Youth Justice Advocate Xavier McElrath-Bey delivered a keynote address about life-without-parole sentences for children to staff at the Starbucks Corporation in Seattle in August. He was joined by Executive Director Jody Kent Lavy and Dolphy Jordan, a member of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network (ICAN), who also delivered remarks during the event.
Starbucks hired Xavier for his first job when he was released from prison nearly 14 years ago. Here are his reflections on that visit:
“Visiting the Starbucks headquarters brought back a flood of memories and appreciation for what they once represented in my life. Fresh out of prison at age 26 and never having lived as an adult in free society, I was met with the additional challenge of finding employment with a criminal record.
Although I was a child at the time of my arrest in 1989, I was charged as an adult, which meant that my record will be visible to employers for the rest of my life. Over and over, I had been denied a job – even though I had earned a college degree while I was incarcerated. I used my last bus fare to visit a Starbucks store for an interview and I was hired. Within days, my world changed forever. With a job, I was able to survive and pursue a master’s degree while working part-time. This opportunity came because of the good heart and instincts of one store manager who believed in me.
During my visit at headquarters, I discovered that Starbucks has embarked upon a great mission: to partner with other corporations in forming the largest employer-led coalition to provide job opportunities to youth in America. The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative seeks to connect the 5.5 million youth aged 16 to 24 who are not in school are working with the employers who need their skills and abilities. The initiative resonated with me on many levels, in particular because most youth in the justice system were once very much like these young people. And most youth who were sentenced to life without parole faced these realities and other obstacles at the time of their arrests, much as I did.”