Last week, I introduced you to a guy named Mike whom I met hanging on a Philly street corner. He didn't want me to use his last name then, but the 28-year-old had a lot to say about a new — and I think, inspired — program led by Philadelphia Police Officer G. Lamar Stewart, where police and community partners hit the streets armed with job opportunities.
Mike's thoughts on the effort could be summed up with one word: bogus.
It didn't matter that Mike and his buddies on the corner were looking for jobs, or that, the very next night, people who could help them get employed would be just a block from where they sat.
No thanks. No way. Their experiences with police made them mistrustful of cops, especially ones supposedly bearing gifts.
Fast-forward a week and allow me to introduce you, with his permission, to a newly employed Mike Grant.
Same guy, completely different attitude, a man full of confidence and optimism.
A J-O-B will do that to a person. But even more important, a genuine helping hand to land and keep a job.
When I met Grant, he had just gotten off of house arrest for drug and gun charges and was applying in vain to several jobs a day. After I posted a video on Twitter about his skepticism, Jondhi Harrell, founder of the Center for Returning Citizens, wasted no time reaching out.
If Grant was hesitant to trust cops, maybe he could try trusting someone who could relate, said Harrell, who had spent 20 years in federal prison himself. Upon getting out in 2009, he finally found a job refurbishing remote controls in Goodwill's Ex-Offender Re-Entry Program. That led to another, which eventually led to his nonprofit.
It was at Harrell's Center City offices where just a few days after I met Mike, Officer Stewart showed up to prove that "Turning a New Corner" wasn't just the name of the program but a genuine effort.
"This is real," the officer told Grant.
By Monday, Grant had a job interview. By Thursday he was going through orientation. He is scheduled to start his full-time gig at Atlantic City Linen Supply this week.
Can we just pause here for a well-deserved WOOOHOOO!
While Grant didn't go to the corners that police and community partners targeted last week, more than 100 people did; 10 have been hired by Atlantic City Linen with the help of the National Workforce Opportunity Network. Three others have been hired by Resources for Human Development, a social service provider.
Even with the torrential downpours that night, it shouldn't surprise anyone that people showed up. Poverty strangles this city. And, as new census data show, income only decreases. People in this city want to work and are desperate for jobs that will give them an opportunity to take care of themselves and their families. For Grant, that includes two young children.
This program is still new. There will likely be some challenges they'll have to adjust to. A lot more Mikes stand on the sidelines watching it closely.
And who better to tell them, or show them, than the original Mike. I told him as much during one of our conversations. Not to put too much pressure on him, but his success could be the example, and proof, lots of other Mikes might need to get off the corners.
After he was offered work, he called to let me know and say thank you for stopping to talk to him on that corner that day. But he also wanted to tell me something else.
"I got two brothers who are looking at me and they see a change and they see that getting a job is possible and they also want to follow my lead."