Press On & Press Through

 Katie Leonard, Founding Partner - 083

Katie Leonard, Founding Partner - 083

No

It's a word we’re not fond of hearing: the word 'no' is associated with rejection. This type of rejection can be straight-forward or passive; either way, it hurts.

Don't get me wrong, I truly believe that rejection builds resilience.  Rejection, in many cases, can work out for our benefit and lead us in a different, sometimes better, direction.  

But…

How do you frame rejection when you know you are the best person for a job, or you are in dire need of a place to live?  How many times can you hear 'no' and keep a positive attitude without giving up?  

I have volunteered with Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) in the Fairfax County, VA Detention Center for over two years teaching the Workforce Skills Class where I am quick to tell my students to be prepared to hear a lot of 'no's' upon release.  I prepare them for what they already know - that they are likely to face discrimination based on their criminal history. I talk about how success is always on the other side of failure. I tell them to turn the mistake(s) they've made into lessons that can guide them on a different life-course. I encourage them to work on their mindset and positive self-talk.  Bottom line: we don't lose, we either win or we learn. 

Easier said than done. 

Practice What You Preach

As a woman, and more specifically, a woman of color, I've faced discrimination and rejection at many levels.  However, I've never had someone's bias or fear of my background prevent me from an opportunity I sought after. 

Gender and race aside, I knew from the onset of launching Zero Eight Three that I would face bias and discrimination working with returning citizens to spur innovation and create jobs.  That said, I was not prepared for how gut-wrenching rejection could be so early on in the process.  

Blame the lack of emotional preparedness on my naivety or typical unbounded optimism; either way, I wasn't prepared or ready.   To have a vision of success right in front of you, and to have people tell you that you are not welcomed, or that your idea won't work is disheartening to say the least.  I’ve been directed to less desirable locations or space when perfectly good space was sitting right before my eyes.  I’ve been laughed at when talking about profits and the meaningful social impact of Zero Eight Three’s work. 

Here I was, feeling discouraged and frustrated after a few rejections and naysayers - imagine what it's like to be rejected day-in and day-out trying to pursue personal employment or housing.  Imagine how quickly one may want to give up when they feel like there aren't any opportunities available for them because of their past. This was my reality check.

This early rejection I speak of has been one of my biggest lessons. Rejection hurts (lets be real, it flat-out sucks), but I've learned to keep moving forward and taking action even when it's the last thing I want to do.  

The second biggest lesson I've learned is that I will never be fully ready or prepared (emotionally or physically) for what's in store.  I can't let the misconception of being fully prepared prevent me from trying.  I have to monitor, adjust, and roll with the punches.  

The Road Ahead

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 6,741,400 persons were supervised by adult correctional systems in the United States at the end of 2015.  In other words, about 1 in 37 adults (or 2.7% of adults in the United States) was under some form of correctional supervision at year end 2015.  This number does not include juveniles or those adults who are no longer incarcerated or supervised yet have a criminal history. 

This number shows the need to press on, not in spite of rejection, but because of it.  This number shows the need for collective impact when it comes to second chance jobs, housing, and other economic and social opportunities.  

This work is not guaranteed to be easy; however, we must continue to advocate for second chances.  We must continue to push back on the bias and stigma of formerly incarcerated women and men.  We must continue to leverage the talent and ambition of returning citizens and encourage others to do the same.

The work of Zero Eight Three is not slowing down because of a few roadblocks, setbacks, or negative perceptions.  We are currently taking entrepreneur applications, building our team, and forming strategic partnerships; we are ready to be innovative and disruptive in the most meaningful way possible.  

It is essential that Zero Eight Three creates a space where people with barriers to employment can work hard for a living-wage and have an opportunity to share their bold and innovative ideas, services, and products with the world.

Press on & Press Through