PCHR trainings: Bringing messages and meaning to diverse audiences

Team PCHR was busy in the streets this week, deciphering laws and their practical impact for a range of audiences across the city.

On Tuesday, a partnership with the Nationalities Service Center helped boost the level of expertise for those assisting newly arrived citizens when it comes to areas such as countering discrimination in housing and employment.

Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney leans into the point made by Executive Director Rue Landau during a recent training at the Nationalities Services Center.

Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney (l.) leans into the point made by Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) during a recent training at the Nationalities Services Center.

Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney tag-teamed as they explained the city’s fair housing laws and provided an overview of the Fair Practices Ordinance. Assembled were dozens of people who work with migrants and recent immigrants, representing the NSC as well as the Migrant Education Program and a representative of City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr.’s office.

With Philadelphia’s shifting demographics, it’s essential those helping people settle and integrate into day-to-day life are fully aware of what behaviors are accepted as well as what things are prohibited — such as discriminating or retaliating against pregnant or nursing mothers. It was a day of information exchange that included fielding questions and providing insights.

“The people who came to this training work with some of our most vulnerable residents, and it is so important that they are clear on the rules so they can share that information,” Landau said. “It was a great opportunity and it is totally what we love doing — getting out there and helping people understand how to protect themselves.”

PCHR's Naarah Crawley reviews the city's

PCHR’s Naarah Crawley reviews the city’s
“Ban the Box” law with a participant at the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega 1310.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Naarah Crawley and Monica Gonzalez strengthened understanding of the city’s “Ban the Box” law for dozens of people on the hunt for work during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega 1310.

Private sector employers and the city set up tables with employment opportunities, while PCHR reps spoke about overcoming perceived barriers to claiming those opportunities.

City Managing Director Rich Negrin spoke about the power of education, opportunity and the rewarding nature of public service during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega radio.

City Managing Director Rich Negrin spoke about the power of education, opportunity and the rewarding nature of public service during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega radio.

Men and women of all ages and interests stopped by the table to learn how a criminal background doesn’t have to impede future employment. Under the law, employers are not allowed to ask about criminal histories in the initial phases of the interview process — not on a job application or during the first interview, whether in person or on the phone. Likewise, past brushes with the law cannot prevent someone from receiving a merited promotion or raise.

“So many people lose out simply because they don’t realize these protections exist,” Gonzalez said. “Yes. They made mistakes. But they paid for them. And their punishment isn’t supposed to be forever, especially when they’re trying to do the right thing moving forward.”

Celebrating Latino heritage and community: La Feria del Barrio 2015

At the 2015 Feria del Barrio yesterday, the colors were bright, activities numerous and streets full of joy as people came from across the city and region for the annual community outing, sponsored by Taller Puertorriqueño.

Fiesta! The 2015 Feria del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Taller Puertorriqueño.

Fiesta! The 2015 Feria del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Taller Puertorriqueño.

As in years past, the vivid daylong array of artisans, dancers, musicians and other performers made this cultural showcase a smash for attendees of every age. Beyond entertainment, valuable workshops and resource exchanges also were in place.

North 5th Street saw scores of people gathered for the annual Feria del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Taller Puertorriqueño.

North 5th Street saw scores of people gathered for the annual Feria del Barrio. Photo courtesy of Taller Puertorriqueño.

Sara Roblado, an area block captain, takes a moment to collect information from PCHR's Nancy Rivera at the annual Feria del Barrio.

Sara Roblado, an area block captain, takes a moment to collect information from PCHR’s Nancy Rivera at the annual Feria del Barrio.

And in the mix of it all was PCHR, represented by veteran Nancy Rivera, a supervisor in the compliance division and alum of the community relations division. From neighbor disputes to Ban the Box details, she answered scores of questions for the dozens who visited the table. She even caught up with an extended member of the PCHR family, former employee Sonia Collazo.

A PCHR family reunion! Nancy Rivera connects with former PCHR employee Sonia Collazo at the Feria del Barrio.

A PCHR family reunion! Nancy Rivera connects with former PCHR employee Sonia Collazo at the Feria del Barrio.

It was a great September day for a street festival, and a wonderful way to usher in Hispanic Heritage Month 2015!

PCHR opens New Year with info for inmates at Philadelphia prisons

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Randy Duque joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and an array of community and faith leaders on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance. Duque was one of 10 guest speakers at Curran Frohmhold Correctional Facility, answering questions and offering encouragement to some 100 inmates looking forward to beginning anew upon their return to society.  “Sharing information about what PCHR does, in terms of protecting civil rights and enforcing the city’s ‘Ban the Box’ law proved helpful,” Duque said. “These are individuals who may not otherwise get this valuable information. And this is information that literally could change the outcome of their lives.”

PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque was part of Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s team of community and faith leaders visiting Philadelphia’s prisons on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance.

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner and Deputy Director Randy Duque joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and an array of community and faith leaders on New Year’s Day for the annual Mayor’s Office Day of Observance.

Duque was one of 10 guest speakers at Curran Frohmhold Correctional Facility, answering questions and offering encouragement to some 100 inmates looking forward to beginning anew upon their return to society.

These visitations began with Mayor John F. Street, who wanted to offer hope to those interested in turning their lives around once they were released. Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. also was among those opening the new year — and hopefully a new chapter — with those currently behind bars.

“Sharing information about what PCHR does, in terms of protecting civil rights and enforcing the city’s ‘Ban the Box’ law proved helpful,” Duque said. “These are individuals who may not otherwise get this valuable information. And this is information that literally could change the outcome of their lives.”

Being Our Brother’s Keeper in Philly

When President Barack Obama issued a national challenge in September for cities to become My Brother’s Keeper communities, Philadelphia seized upon it.

mbk_obama

After all, with blacks and Latinos making up 57 percent of the city’s population, a wicked violence rate and sagging academic achievement among this large segment of our city, the president’s charge arrived like an SOS – one powered by neighbors to help save their neighbors.

It was with that sense of urgency that Mayor Michael A. Nutter convened the My Brother’s Keeper Philly summit, gathering thinkers, advocates, academics and advocates from the public and private sector together to start shaping how this initiative would look and what it would achieve. PCHR was among them.

Mayor Nutter opened the morning and set the stage for what lies ahead, describing the initiative as some of the most important work in which the city could engage, and should engage.

With dismal high school graduation and lackluster employment rates among Philadelphia’s black and brown males, failure to intervene would equate to draining the city of a valuable resource by failing to capture and convert talent.

The Center for American Progress just released a study noting that were the educational achievement gap experienced by black and brown children closed, the nation’s gross domestic product would rise by the trillions, and state and local tax receipts would increase in the billions annually. For economically struggling urban centers like Philadelphia, whose 12.2 percent poverty rate ranks it the poorest of the country’s big cities, that type of change would amount to considerable improvement.

Just the night before, he spoke about one of the deepest pains he experiences daily as mayor – the daily briefings from Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey that detail the murder and mayhem of the night before. Too often, the names of victims – and perpetrators – share commonalities: young, black, male and many times undereducated if not unemployed.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx helped put the challenge ahead in context, giving personal testimony from his own family. Hard work is half of the battle; having support along the way can carry you across the goal line.

But it begins with a mindset, Foxx said, quoting the legendary lawmaker Adam Clayton Powell Jr.:  “Freedom is an internal achievement rather than an external adjustment.”

Given the fact that there are more African-American men behind bars than were held in bondage at the height of slavery, it is clear that modern freedom requires greater inward work, Foxx said. It’s work that needs external support – from family, friends, neighbors, educators and employers, driving at the heart of this gathering and this national initiative.

“The good news is that the mayor’s office is dedicated to focusing its resources on this project,” PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau said. “We can lay the groundwork for a long-term initiative in the city.

“We are all responsible for the circumstances currently facing African-American and Latino boys and men, and we must all play a role in dismantling the current structure and creating new avenues for success. “

There were plenty invested in creating such avenues. Attendees grouped themselves thematically along the major goals of the initiative to ensure:

  • All children enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally ready
  • All children read at grade level by 3rd grade
  • A 100 percent high school graduation rate
  • All young people complete post-secondary education or training
  • All young people out of school are working
  • All young people remain safe from violent crime

Inside the West Philadelphia Community Center in Mantua, the room was abuzz as education, employment, social and public safety considerations rose at every table.

The conversations around the tables were thoughtful, as well as frank, assessing what initiatives already are in place, what players need to be involved in these discussions moving forward and establishing concrete to-do’s, beginning in bite-sized chunks. From these discussions, the mayor’s team will establish a work plan, expected shortly.

The PCHR contribution will involve boosting violence prevention programs as well as enhancing employment prospects through broader education and cultural shifts such as through awareness of the city’s Ban the Box law.

“In order for My Brother’s Keeper Philly to be successful, the momentum needs to continue,” said Randy Duque, PCHR deputy director. “The leaders who attended must not only continue to collaborate, but also invigorate their respective agencies and organizations with the MBK initiative so that each can work fully in tandem at achieving the various goals generated.”

Long after the folding chairs are stacked in their closets at the community center, many will remember the words and story of Juan Jefferies.

Like many young men in this city, his life took a wrong turn, to the deep anguish of his parents who worked to steer him on a better road. But he gathered himself together with the help of programs such as PowerCORP PHL.

Now he’s an intern with the Philadelphia Water Department and a student at Community College of Philadelphia, a success like many people able to combine their desire for a second chance and initiatives such as PowerCORP PHL and Ban the Box.

“I never saw myself as a college student, and if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have never thought I would be where I am now,” he told the audience. “I’m grateful. They weren’t worried about my past. They just saw my potential.”

His is a story worth repeating – and replicating, citywide. MBK Philly can help make it happen.

Sharing the word: “Ban the Box” and job hunting at Esperanza College

With unemployment rates among the city’s Latino population more than twice the city’s average, La Mega 1310’s job fair at Esperanza College — complete with recruiters that had actual openings — came right on time.

PCHR's Monica Gonzalez explains how the city's 'Ban the Box" law can help level the playing field for job seekers during the first job fair sponsored by La Mega 1310AM.

PCHR’s Monica Gonzalez explains how the city’s ‘Ban the Box” law can help level the playing field for job seekers during the first job fair sponsored by La Mega 1310AM.

But for those Latinos, males and females, who have criminal records, the prospect of employment always seems shakier.

PCHR was on hand to insist that it doesn’t have to be, that the “Ban the Box” law is intended to help them get an even shot at competing for work.

PCHR's Naarah Crawley answers questions about the city's "Ban the Box" law at La Mega 1310 AM's first job fair, held at Esperanza College.

PCHR’s Naarah Crawley answers questions about the city’s “Ban the Box” law at La Mega 1310 AM’s first job fair, held at Esperanza College.

It’s why the agency partnered with La Mega to help deliver this important message — and job fair attendees flocked to the PCHR table to listen to Monica Gonzalez and Naarah Crawley tell them more, about the law, how to use it and what to do if things don’t go according to plan.

There were as many women as men stopping by the table, of all ages, securing information for themselves and loved ones.

“We keep putting out information and setting out the brochures, and people are picking them up,” Gonzalez said. “They definitely want to know more.”

PCHR's Monica Gonzalez and Naarah Crawley get encouragement and thanks from Managing Director Rich Negrin at La Mega's first job fair, held at Esperanza College

PCHR’s Monica Gonzalez and Naarah Crawley get encouragement and thanks from Managing Director Rich Negrin at La Mega’s first job fair, held at Esperanza College

Saluting active engagement: Citizens Advisory Council for Probation and Parole’s 3rd annual recognition ceremony

The Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on North Broad Street came alive with applause as the Philadelphia Citizens Advisory Council for Probation and Parole honored men and women making a difference daily at its 3rd annual recognition ceremony. PCHR’s Patricia Coyne, veteran community relations division representative, helped to emcee the event.

Patricia Coyne

PCHR’s Patricia Coyne names awardees at the PBPP event.

Overall, some 16 individuals and groups making a positive impact on the probation and parole process were formally thanked — and cheered. Among this year’s awardees were individuals from the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, JEVS Human Services, and RISE — Mayor Nutter’s Office of Reintegration Services, as well as former parolees who are now thriving in their new lives.

(L-R) Michael Potteiger, Chairman, PA Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) Cedric Smith, PBPP ASCRA Agent, Philadelphia Region Tonie Willis, Ardella's House (for reentering/recovering women) Bonnietta Ferguson, Deputy Director for Reentry (PBPP - Philadelphia Region) Christian Stephens, PBPP ASCRA Agent, Philadelphia Region Thomas Wright, Deputy Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department CB Kimmins, Chairman, Probation/Parole CAC-Philadelphia Chairman Vincent Faust, "Sobriety Through Outpatient." PCHR's Patricia Coyne is at the podium.

(L-R) Michael Potteiger, chairman, Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole,
Cedric Smith, PBPP resource agent, Philadelphia region,Tonie Willis, Ardella’s House, Bonnietta Ferguson, PBPP deputy director for reentry, Philadelphia region, Christian Stephens, PBPP resource agent, Philadelphia Region, Deputy Commissioner Thomas Wright, Philadelphia Police Department, CB Kimmins, chairman, Philadelphia Citizens Advisory Council and Vincent Faust of Sobriety Through OutPatient Inc. PCHR’s Patricia Coyne is at the podium.

Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Commissioner Thomas H. Wright, Pennsylvania Probation and Parole Chairman Michael C. Potteiger and Prince Hall Senior Grand Warden Malcolm E. Harris were among the luminaries offering words of gratitude and encouragement in the ongoing effort to help ensure safer communities and support for families across the city.

About 100 people attended the event, including state Rep. Vanessa Lowery-Brown and various legislative and civic partners. And PCHR also shared valuable information about its “Ban the Box” initiative.

The advisory council helps to build bridges between those navigating the criminal justice system and the wider community, reducing tensions and increasing understanding. Coyne represents PCHR on the council.

Supporting women breaking the criminal records box

The issues surrounding women and incarceration are not only complex, but also a dynamic modern concern, one that was recently examined at Temple University by scholars and lay people alike on Monday, March 31.

Life Interrupted: Gender, Race, and Incarceration provided five hours for discussion, analysis and alliance building for those interested in shaping and implementing policies impacting women who have encountered the criminal justice system.

Tonie Willis, founder and executive director of Ardella’s House, spearheaded the daylong conference. The goal of the event was to explore the various challenges facing women – especially those of color – as they re-enter and re-integrate with society after incarceration. More than 100 turned out for the event.

Conference attendees ranged from political figures such as state Rep. Jordan Harris to grassroots organizations such as Veterans Helping Veterans. Among the mix was Patricia Coyne, PCHR community relations team member, armed with info about the city’s Ban the Box law. PCHR enforces this law.

“I was inundated with requests for more information,” Coyne said. “And we let people know that PCHR is ready to meet with any groups or organizations interested in learning more about Ban the Box and its enforcement, along with other work we do.”

Race Gender Criminal Justice conference

(l-r) PCHR’s Patricia Coyne, event organizer Tonie Willis, Ann Schwartzmann of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, Christian Stephens of the Pennsylvania Board Probation and Parole and the Hon. Doris Smith were among those highlighting solutions for women of color seeking to find new futures after past entanglement with the criminal justice system.

Community Legal Services recently reported that an increasing number of clients seeking legal assistance to overcome barriers fueled by those criminal histories are women.

In a city where 52 percent of residents are women and nearly 1 in 6 of residents have a criminal record, the overlap is inevitable – and stunning.

According to the CLS report, among the under 30 set, young females, as opposed to men – by a 2 to 1 ratio. Most are women of color, primarily black or Latina. For those over 30, the split is almost even between male and female clients.

While for the most part, their past crimes tend to be less severe than their male counterparts, these women still face and fear difficulties because of their histories. For instance, state law bans people with certain histories records from working in particular fields, such as care giving for seniors or children – two growth areas in the local job market.

Many of these women already are on the lower economic rung, and even head households. Finding work – let alone advancing in the workplace – can seem an insurmountable obstacle, advocates like Willis say.

She has long spoken up for women with criminal histories, and also serves as a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Council on Probation and Parole in Philadelphia.

Teresa Fabi of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office provided the keynote, whereas the rest of the day was filled with moderated panels dissecting different sides of the issue. Insights came from experts ranging from Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, members of the judiciary, and representatives of service agencies such as the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders (RISE) and Women Organized Against Rape, among others.

Certainly the work continues, but the forces and voices uniting to tackle the challenges are expanding as well – reason enough to hope surmounting today’s odds is completely possible.