I was recently attending a workshop for asset-based community development (ABCD). I witnessed ABCD in a very personal and powerful way that literally brought tears of joy to my eyes as things unfolded…this stuff really works! Really! Read on…
Back in the Fall of 2010, I attended a workshop sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Re-Entry, which was under the direction of Maxine Bryant at the time (whom I love and admire for her creative investment in homecomers – my term for ex-offenders). The Conference provided an opportunity for people with felonies to network and gain knowledge of resources available to us. Specifically, if our history was creating barriers to employment, the challenge was put to us to consider starting our own business. And, the Mayor’s Office put their money where their mouth was in very practical ways. (Read more here, starting on page 2 of this newsletter…)
I was fortunate and blessed to make it to the final stage of the challenge, with my proposal and business plan submission. It has taken shape with time along my recovery journey: I now provide website, videography and social media support for several small businesses/non-profits. I was proud to stand with the five finalists, all of whom had fantastic business ideas…and blessed to be among the three finalists. (That’s me in the blue shirt/orange tie!)
Fast forward to the ABCD workshop in November 2014:
The sponsors (The Learning Tree LLC) put out a bid for cooks, which included them “telling their story.” They selected a BBQ & Catering business because of the owner’s personal journey, turning his full-time health disability due to MS (multiple schelorsis) into an opportunity to follow his passion/dream to own his own BBQ business. As they invited him up to share his story with the 100+ folks attending the workshop, my jaw dropped…and I started to cry proud tears of joy (as I am even now, writing this blog.) For in front of me was my fellow “Second Chance Challenge” friend, Antron Alexander…proud owner of “Ant’s Grill and Catering.” (Above, he is standing to my left, in the light grey-blue shirt).
As he finished telling his story (unaware that I was in the audience), I stood up and approached him. He recognized me, and we gave each other a heartfelt hug – to the bewilderment of those around us. I then proceeded to tell the “story behind the story” – how Antron also overcame a felony on his record – another barrier to employment and societal acceptance – in starting this venture. It was overwhelming to see him standing there, in front of everyone, proudly sharing his home cooking with us…what a difference a couple of years makes!
I was humbled and proud of Antron’s accomplishment and progress – not only working with his medical condition, but also creating success from the employment barriers by starting his own business. How many people do I know who are on permanent disability and do little to nothing – existing, or just “getting by?” At times, I believe that’s the expectation society can create for those on “permanent disability”…that they have nothing left to offer. Here was a man who went well beyond what society was expecting of him, becoming a contributing member of society.
And, by the way – the BBQ and vegetarian lasagne was AMAZING!
So, if you want a reason to believe in personal victory, in the power of community, in the tangible outcomes of our city and mayor’s office, and the benefit of seeing “assets” over “needs”…remember my friend Antron at Antron’s Grill.
And, if you need a caterer for your next event, please consider sending him a bid. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org – “as grill as it gets!”