“Not in my wildest imagination, did I ever think that I would find myself in prison. But when the company that I co-founded was investigated, I went to trial to defend both myself and the company.
At the end of the trial, I lost and was given an 87-month prison sentence. That’s seven years and three months, which was an extremely long sentence for a first time, white collar, nonviolent offense. Through an appeal, I was able to get my sentence down to 70 months.
It was while I sat in prison as a social entrepreneur, that I gained insight about what it's like to go to prison. Listening to all of the stories of women who found themselves in prison broke my heart.
My heart broke not for myself, but for the women I met, and the institution of family had failed them, and the educational system had failed them. They had just been failed in so many ways and it wasn't clear to me that they could create or find a path to get back on their feet.
That bothered me. It bothered me because as I was sitting there having the same experience they were having, I knew if I could survive prison, I'd be okay. My family would be there to support me and I had enough good skill sets to get back on my feet and reenter the world of entrepreneurship.
I didn't know how difficult it would be, but I knew I had enough agency over my life, enough know-how and community support to move forward.
It was there that I dedicated my life to this cause for the rest of my life, and I'm proud of the work we've accomplished in this ten year period.
Mission: Launch, the company my daughter and I founded, was born from a visiting room while I was in prison. I was reading a lot while I was there and I read an article that said seven out of ten children who have a parent who's incarcerated are likely to go to prison. The thought of that really devastated me.
I knew the reality of that statistic because I’d heard many women share their stories about coming home from prison only to find out their child was going to prison.
My daughter Laurin came to visit me one weekend and it was a beautiful day. There were a lot of children visiting their moms, grandmothers, aunts and so forth. I told Laurin what I'd read and told her to pick ten children there and tell me which three deserved to make it.
At that moment, Laurin decided to join me on the journey I was already committed to.
Laurin has often said, “I didn't pick prison, prison picked me.” We knew she wasn't going to go to prison even though I did. She had already graduated from college and was an adult, but it could have been the same reality of a mom who went to prison and left smaller children behind.
Mission: Launch, our non-profit that supports individuals living with criminal records, is an iteration of that moment in that visitation room. Once I came home, Laurin and I talked about what the right contribution to the space would be for us.
My background is in entrepreneurship and Laurin’s is in technology, so we decided to focus on inclusive entrepreneurship, technology, and storytelling. We wanted to humanize people who went to prison, and that has been the journey of Mission: Launch.”
“R3 Score started as we were working to help formerly incarcerated men and women find jobs through Mission: Launch. Through a Hackathon, we discovered that entrepreneurship was going to become a necessity for a lot of people with records because of all the workforce discrimination.
In nine years, there will be 100 million people who have an arrest or conviction record. Right now, we're at 70 million, and that's an overwhelming majority of people who face workforce barriers. There are over 50,000 known restrictions a person may face because of their criminal history and over 60% of them deal with Human Resources.
We discovered it wasn't that difficult to convince people to earn a living by creating a business, what was difficult was getting them access to capital. Most formerly incarcerated people did not have the resources to build a business and sustain it long enough to turn a profit.
We started thinking, there has to be something better than a background check and a credit score to determine someone’s eligibility for funding, but we discovered nothing else exists.
R3 Score was designed to be a more inclusive, more strength-based risk model. We now tell people we are modernizing legacy risk models and our customers have started using R3 Score for people who don't have criminal histories.
R3 Score is being used to provide access to jobs and small business loans. We're excited about 2021 and 2022 because there are pilots in the works to use R3 Score for housing and some other sectors. Our goal is for R3 Score to be the gold standard of risk models by 2030.
One of the challenges we faced early on was the lack of technical know-how in describing our work to foundations to raise money. Whether it's philanthropic money, or venture capital money, there's just a way in which money moves.
We had to acknowledge the data that shows that women leaders don't raise as much capital and Black women don't raise as much capital for their businesses. Some of that can be attributed to the nature of how money, power and influence operate.
It’s also difficult, as a leader, knowing that you have the right idea, even if it's difficult to communicate it. Despite those issues, there were always people who would tell us we were right and support the work.
Community has always been a key part of our success. One of the things I often say is that community is currency. Every time we've hit a wall with the growth of the company, it has been the people who have been committed to seeing our vision come to pass, the people who have been committed to joining in the work, that have helped push both Mission: Launch and R3 Score across the finish line.
I've lived in Baltimore several times. The first time was when I came to Hopkins for business school at the Carey Business School. It was a professor there that encouraged me to enter the school's business plan competition, which led us to start Mission: Launch. So, I have a special affinity for Baltimore because of Hopkins.”
“I chose to base my businesses in Baltimore because it was important for me to be in a city where I naturally feel like I belong. 2020 showed us how racially divided we are as a country, so being in a diverse city like Baltimore is important to me. I enjoy walking down the street, going places and building alongside people who look like me.
Baltimore, like most cities, may not always get things right, but I do believe there is a sincere desire to do better and I think that makes Baltimore special.
I also think that whereas many other major metropolitan areas have gentrified, there remains an opportunity for homeownership for entrepreneurs who are building a business and want to build a life and a family in Baltimore.
We need to incentivize entrepreneurs by helping them to buy homes. Entrepreneurs can take some of these vacant properties off the city's hands, but you've got to provide the money and access to the properties for this to happen.
These are some of the bold things that I think we have to do if we're serious about closing the racial wealth income gap.
At the center of mass incarceration, Baltimore leads the charge. This is where the problem persists, so we wanted to come to this community and do this work.
Baltimore has tremendous opportunities for social entrepreneurs who are working on some of the hard issues that we're all dealing with in this country, to come here and to form a community.
I’m currently working on an initiative called Bank on 100 Million. By the year 2030, 100 million Americans are expected to have an arrest or conviction record. We are sourcing innovative tools that will help decision-makers of all types to be able to reengage or engage this population for the first time as employees and consumers without being predatory.
We are powered by R3 Score technology and our mission is to acquire customers and market on a national scale. Through Bank on 100 Million, I'm hoping I will be in a position to fund entrepreneurs with records, who are part of the next generation of amazing thinkers.
I think it’s important for people to know that people who go to prison represent America, period. They come from all walks of life. Unfortunately, poor people, people with mental health challenges and black and brown people are disproportionately impacted.
I often say the next big innovation can be birthed out of prison because there is so much potential inside of American prisons. It's just a matter of, are we willing to open our hearts and our minds to accept people and to allow people to make a mistake and move forward.”