The Georgetown Pivot Program recently celebrated the graduation of its 2020 and 2021 cohorts, recognizing the fellows for their many accomplishments during an especially trying time.
Alongside their coursework and internships, fellows faced a global pandemic, political tensions, and a national racial reckoning. “Several students had to deal with the challenge of homelessness while simultaneously navigating school and getting their homework in each week,” noted Georgetown Professor Jeanine Turner.
‘What will you choose next?’
The nine-month Pivot Program is a partnership among Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative, the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown College, the D.C. Department of Employment Services, and the Minority Business Development Association at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The program serves those who are 25 or older, live in the District, have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, and were incarcerated in the previous two years. Returning citizens participating in the full-time program take courses covering a range of business and entrepreneurship topics, and gain work experience through internships. Many graduate with permanent job offers, while others focus on launching their own businesses.
“In prison, your ‘what’s next’ is always given to you. Your time is regimented,” Charles Hopkins, a 2021 Pivot Fellow, said. “Pivot helps us to create a mindset of ‘What will you choose next?’”
Forty-one fellows have completed the Pivot Program to date, Alyssa Lovegrove, a faculty member in Georgetown’s McDonough Business School and the Pivot Program’s academic director, told The Washington Post. This most recent cohort completed the program almost entirely via Zoom but still developed meaningful relationships.
“Even though we just saw each other on a screen, it almost was like the bonds were stronger, because we found other ways to connect,” David Schultz, a 2021 Pivot fellow, told DCist.
Changing the narrative
Speaking at the June 30 ceremony, Turner recounted how Pivot fellows’ personal narratives evolved during the program—shifting from stories focused on their incarceration to stories foregrounding their talents.
“Over the last three years, I have seen students, one by one, start owning their successes and experiences,” Turner said. “Instead of their crime being the pivotal moment of the story, they each started identifying when they made the decision to take control of their life and change the way they looked at the world.”
Lovegrove emphasized that the Pivot Program is “really about capacity building”—helping develop people—and conveying fellows’ capacity to prospective employers. Employers who bring on formerly incarcerated employees find that it “enhances the quality of the workplace”; it “conveys to everyone in the organization that the people in the organization really matter, and once you create that sort of culture … everybody’s morale and productivity improves,” Lovegrove said.
Building a more inclusive workforce
To that end, the Pivot Program recently announced its membership in the Second Chance Business Coalition (SCBC), a newly formed cross-sector group of large employers committed to expanding hiring and advancement practices within their companies for people with criminal records.
“The creation of the coalition underscores the need for businesses to make good on their pledges to build a more inclusive workforce,” said Lovegrove. “We are excited to partner with other organizations on solutions that create more hiring and career advancement opportunities for people with a prior criminal record.”
SCBC’s leadership team includes Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Craig Arnold, chairman and CEO of Eaton, the Pivot Program, the Business Roundtable, the Society for Human Resource Management, Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, and Stand Together.
The coalition will share best practices and launch pilot initiatives to improve second-chance recruitment and retention, helping employers access a talent pool that includes the nearly 70 million Americans with a criminal record.