Episode 370: Tapping Into the Existing Potential of Young People for Social Justice With Dr Marvin Carr and Tiesa Leggett

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Episode 370: Tapping Into the Existing Potential of Young People for Social Justice With Dr Marvin Carr and Tiesa Leggett

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With a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds necessary to thrive, we are creating collaborative partnerships and relationships with community-based organizations as well to ensure that young person’s success. And that’s what the difference is with Unlock Potential.

Episode 370: Tapping Into the Existing Potential of Young People for Social Justice With Dr Marvin Carr (@DrMarvinCarr) and Tiesa Leggett (@Tiesa4U)


Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:43.20] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Share your HR insights by taking part in our survey. Go to www.HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Making meaningful changes in the workplace is something that I want more than nothing else. That’s why I do what I do. And it is not enough for us to simply focus on what we’re doing at our company. It’s important for us to think about the communities that we’re serving, the communities where your employees and you and your leaders live. We want to make these better. For me, I want to provide support, resources, and create opportunities for everyone, and that includes under-representative communities and individuals. Today’s podcast is about the responsibilities of employers when it comes to the topic of social justice. I’d love to get your insights on this and hear your questions and comments. You can do that by sending me a text to “PODCAST”. The number is 512-548-3005. Text “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Marvin Carr. He’s the Director of the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity and Tiesa Leggett, Director of Partnership and Special Projects at Responsible Business Initiative for Justice or RBIJ. From 2014 to 2016, Dr. Carr was Senior Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and led the STEM and innovation efforts of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and the White House Council on Women and Girls. Tiesa started her career as a news reporter before moving to the public relations and public affairs arena. Prior to joining RBIJ, she worked in community outreach and education, researching and identifying potential community partnerships, representing her employers at community events, working with area school districts, neighborhoods, and employers and elected officials. Marvin and Tiesa, welcome to the Workology Podcast.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:02:51.39] Thank you so much for having us, Jessica.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:54.39] Let’s jump right in. The Responsible Business Initiative for Justice has just announced a groundbreaking program made possible by Walmart through the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity called Unlock Potential. Can you tell us more about this program?

Dr. Marvin Carr: [00:03:11.22] Absolutely. So last year in 2021, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation awarded the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice. I’m a grant to help businesses better understand the needs and the wraparound services for young people who are at the highest risk of incarceration. One of our beliefs is that if we provide opportunities and on-ramps to workforce and mentorship for this group of young people, that it will decrease the possibility and probability that they too will continue in the cycle of incarceration. And so there are more than 4.4 million young people in America who are disconnected. That means that they’re neither in employment or in education, and they’re far more likely to suffer negative consequences, consequences like imprisonment or poverty. And so this program is meant to work with companies and service providers in the community to provide workforce and training opportunities for these young people, to deflect them from criminal justice involvement and from having to endure prison themselves.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:23.46] What a wonderful program. And you’re helping so many people and I think a much-needed way, but one I don’t think is talked about very much. One of the questions I also wanted to ask was, what are the key groups that the program is working to help talk us through that?

Tiesa Leggett: [00:04:41.70] Sure. So amazing candidates for Unlock Potential are those at the greatest risk of future incarceration. They will be young people aged 16 to 24 who have experienced one or more of the following additional risk factors for justice system involvement. That’s a juvenile justice system, someone who’s had to experience that, or a parent that’s been incarcerated while they were the age of 18 or younger, sex or human trafficking, or if they’ve aged out of the foster care system. So it’s very specific. But we want to ensure that we have a focused laser beam on these groups.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:20.10] I think that’s incredibly important and giving them opportunities and access to resources and mentors and just information to help them be able to, to grow.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:05:35.73] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:36.54] I wanted to ask, too, about the difference between first-chance hiring and second-chance hiring. I think, for me, this is something relatively new that, and as an HR leader, maybe we haven’t thought of. Can you talk us through the differences and then should we even be thinking about chances in this case?

Dr. Marvin Carr: [00:05:57.19] You know, one of the things I’d say to is, and thankful to Tiesa and her leadership here, is oftentimes in the criminal justice reform space, the focus is on combatting recidivism, right? And so, individuals who have been in the prison system and are leaving and return to, return to communities. We focus on, you know, in the first 30 days that they’ve been out, how might we get them a job? Right? So they can have a second chance at life, a second chance to make better decisions, a second chance to go into the workforce and provide for them, themselves and their families. And what has emerged since then, though, is like this idea that so many young people end up in prison in the first place because they never had a chance in the first place to become involved. There is a bit of consternation with that idea around the first chance, right? And that is we’re trying to shift towards particularly for opportunity youth. There’s an asset-based approach to, to the language that we talk about these young people. And so the reason for the use of the word “unlock potential” is that we want folks to say that, no, we’re not giving them a first chance. We are actually tapping into existing potential that are in these young people that businesses and communities can benefit from. And so it’s really a shift in both tone, but also in language when talking about young people who fit in these categories.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:28.51] The Unlock Program was launched at SXSW this year, and I’m going to link to that program in the show notes. I wanted to ask you, Tiesa, what was the initial focus or what has the initial focus of the program been?

Tiesa Leggett: [00:07:42.92] A huge part of our initial focus, Jessica, has been recruiting large businesses, but this work goes beyond simply getting companies to sign on to Unlock Potential. We’re also collaborating with them to examine and reevaluate their workplace practices, to open up their temples to these young people, such as rethinking qualifications for specific roles. And we, you know, let me give you an example. Do you really need a high school diploma to unload baggage from an airplane? Thinking through strategies for making the most of existing and internal apprentice training programs. For instance, Sam’s Club offers college tuition payment employee assistance programs. We want to make young people aware of that and see if they can be a part of changing their future and their trajectory.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:31.79] I love that. I love that employers can get involved because, yes, you do not need a college degree or even a high school degree necessarily to, to do certain jobs. You just have to have the willingness to learn and understand and grow. And, and, I think there’s so many great opportunities that people can access that, that they might not have been able to because they didn’t have this piece of paper that said, I finished this program or this class.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:09:02.24] Absolutely, Jessica. And so by providing them with meaningful, long-term career opportunities, these businesses are also building their corporate leaders of the future, right? And so with a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds necessary to thrive, we are creating collaborative partnerships and relationships with community-based organizations as well to ensure that young person’s success. And that’s what the difference is with Unlock Potential.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:31.58] Yeah, you truly are unlocking the potential. And I love that it’s community-focused because if you are an organization that has one location or multiple locations, you are an important part of that local community. And that’s really where you can help impact change.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:09:48.65] Absolutely. Agreed.

Break: [00:09:50.15] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you are listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by the HR Benchmark Survey. Share your insights at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. So today I am talking with Dr. Marvin Carr, Director of the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity, and Tiesa Leggett, Director of Partnership and Special Projects at Responsible Business Initiative for Justice. I want to hear what you think about all this. I want to hear your questions and comments. Send me a text. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005.

Break: [00:10:33.53] Benchmarking and data is crucial to HR leaders. Workology’s HR Benchmark Survey is an always-on survey and just by taking the survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com, you’re signing up to get comprehensive quarterly results, white papers, and other research from the survey right to your inbox. It takes 10 minutes or less to complete. Visit HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.

Meaningful Career Pathways for Young People


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:59.84] Can you tell us more about the program’s emphasis on career development? Because I think that our listeners that are in HR are like, Oh, this is interesting. How are we developing these individuals? What, what does that entail?

Tiesa Leggett: [00:11:13.72] We want to ensure that we’re deliberate with our approach and collaborate with an intentional focus on meaningful career pathways for these young people. These placements are designed to be careers, not just jobs. And that long-term nature of these opportunities are critical to deterring justice system involvement. This isn’t about like short-term handouts. It’s about expanding the positive life choices available to these overlooked and underserved young people by helping employers open their talent pools to this talented workforce segment, as Dr. Carr mentioned earlier. The program is designed to advance racial equity. And we don’t just want to see these young people who are disproportionately bipoc employed. We want to see them in the boardroom. For this to happen, there has to be an essential focus on building, training and career development into these opportunities, and we are working with participants to do precisely that. The training and apprenticeship opportunities are clearly defined as in-service care providers able to support them in ensuring they remain on track with their career pathway and plan. And it just cannot be understated, Jessica. The importance of having wraparound care for these young people and we’re looking for more service providers to collaborate with, of course, and understanding that we will also integrate employee assistance programs as well. So we’re not starting from scratch. There’s ways that we can build into existing programs. So mentorships are key, whether internally or externally because a meaningful career can truly unlock opportunities.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:54.30] I love hearing about the apprenticeships and on, hands-on learning and a curriculum that happens because it’s not just, just an internship or something where you just kind of throw people in and say, Hey, here you go and attend this kickoff meeting and then you are on your way. But it is consistent and systematic and organized and designed to set this group up for success after they finish with the program and stay at this employer or other employers like them for a long period of time.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:13:33.99] You nailed it. You nailed it. And that’s exactly right. And so in order for us to build a successful program, we have to understand what employers, like I said, already have in place and build upon that and integrate different components to ensure that young person success. You nailed it, Jessica.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:52.50] I really, I really am excited about this. And we have covered on the Workology Podcast a number of apprenticeship and training programs focused on all different types of individuals. A lot of our content has been focused on people with disabilities and providing them internship programs. I love how, the direction that this is going. This is another group of individuals who need support, who need mentorship, who need training, and they really need the organizations to step up and say, Hey, we’ve got you. We want to support you and help you grow. Walmart Support of Unlock Potential is part of Walmart.org’s Center for Racial Equity’s creation of National Networks that kick starts criminal justice prevention initiatives in communities across the country, which I think is absolutely amazing. Dr. Carr, can you speak to why this is so important for at-risk youth?

Dr. Marvin Carr: [00:14:53.06] Absolutely, Jessica. One of the things that I often talk about in these spaces is, you know, most people see criminal justice activity in the criminal space as this linear spectrum, from prevention to like combating recidivism and second chance hiring, right? And I think that’s an insufficient lens. I mean, I’m from these communities and I have, you know, lived experience in these communities. And what I know is that it’s not linear, that it’s actually an inter-communal, intergenerational cycle that often captures young people. And we hope to disrupt that cycle with our investments, with our philanthropic, philanthropic investments. For us, what’s going to be important in that space is do we have the actual infrastructure across the country to facilitate that prevention? And so what we’ve been funding is really four stools. I would say a, four pillars of, of, of funding that is essential to that. We’re funding civic organizations and civic leadership from the Office of Violence Prevention and Mayor’s offices to these great people’s commissions that are developing local programs and projects that use local policymakers and leaders to help the affected young people. We’re funding research through the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center’s work by developing a national research agenda for criminal justice prevention. In addition to this work that we’re doing with RBIJ, we’re also funding a network of organizations who are focusing on deflecting young people who currently have parents in prison, away from prison, to, to, to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of incarceration. And the focus is, again, building the infrastructure needed across this country to provide opportunities that deflect young people from prison in the first place.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:00.95] So let’s talk about how employers can get involved. So I first want to want to have Dr. Carr for you to share some benefits for employers through programs like Unlock Potential. What do those look like for them?

Dr. Marvin Carr: [00:17:16.79] Most important, I think, is that it gives employers access to two important things. First, it is employers access to young people who have so much potential, so many assets, and particularly in this time in this country where it is so difficult to fill our talent gaps, where the, the fight between companies over talent is just getting more and more difficult. And so that’s the first thing. But I think the second thing that it does is that it provides a direct connection to the local organizations who know the most about these young people. And so one of the exciting parts about this grant with RBIJ is that they are actually, it’s actually two grants. One is a grant to RBIJ. The second is a grant to Persevere, and Persevere runs the Unlock Potential Institute. And they are bringing together local and national organizations that specialize in supporting these four groups of young people. And they’re going to be building out a national framework or framework that companies and communities can use to build workforce and support programs for these young people. And so they’re getting access, businesses are getting access to this vast domain of knowledge that these organizations have and access to these organizations as they develop their own hiring programs.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:43.22] So my next question is for Tiesa. What are some results that you’ve gathered from phase one of this program? Because this is really just kicked off. But what have the results looked like thus far?

Tiesa Leggett: [00:18:55.25] Sure. I would say one excellent and encouraging result has been how enthusiastic and receptive a lot of our employers have been to us at Unlock Potential. So many companies have immediately understood how such a groundbreaking yet clearly intentional hiring program is aligned with their ESG goals from both the business and societal perspective. A lot of times we leave these conversations out of the sustainability realm and they absolutely should be included. We are currently taking companies and it’s been fascinating to see how they have given us feedback and they’re willing to collaborate with us to resolve maybe some internal issues, internal challenges that they hadn’t thought of. You know, our high school graduates or GEDs important to have in order to fulfill, to fulfill certain roles, and of course, not. So we’re asking companies to reevaluate those requirements. We’ve learned that many companies that have these apprenticeship and mentorship programs that even in the communities they serve don’t really know about it. So we’re able to kind of be an advocate for the company, and that’s been positive because they can see a dual partnership. It’s kind of two for one. We learned that there are jobs that allow for you to go after college education on their dime while you’re working, and your dollars don’t have to go to pay in the back or anything else. They’re truly paying for you, for your opportunity to, to have access to more education or training and what you’d like to do for your purpose. So, you know, I see up as a way to really support the good work companies are doing. And it’s just a wonderful opportunity for it to be a joint partnership that satisfies all areas of sustainability.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:39.30] I love it and I think it is something that is going to impact or we’re going to be able to see that impact directly or, and/or indirectly for the long term. So organizations that get involved, they are not only helping the local community right now and individuals, but like I’ve said before, families and families, like changing lives for generations, which I think is really exciting, but sometimes also a challenge for employers because they are driven by numbers. So we have to think bigger. And these sustainability programs like this, they, they don’t just serve the numbers in terms of recruiting or retention or short term employment numbers, but this is a long term sustainable, hopefully, change that that really can grow.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:21:34.53] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:35.70] So my question for you all is somebody listening to this podcast and they’re like, this sounds great. How do I get involved? Where do they go to learn more or to connect with you, to have a conversation about being a part of the program?

Tiesa Leggett: [00:21:49.62] Absolutely. They can get in touch with us at www.Unlock-Potential.org.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:57.63] Awesome. Well, I am so grateful for you coming on and talking about Unlock Potential. I, it’s just kicked off at SXSW in, in March of 2022. So I’d like to have you all back here in maybe six months or a year to get an update to hear more about how you are impacting communities and then also more organizations that are involved. We’re going to put some resources in the transcript of this podcast. You can connect with Dr. Marvin Carr, Tiesa Leggett, or also Unlock Potential and connect with them directly. I want to say thank you to both of you for taking the time to, to talk with us. This is really important to just the success of our country and the citizens within it.

Tiesa Leggett: [00:22:50.88] Thank you, Jessica, for having us. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Dr. Marvin Carr: [00:22:54.18] Thank you so much, Jessica.

Closing: [00:22:55.80] Setting a path for, to careers can be life-changing for underserved communities and at-risk youth, as well as a boon for companies that support programs like Unlock Potential. We have all the resources to connect with our guests and learn more about Unlock Potential over at Workology.com. I so appreciate Dr. Carr and Tiesa Leggett for taking the time to share their experiences with us today. I hope that you connect with them. To learn more about Unlock Potential and join their efforts.

Closing: [00:23:28.92] I want to hear more about the things that you want to hear about on this podcast. I want to know more about what you want to know. Guests, questions, comments, topics about this episode. Send me your comments and questions by sending me a text to “PODCAST”. The number you’re going to punch in is 512-548-3005. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast. It’s sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous Workology Podcast episodes.

Connect with Marvin Carr  and Tiesa Leggett.



– Dr. Marvin Carr on LinkedIn

– Dr. Marvin Carr on Twitter

– Tiesa Leggett on LinkedIn

– Tiesa Leggett on Twitter

– Responsible Business Initiative for Justice

– Walmart.org 

– Unlock Potential  

– RBIJ Launches Program to Deflect At-Risk Youth From Criminal Justice Involvement Through New 1st Chance Hiring Network – With Support From Walmart

– Episode 369: Making the Workplace Accessible Both for Employees and Contractors With Meryl Evans

– Episode 321: Commitment to Full Inclusion with Susan Mazrui, Director of Global Public Policy at AT&T

– Episode 314: DEI and Preparing Students for the Workforce with Ariana González Stokas

– Episode 307: DEI and Social Justice in the Workplace With Melissa Horne

– Episode 295: Second Chance Hiring and DEI with Cheri Garcia

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