Washington, D.C. is about 47% African American, according to Census Bureau data, yet the prison population in the District is 88% black or African American, according to September 2018 figures from the Department of Corrections. So it should come as no surprise that all 11 of the fellows currently enrolled in the Pivot Program are African American.
Howard and Lovegrove expect this first cohort to grow to 15-20 in the new year. But there are some minimum requirements that must be met. Fellows must be returning citizens with D.C. residency. And they must have referrals “from the various agencies and nonprofits and operators who understand this population,” Lovegrove says. “And what we’ve said to them is, we’re looking for people who seem to have an entrepreneurial mindset and leadership capability. They’re looking for more than just a job, they’re really looking for the opportunity to create a better outcome for themselves, and for other people in their community. They have that sort of special something.”
Applicants must go through several rounds of interviews, she says, “where we’re really looking to see what is their level of drive, ambition. Are they goal-oriented? Do they have strong interpersonal skills? Do they have intellectual curiosity? Do they just seem like a good sort of personality? We also do an academic assessment where we actually give an opportunity to engage in a little bit of what we would do in the classroom.
“By the end of it we can see whether this is a good fit for them, and whether they seem to be committed. ‘Cause it’s a 10-month program, right? It’s not really right for someone who’s just looking to get a job. It’s really for someone who’s trying to end up in a different place, and make an investment of time in developing these skills.
CLASSROOM STUDY, INTERNSHIPS, AND ‘A BIG EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING COMPONENT’
What does the program look like? For the first six weeks, Pivot Fellows attend customized classes Monday through Friday at Georgetown’s downtown School of Continuing Studies. Starting in January, they will attend classes Mondays and Wednesdays and intern with local employer partners Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays they will work on developing their business ventures or assist others in doing so at the new Georgetown Venture Lab, located at WeWork White House in Northwest D.C.
Toward the end of the program, fellows may choose a track: employment or entrepreneurship. Those opting to create their own business will be provided with work space, business coaching, legal support, and access to resources; those seeking permanent employment will be placed with local businesses as interns with the goal of receiving offers of full-time employment.
Participants also will receive living stipends from the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
“It’s a big experiential learning component,” Lovegrove says. “So it’s alternating between time in the classroom and time actually at employment sites, where they’re able to see and experience it firsthand and really understand how businesses operate, and what they have to do to operate effectively. A lot of the understanding of the principles of management will take place in real life. They’ll understand how organizations make decisions, how they hire people, how they build teams and culture, and how strategy fits in to the effectiveness of an organization.”
‘CAN WE TALK ABOUT SECOND CHANCES?’
The Pivot Program is about more than reducing recidivism, Howard says. It’s about creating positive success stories.
“I think it’s about showing the humanity of people who have previously been considered flawed and scarred. We’re trying to show that they have potential, that they have talent. I think the vision really is to allow these people to achieve their full potential and to allow them to contribute to the economic growth of our communities. We’re systematically excluding them right now.
“Can we talk about second chances? The reality is, for a variety of reasons, we are systematically excluding a large piece of this population from our workplaces. We’re not even allowing them to interview for jobs, in many cases. So we have no way of knowing what lies within that group. And there is a lot of talent and skill there.
“And also these people, regardless of what they were convicted of or for how long they served, it’s affecting a lot of them because they can’t move on. They can’t provide for their families, and it creates this perpetuating cycle of poverty and incarceration in communities that are marginalized. The question is, where do you start to unravel that?”