The Clean Slate Initiative’s vision is that everyone in America should have a fair opportunity to work, have a safe home, take care of their families, and contribute to their community. They seek to achieve that vision by uniting people across the country to ensure that conviction and non-conviction records are no longer a life sentence to poverty, and past mistakes will no longer define our futures. And here to tell us about this vital work is Sheena Meade, the Chief Executive Officer of Clean Slate Initiative.
As societal norms continue to evolve, it is increasingly crucial that we address systemic issues that hinder the potential of countless individuals. The Clean Slate Initiative is one such undertaking that is working to ensure that individuals with past conviction or non-conviction records in America are not sentenced to a lifetime of poverty. In a recent interview with Sheena Meade, the CEO of The Clean Slate Initiative on The Business of Giving, I delved into the goals, achievements, and vision of this transformative program.
Breaking Barriers to Employment, Housing, and Education
The Clean Slate Initiative was born out of a necessity to break the barriers that past records place on individuals. Sheena explains, “there’s the emotional mental toll that takes on anyone who has a past record or conviction or arrest. But there are things like getting access to housing, employment, and education that serve as a barrier.” This limitation is enormous, considering the fact that in the U.S., there are over 44,000 regulatory restrictions that affect individuals with past records. A previous mistake should not hinder an individual’s ability to prosper and contribute positively to society.
Turning Pain into Purpose
Sheena’s personal experiences have fueled her dedication to the Clean Slate Initiative. She shares how a financial mishap involving a mere $87.26 changed her life, and how she used her challenges as fuel. Sheena believes that personal experience with the system is powerful in leading reform. She explains, “The other thing is that people closest to the pain are closest to the solution… making sure that people who are directly impacted are at the center of this work in our states, on a national level, that we’re hearing from them, that we’re listening to them, and making sure that we’re passing policies that, at the end of the day, is going to help them and not hurt them.”
Scaling Clean Slate Across America
From its humble beginnings in Pennsylvania, The Clean Slate Initiative has expanded and accomplished policy changes in 12 states. However, Sheena Meade recognizes the mountain ahead with 38 states remaining. She remains optimistic, mentioning, “And so, really, right now, it is trying to get the states and the lawmakers and the public to understand that there is a solution to giving people a clean slate.” Clean Slate policies are not just about criminal justice reforms; they are an investment in the economic and social fabric of our nation. For instance, by helping individuals clear their records, they can gain access to better jobs, which in turn benefits the economy through a larger tax base.
A Future of Common Sense and Compassion
Sheena envisions a future where Clean Slate will have bipartisan support and be seen as common sense. She reflects on the Audacious Project grant awarded to the Clean Slate Initiative – $75 million that will be used to expand their work into all 50 states, opening up second chances for 14 million people over the next six years. She shares her excitement about seeing people feeling empowered and excited about the potential changes that Clean Slate can bring. Sheena shares, “Seeing that bipartisan support, I think, is a future where Clean Slate is not going to be a whole conversation, it’s just going to be common sense.”
The Clean Slate Initiative is more than policy reform; it’s about restoring dignity, hope, and opportunity to millions of Americans. By supporting this cause, businesses and society as a whole can benefit from a workforce that is diverse, experienced, and has a renewed sense of purpose. It is high time that as a society, we recognize the humanity and potential in all, regardless of their past.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.