Category: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Experiencing transformation with Chance for Life

Experiencing transformation with Chance for Life

A contingent of Leaders’ Quest team members and clients visited the headquarters of Chance for Life, a Detroit-based nonprofit that provides behavioral and life skills training to incarcerated and returning citizens. LQ met with several individuals whose lives have been transformed thanks to interventions by co-founders Tom Adams and Jessica Taylor, and their staff.

The visit coincided with Chance for Life’s From the Heart Fundraiser, a benefit dinner held May 19 that brought together philanthropists, policymakers, business leaders, and several returning citizens for an evening of inspiring conversation and celebration.

Visiting Chance for Life

LQ spent the next day with Adams and his team, starting with a tour of Detroit’s historic and diverse neighborhoods before visiting two Chance for Life facilities. The visit featured powerful, robust group conversation centered on Chance for Life’s mission and first-hand accounts from returning citizens about their journeys of transformation and resilience.

D’Angelo Rocklin Jackson, an entrepreneur now based in Los Angeles, shared a letter by his father, Everett Rocklin Jackson, a Chance for Life member currently incarcerated in Michigan, titled “Journey of a Father Behind Bars.”

The letter reads:

Hello, everyone. My name is Everett Rocklin Jackson, and I would like to share with you my experience of being a father while in prison. I have been incarcerated for the past thirty-five years; I was twenty-one years old when I came to prison. Parenting from behind bars has its own unique challenges, but is achievable with support from a strong network of loving family and friends — it certainly takes a village. My son, DeAngelo, is a wonderful example of what the collective power of a village can produce through love, encouragement, guidance, and lots of prayer. I am grateful he is there today sharing some of our story with you.

Two weeks before my son’s third birthday I was arrested for a drug-related murder. Eights months later I was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Locked up with plenty of time on my hands I began thinking about how my absence would impact my son’s life and the emotional and mental strain it would likely impose on us both. I wanted to save my son from feeling like I had when my father wasn’t around. I knew too well the challenges my son would face in my absence, and being present in his life would be the only way I could save him. And the only way I could save myself, too. Although my presence in DeAngelo’s life would eventually help shape him into a good man, his presence in my life had already begun to shape me into a better man.

Due to my family’s unconditional love and support I was always able to speak to my son by telephone and see him on visits. Our relationship would be built phone call by phone call, visit by visit, letter by letter, picture by picture, gift by gift, hug by hug, smile by smile, and occasionally tear by tear.

Celebrating birthdays and special occasions called for thinking up something that would deliver a lasting impact. I remember when DeAngelo was about five years old and I bought lots of candy from the prison store and sent it to him for Halloween. The candy box and other gifts became repeat practices each year. I would also send clothes and unique shoes I purchased for him. I began sending him various books, too. When my son was about twelve years old I purchased us twin dictionaries to study together.

During the school year I would write letters to DeAngelo’s teachers, explaining I was in prison but still an active parent interested in my son’s educational progress. I always received a copy of his report cards and would tell him how proud I was of him when he got good grades; or, if a grade was low how I expected an improvement the next marking period.

On the surface our story reflects a father behind bars who loves his young son and helps decode the world for him. Yet, unfolding beneath the surface of this shared human drama are the spiritual paths of a father and son. Our story is about transformation, healing, and learning important life lessons like patience, forgiveness, forbearance, and the true meaning of family.

Striving to be “present” as a parent while being incarcerated has helped me heal from my own childhood wounds and other past hurts. I’ve learned we can heal ourselves by learning to give to our children (and ourselves) what we were deprived of in our childhood. Being an active parent has been a double reward because I now see my son giving to his children the very thing he did not receive from me: the blessing of a father’s physical presence. DeAngelo showers his children with love, affection, and presence. His fatherhood experience is helping him heal from the childhood wounds created from my physical absence. Spiritually we are continuing to grow as a family.

I am also blessed to be a grandfather and I love my grandchildren with all my heart. I feel truly blessed to have such a wonderful family! God has been and continues to be so good to me! Parenting from prison is challenging, but its rewards are truly greater! Thank you for listening and may you be blessed!

‘The Way Out Is In’: Leaders’ Quest CEO Lindsay Levin featured

‘The Way Out Is In’: Leaders’ Quest CEO Lindsay Levin featured

The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living is a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives. It is co-hosted by Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and LQ Partner Jo Confino, a lay practitioner and journalist.

Leaders’ Quest CEO Lindsay Levin joins the podcast to discuss wise leadership and new ways of creating change and harmony in turbulent times. 

Listen to the episode and Subscribe to the Podcast

Together, all three also talk about: the balance between urgency and patience; purpose; polarisation; and becoming agents of change. And: at a planetary level, how do we know when to slow down and when to speed up? 

Lindsay further shares her relationship with the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village community, and about: working with leaders; dealing with competing interests and egos; spiritual values in the business world; self-awareness; tolerance in the climate movement; listening to others’ lives and widening circles of compassion; responsibility; the gap between cleverness and wisdom; ‘quests’; collective and individual development; planetary well-being; and honoring anger and grief. 

Paying attention to what makes me uncomfortable

Paying attention to what makes me uncomfortable

Darya Shaikh

Having spent two decades working in conflict resolution, I have learned that feeling deep discomfort is a sign that I am heading in the right direction. So, while it has taken a moment to formulate my words, they have been weighed with care about how to use my rage, sadness and resolve constructively. My discomfort lies in acknowledging and owning that, despite my best intentions, I am part of the very system that I wish to change. 

The words below will not assuage the guilt those of us with privilege experience. They will not offer enlightened wisdom about how to make this all ok. These words are my commitment to do more and bring others with me.

At a time when so many of us have felt intense helplessness – whether it stems from the depth of the systemic inequality before us, the fear caused by the pandemic and its economic fallout, or the crisis afflicting our planet – we are all searching for meaningful ways to make a difference.

The first question many of us ask is What can I do? – often asked with doubt and even despair…

In my years doing reconciliation work, I’ve learned that the first question we should be asking is How am I part of the system? That is how we can uncover the locus of our power and influence.

I realized recently that many of us have naively, possibly conveniently, socialized ourselves to think that racism is something that only impacts black people or people of color in America. The truth is that racism impacts all of us. As someone who most of the time passes as white, racism gives me privilege, access to opportunity, and a sense of safety for me and my family. Meanwhile, arbitrarily, for black and brown Americans, it is a suffocating reality, forming visible and invisible barriers, justifying inhumane physical and structural violence.

It is ever-present in our society – it’s in the way cities are designed, the way we learn, the way our judicial system is built, what we watch on TV, and in the way businesses are run.

Most recently, as I looked around, and took note of all the ways racism is woven into the fabric of my society, I became deeply uncomfortable – acutely aware that I inadvertently enable – and unconsciously perpetuate – systems of inequality. I’ve been reminded just how important it is to pay attention to the world…uncomfortable as it may be.

There seems little doubt that this third decade of our century will be marked by a great unravelling. It’s painful and, at times, paralyzing to witness the world as we know it coming undone. But some things need to be dismantled. Inequality and racism are fault lines upon which America has been built. If we have any hope of building our world back better, we must reset the foundation and address issues of equity and justice across all facets of our world.

Those of us with privilege need to be willing to hold the deeply uncomfortable truth that for our actions to have meaning and impact, we must pay attention to how we are part of the problem. I am part of the problem. Only then can we begin to be part of the solution.

Deconstructing racism and systemic inequality doesn’t need to be about assigning blame or finding ways to absolve ourselves of guilt. What it does mean is recognizing that our privilege and our agency are two sides of the same coin.

So, take a moment to tune into where you fit into the system. What are the uncomfortable, inconvenient truths you must face? Ask yourself: Where do I have influence? What more can I do?

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

― Arundhati Roy

You and I can and must breathe meaning into this moment with our actions, not just our words.

I do it for my children. For the generation of young people who are taking to the streets to demand a better future. And the generations before that marched for the very same issues that continue to plague our society today. I do it for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and for the countless others whose breaths have been tragically and unjustly taken away. 

Darya is a Leaders’ Quest Partner. She leads LQ’s work on community engagement and the LQ Foundation.