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Office of Re-entry ceremony gives 91 former offenders an encouraging sendoff

As graduations go, the one held last Saturday morning at LeMoyne-Owen College’s Little Theatre had an element of redemption. Centerstage were graduates of the 2019 Shelby County Office of Re-Entry program.

“We are just so proud of these graduates, 91 in total, and two-thirds of which have already secured a ‘good job,’” said Harold Collins, the former Memphis City Council member who now serves as the executive director of the re-entry office. “And we define a good job as one paying a good hourly wage with benefits. Today is a good day in Shelby County.”

The Shelby County Office of Reentry responds to the needs of returning citizens with the support of the State of Tennessee Department of Corrections and Shelby County Government. Essential reentry resources are concentrated in one place.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told graduates not to give up.

“I would encourage all participants to keep at it and stay focused. We know that nothing important or transformative happens overnight. You have to stay at it and stay at it for the long haul. It can get hard.”

Lots of people give up on their God-given purpose,” said Lee.

“Somewhere along the way, they say it’s too tough, it takes too long, it costs too much, and nobody will help me. But don’t look at how things have been. Stay focused on what could be. Work on your goals, and little by little, if you don’t give up, it will all work out, and you will be successful.”

Monique Neeley spoke for the 2020 graduates, sharing that she first learned about the Shelby County Office of Reentry while serving time at the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

“As I transitioned, each time I had an issue my case manager always seemed to have a solution. … The staff encouraged me, made me accountable and assisted me with whatever was needed to succeed,” she said. “Today, I am the clinical manager with a local medical provider’s office, and I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary there. …

“It’s important to me to continue to better myself so I can be the best for my family, for my job and co-workers and for myself. … I want to always use all that I have learned to help others just as the Office of Reentry has helped me.”

Featured guest speaker Chris Winton made reference to his position as FedEx’s vice-president of Human Resources as he rhetorically posed this question: ‘How in the world did that happen?’

“I was born in the inner-city of Memphis and (was) a ‘C’ student,” said Winton, who joined FedEx as an IT intern in 1997, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis, and was recognized in 2014 by the Memphis Business Journal as a Top 40 Leader Under 40.

“I worked two jobs while I was in school, and my grades suffered. I worked two jobs because I was tired of seeing my mother working two jobs. My father worked two jobs, but he was just doing what he had to do. I didn’t want to see my mother working so hard.…”

Winter presented the re-entry program graduates with these four ‘Cs’ to help shatter all expectations of failure while propelling each toward success:

  1. Consumer of information: be intentional about the information you consume;
  2. Connect with people: networking and making yourself available to meet people will be invaluable to you;
  3. Communicate: be ready to share your story, your aspirations, the obstacles you have already overcome, and
  4. Care: help others when the opportunities present themselves; don’t be afraid to lose sight of yourself by caring.

Interim LeMoyne-Owen College President Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean invoked the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and told graduates, “You more than anybody else knows that the struggle continues, and no one knows all your story or the strength it has taken to persevere.”

A former superintendent of the old Memphis City Schools system, Johnson-Dean said, “I ask myself what I could have done better to support you. …We must all ask what we could have done better. …We are committed to helping you get to the place God has planned for you to be.”

(For additional information or to register for the next program, call (901) 222-4550.)

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