Give ‘returning citizens’ respect

Give ‘returning citizens’ respect

I’m a leader with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, a small-business owner and a mentor for the youth of our city.

I am also a returning citizen, a term used to describe an individual who has completed incarceration and is returning to his or her community. We prefer this term because it reflects our current efforts to not only reintegrate into society but to actively participate in improving our own lives and the lives of those around us. Limiting and stigmatizing terms like “felon,” and “ex-offender” only serve to separate us from our communities and define us only by our past actions.

In April, I had the opportunity to engage with the Democratic candidates for mayor of Youngstown at MVOC’s We the People public meeting, where I asked them about fair hiring for returning citizens. All three candidates were eager to work with MVOC on developing a fair hiring policy for the city of Youngstown because they understand the importance of ensuring that individuals returning to the Mahoning Valley each year deserve opportunities to work, grow and become productive members of our community.

I did a 10-year prison term. However, since my release I have been an asset to the community of Youngstown. I have taught seventh- and eighth-grade students the importance of hard work and responsibility. I started a business that is a positive addition to the community it serves. I work with Community Corrections Association on productive citizen re-entry, and I work with MVOC to expand job opportunities for returning citizens.

Less than a week after our public meeting, on May 4, The Vindicator published the story, “Engineer defends hiring of felon,” which attacked Mahoning County Engineer Patrick Ginnetti for hiring a returning citizen as a laborer. On May 11, an editorial, “Engineer’s hiring of a felon resurrects his own troubles,” went even further, unfairly accusing Mr. Ginnetti of cronyism and dredging up irrelevant legal issues.

These articles not only imply that people who have made mistakes should not be given opportunities to rebuild their lives, they send a message to employers that they will be alienated and condemned for providing these opportunities.

Mr. Ginnetti’s choice to hire a returning citizen reflects the same values with which MVOC is pushing for fair hiring policies. We applaud his decision, with the understanding that if we are to create a more just and equitable economy for all, we must make the effort to ensure that all citizens of the Mahoning Valley have opportunities to work and thrive.

Wayne Huggins, Youngstown

Twice-elected, but still disrespected

President Barack H. Obama is five years and two presidential elections into his presidency. As an American citizen and independent voter, I voted in 2008 and 2012 for Obama for president with the great hope of moving the country forward (as well as bringing the country out of the recession of 2007).

I am appalled at the paralysis and political squabbling and making everything an inflated and hyped up political scandal in Washington, D.C. since Obama was elected president.

The Republicans and tea party members in the U.S. Congress, as well as in many state governments across the country, have tried and continue to do everything to block the president’s agenda for the country. The country and the American people all deserve better from the GOP and tea party.

Willie James Richards, Youngstown