For me, The Good Life is square. Not square as in lame (ha) or rigidly conventional (zzzz). But square as in allowing for those who have paid their debts to society to move forward free and unencumbered… you know, in a sustainable way.
In the name of all things square, I am thrilled to be speaking on behalf of All Square at this year’s Sustainable Brands conference in Detroit—a socially vibrant city that continues to overcome setbacks and capitalize on opportunity all while innovating its way into the Good Life.
In a session entitled Trends in Values-led Hiring: How to Go About Hiring and Engaging People with a Encumbered Past, I will discuss the opportunity for business and brand leaders to embrace second chances for those with criminal records and offer meaningful reparations for communities who have been systemically impacted by the criminal justice system. It is our belief that the Good Life includes a professional landscape that not only responds to but also attempts to alleviate our country’s most systemic underpinnings; and I am proud to say that All Square embodies this ideal.
Rooted in inclusive entrepreneurship and social sustainability, All Square is a nonprofit fast-casual gourmet grilled cheese restaurant that aims to reduce recidivism by supporting, rather than excluding, individuals with an encumbered past. Through direct access to gainful employment in a supportive and captivating environment—in addition to professional development and mental wellness services—our goal is to ensure that no student-employee who travels through the All Square curriculum is rearrested or returns to prison. The name All Square refers to the shape of our sandwiches and it also communicates the notion that those who have paid their debts to society are ‘square’ and free to move forward with a clean slate.
So what fueled this venture? My time as a housing and civil rights attorney. Oh, and my love for grilled cheese (smiling).
When I began practicing law in 2012, I was shocked to learn that nearly 100 million Americans have a criminal record. I was even more surprised, and disheartened, to learn that the existence of such a record, regardless of its age, relevance, or accuracy, prevents people from accessing the fundamental functions of the Good Life: employment, housing, health care, credit, and education. This practice of exclusion, sweeping in its effect, yields unprecedented recidivism rates; generates anger and desperation; and undermines the notion of rehabilitation and individual merit.
Yet what really took me aback was becoming a first-hand witness to the disparate impact that this widespread exclusion has on nonwhite communities. It became painfully obvious that our criminal justice system is plagued by racial inequities. Nonwhite individuals are disproportionately—and often unconstitutionally—arrested, convicted and incarcerated. To make matters worse, nonwhite individuals are also unduly excluded from basic needs and societal opportunity once having obtained a record.
Despite the urgency and national recognition of soaring recidivism rates and a wounded criminal justice system, businesses and brands that offer second chances and embrace meaningful reparations are few and far between. As such, I founded All Square in 2016 as a direct response and solution to the widespread societal exclusion of individuals with criminal records. The first location will be opening in Minneapolis this fall.
The idea of the restaurant is to capitalize on a trending market, i.e. fast-casual restaurants, while ensuring that the beneficiaries include those who have been historically excluded. Through our thirteen-month curriculum, we believe this restaurant will facilitate community engagement between the neighborhood and those with an encumbered past all while equipping each student-employee with rich opportunity, self-sufficiency, local support and an array of employable skills.
The Sustainable Brands community is reshaping the integrity of the global landscape through concerted action, brand value creation and human ingenuity. In light of these leaders and their commitment to unparalleled progress, I cannot think of a better forum than SB’17 Detroit to engage in a collective conversation about sustainability-led innovation.
With that, I am eager to discuss our values-based hiring practices with such a brilliant array of brand leaders from around the world and am honored to do so with fellow pioneers of inclusion: Urban Ashes, Rebel Nell and Greyston. Redefining the Good Life as a socially conscious one has never been more important and I am grateful to be in such good company.
Detroit: Thank you for welcoming us in your milieu of sustainable innovation! I look so forward to exploring the city and trust that someone will point me in the direction of a good (no, great) grilled cheese.
Readers: Join us at SB’17 Detroit! Register now!
Emily Hunt Turner
April 20, 2017
Image credit: All Square