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New Legislation Reduces Barriers for Returning Citizens

Today NLEN joins the Safer Foundation and the many agencies and individuals who advocated and helped to gain the Governor’s support in signing a series of bills removing barriers associated with a criminal background with special celebration and recognition of the occupational licensing reform bill, HB 5973 –  a long and hard fought collective effort. We especially celebrate that HB 5973 will open employment and entrepreneurial doors for so many who have served their time to restore their fundamental right to work.

We applaud the Governor for this important step to reducing barriers to employment for returning citizens and ask him to continue to open opportunities by acting on the following:

  • Pursuing sentencing reform to achieve his goal of reducing the Illinois prison population by 25% over the next 10 years
  • Promoting  pretrial diversion at the local level to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated prior to conviction
  • Expanding transitional employment opportunities for individuals who were recently released from incarceration or suffer from chronic unemployment

Sweet Beginnings and NLEN on NBC, LeeAnn Trotter Reports

Benefit Chicago Highlights Diverse Social Enterprise Success Models


The Monroe Foundation “Benefit Chicago” Convening with the CEO’s of the Chicago Community Trust and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Highlights  Diverse Social Enterprise Success Models


The Monroe Foundation CEO Otis C Monroe III (middle) and Paul A. Labonne, Board Chairman and PNC Community Consultant (right) hold the P.A.C.T. Project sign with Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. Others pictured include: (left) Dr. Leon Finney, Jr., CEO, Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, Eva Brown, Community Development Manager, US Bank, Thurman “Tony” Smith, Market Manager, PNC Bank, (Right) Manny Jimenez, Vice President & CRA Officer, Marquette Bank and Brenda Palms-Barber, Executive Director, North Lawndale Employment Network/Sweet Beginings, LLC.

On Monday May 23rd, twenty-five community development and social enterprise “thought-leaders” convened at Marquette Bank in Chicago’s West Englewood community to engage Terry Mazany, CEO of the Chicago Community Trust and Julia Stasch, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in a dialogue about “Benefit Chicago”, a new collaboration of the two phihatheopic institutions.

Benefit Chicago is a 100 million dollar commitment to invest in social enterprise that  develop new revenue platforms to support the social-impact work of nonprofit organizations such as Sweet Beginings,LLC launched out of the nonprofit the North Lawndale Employment Network, and Oprima-1, a call-center launched out of PODER, a Latino-led nonprofit and social enterprise.

Both social enterprises provide presentations at the convening on their socially-driven impact work that creates jobs and promotes economic sufficiency, and how a capital infusion of investment from Benefit Chicago can help sustain and expand their work and impact.

Terry Mazany, President of the Chicago Community Trust, stated, “We are grateful (to the P.A.C.T. Project of the Monroe Foundation) for the opportunity to have had this conversation about Benefit Chicago. It is abundantly clear that the program will add value to the region’s social ecosystem. Benefit Chicago is already spurring a critical dialogue on social enterprises and sparking broad interest in the category. To this end, the Trust is committed to providing a myriad of learning opportunities-for the novice and the experienced in our community.”  Paul A. Labonne, Community Consultant for PNC Bank and Chairman of the Board of the Monroe Foundation, added, “Today’s convening provided emerging and experienced social enterprise leaders with a connectivity to Benefit Chicago, early, so that transformative concepts that can result in economic –social change, can potentially become invested.”.

The P.A.C.T. Project (Partnership Assisting Community Transformation) is a community and economic issues coalition of the Monroe Foundation funded by a grant from the Field Foundation of Illinois.

NLEN Response to Philando Castile and Alton Sterling Shootings

“Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data, and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday.” ~ Jesse Williams, (from his 2016 BET Humanitarian Award Speech)

Late last night, as I was still reeling from the loss of Black lives in Baton Rogue, LA and Falcon Heights, MN., I was stunned to learn that five police officers were killed while on duty during a peaceful protest and demonstration led by Black Lives Matter activists and other civic and church leaders in Dallas, Texas. This is heart-breaking, and I agree whole-heartedly with President Obama’s description of the attack as “vicious, calculated and despicable.”

As our community grieves this tragedy, we cannot lose sight of the tragedies happening daily in Black and Brown communities around the country—communities like North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, Englewood, and Humboldt Park. The deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are two poignant examples of excessive force by the police, but their deaths are not isolated incidents or even evidence of a recent surge in police violence. We can never forget Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and the countless others whose deaths have gone unnoticed. Black and Brown communities have been acutely aware of and have experienced the brunt of police brutality, mass incarceration, and structural poverty long before smart phones and social media brought these painful images into the rest of national consciousness.

As Director of Reentry Policy and Advocacy, and as a Black man and father who has dedicated his life to building our community’s capacity for economic advancement and improved quality of life, my hope is the work we do at the North Lawndale Employment Network today has a meaningful impact on tomorrow. This hope keeps me focused and grounded as we navigate the challenges of today’s environment.

At the North Lawndale Employment Network, we are heart broken, but hopeful, and we will continue fighting the most debilitating barriers that incarceration and police brutality impose. Through job readiness preparation, financial and employment coaching, and customized skills training, we help people find opportunities where others might find a closed door. We also facilitate real conversations between our clients and police officers in our  Building Bridges, Building Connections program. Yet, we realize that our efforts to create dialogue and provide second chances are not enough. We realize that we need to think bigger and fight for a more comprehensive vision of a just world.

Therefore, We seek:

  • An immediate and abrupt end to the use of excessive force by police officers who have been hired to protect and serve our communities
  • Transparency, justice and police accountability
  • A full investigation into the shootings on Alton Sterling and Philando Castille

We are inspired and pleased to be associated with the dynamic and impactful advocacy work of PolicyLink—a national research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic and social equity. For more policy recommendations we are pleased to direct you to this report from an amazing collaboration between Policy Link and the Center for Popular Democracy (

We also encourage you to take the following Action:

With liberty and justice for all,

Mark L. Sanders II
Director, Reentry Policy & Advocacy Programs
The North Lawndale Employment Network

North Lawndale gets Chicago’s First Community Court

– For the first time, Chicago will be home to a community court system in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

The Restorative Justice Community Court will allow young nonviolent offenders to take accountability for their actions instead of serving jail time.

Cliff Nellis of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center and Jose Wilson from the North Lawndale Employment Network joined Good Day Chicago to talk about the court and what they hope to accomplish.

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