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With dozens of Jacksonville business leaders behind her, JAX Chamber Chair Audrey Moran announced "Project Open Door," an initiative that has businesses holding off on asking about an applicant's criminal background until the interview process.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 16, 201612:00 PM EST

JAX Chamber companies opening doors to second chances

by: David Chapman

Former Sheriff Nat Glover knows about second chances.

While in high school in the early 1960s, he worked Downtown at Morrison’s Cafeteria as a dishwasher on the weekends. It could get hot back there.

He’d use the restaurant’s cloth napkins to wipe his brow. Sometimes, he’d forget to take them out of his pocket.

One time, officers who were looking for sirloin steak thieves found the napkins in his pocket.

He was arrested for taking them.

Glover doesn’t blame the officers — they were doing their job. But he wishes he had been cut a break.

The arrest came back to haunt him when he sought to apply to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

An arrest, even for that offense, disqualified the college-educated Glover from taking the test to join the force.

Mayor Lou Ritter intervened on his behalf — “divine intervention” as Glover calls it today. He went on to become the first African-American sheriff in Duval County.

“It did impact me,” said Glover, now president of Edward Waters College. “It increased my resolve to know how close that was … how really, really close that was.”

On Tuesday, the JAX Chamber announced an initiative featuring 40 employers who are committing to the possibility of second chances for potential employees.

With “Project Open Door,” companies pledge not to ask about an applicant’s arrest record until the interview process.

“It’s something we believe in because we believe in our city and its people,” said Audrey Moran, 2016 chamber chair.

Baptist Health, Moran’s employer, has 10,600 employees. It is among those who have committed to the initiative she says has been talked about for years by people like Kevin Gay of Operation New Hope and Kevin Hyde of Foley & Lardner.

Hyde, a former City Council president, made the “Ban the Box” issue the topic of his TEDxJacksonville talk in 2015.

He said Tuesday it’s an initiative that gained traction locally when Moran became chamber chair and made it a priority.

When talking to area CEOs to join the effort, Hyde said there could be some initial hesitation because human resources departments are ingrained to take the safest, most conservative route to avoid liability.

“This is saying ‘Take a chance,’” said Hyde. “It’s the same as looking at someone’s resume, seeing they might not have the training or skills but you bring them in to talk anyway.”

Moran said companies that join “Project Open Door” aren’t obligated to hire anyone with a criminal record. It simply eliminates an often automatic “no” when someone with a criminal background submits an application.

Sheriff Mike Williams considers the campaign a crime-reduction initiative that provides hope to “people who need it the most” when trying to find a job.

According to the chamber, keeping people with criminal backgrounds employed contributes up to $65 billion to the nation’s economy. Likewise, having a job reduces recidivism rates.

Moran said the hope now is that other companies join the campaign.

Seeing the many Jacksonville business leaders on the steps of the chamber Tuesday in support of such an initiative struck a chord with Glover.

“Just awesome,” he said. “I see people who are very serious about what they do and their commitment.”

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