The latest New Yorker of the Week uses his business as a vehicle to ease re-entry for former inmates. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
At a food truck in the Financial District, your grilled cheese comes with a side of social justice.
It's all part of Drive Change. The nonprofit runs a year-long fellowship that hires, trains, and employs New Yorkers recently released from jail or prison. The program serves former inmates ages 17 to 25.
"Some of the best untapped potential are people who are incarcerated. Unfortunately, people aren’t getting opportunities once they’re being released back into society," says Roy Waterman, our New Yorker of the Week. "No one should be defined by the biggest mistake or the worst error that they’ve made in their lives."
Waterman understands their struggle. Incarcerated at 19, he then spent 13 years behind bars.
"I know what it’s like to be in a place where I lacked purpose, direction and focus, but I also know what it’s like to find myself while I was incarcerated," he says.
"The likelihood to go back to work, to get a job, to go to school, those barriers to re-entry for this population is so extreme, not to mention when you are a young person looking out at the world and all you see are those red lights, stop signs," says Jordyn Lexton, executive director of Drive Change.
Drive Change works to break down those barriers. Twice a week, the food truck is a vehicle used to reduce recidivism.
"My income has improved completely to where it doesn’t make me want to go back to my old life ways," says fellow Chanel Reese. "I enjoy serving people food and being in hospitality, all at the same time. I like to serve others."
Along the way, fellows learn about conflict resolution and teamwork.
“I do have a lot of faith in myself, and I know that I mean a lot to Drive Change, and that makes me feel important. Because I know I matter somewhere, you know, coming from somewhere that we were just numbers. In jail, you're just a number,” Reese says.
"Roy exemplifies what we want fellows to believe is possible for themselves, that you can make a major mistake and then not have it dictate the rest of your life," says Jared Spafford, Culinary Arts Director for Drive Change.
And so, for driving positive change, Roy Waterman is NY1’s New Yorker of the Week.