all the answers or a silver bullet,” but, she noted, “Target is the third largest employer [in the state], and let’s be real, they have a ton of influence.”
University of St. Thomas law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds spoke about the importance of the work TakeAction Minnesota and other community members are doing to eliminate the racial jobs gap. She said that people are faced with a choice between chaos and community, and “We have chosen community and we’re glad to see that Target Corporation has come to the table.” Levy-Pounds also pointed out many racial disparities in Minnesota’s criminal justice system. In particular, she noted that blacks make up only five percent of Minnesota’s population, but 36 percent of the state’s prison population, and American Indians make up 1.2 percent of the population but 6.8 percent of the prison population. She said that this is, “Not only a waste of financial capital, but also a waste of human capital, and something I believe Dr. King would call unconscionable…What we’re looking for, as investors in Target, is reciprocity.”
The panel discussion featured three Twin Cities employment services workers and Jim Rowader, the Vice President and General Counselor of Employment and Labor Relations at Target. All three panelists shared their personal stories concerning the racial jobs gap, and continued to drive home the difficulties of becoming meaningfully employed after getting a criminal record. They turned to Rowader and asked him what he believed Target’s role in closing the gap should be, and what the corporation plans on doing to get there. Rowader announced Target’s plan to ban the box nationwide, as well as their intent to donate $100,000 to the Council on Crime and Justice’s Second Chance Saturday program. But as one of the panelists pointed out, for a corporation like Target (whose revenue was over $73 billion in 2012), that could seem like a drop in the bucket.
The panelists also offered three suggestions for how to make hiring practices more equitable. First, deny only those whose offense relates directly to the position sought; second, make it possible for people to show rehabilitation; and third, don’t consider expungements or sealed cases in hiring decisions.