America Resurgent: Winston-Salem

For nearly a century, Winston-Salem, N.C. was a major hub of tobacco manufacturing. It was home to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which employed nearly 30,000 of the city’s residents at the height of its operations in the late 1950s. But as the decades wore on, Winston-Salem’s economy began to falter. Years of medical research about the dangers of smoking had taken its toll on the tobacco industry, and the city’s traditional manufacturing base began to dissipate. By the end of the 1980s, Winston-Salem had lost close to 10,000 jobs across multiple sectors, while R.J. Reynolds downsized the majority of its local workforce by 1989.
“Everything had been going so well,” says Gayle Anderson, former president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce. “We really didn’t feel the need to import any businesses or import talent.”
But they don’t call Winston-Salem the City of Arts and Innovation for nothing.
Since the late ’80s, Winston-Salem has revolutionized its stagnant economy with support from local business, educational institutions and emerging artists. In 1992, the Chamber of Commerce teamed up with nearby Wake Forest University to begin renovating the abandoned R.J. Reynolds factories in its downtown district, now a thriving research and business park. Dubbed the Innovation Quarter, it is a 330-acre space that employs 3,700 people and houses 170 companies and five academic institutions.
There’s been a rebirth of the city’s arts community, too. Spearheaded by local developers like John Bryan, the city’s once-vacant downtown transformed into a cornucopia of artisan shops, restaurants, breweries and even a Muay Thai studio.  
Despite these positive developments, Winston-Salem isn’t without its troubles. A 2017 study by Winston-Salem State University found the city and surrounding Forsyth County ranked third-to-last out of a total of 2,478 U.S. counties in terms of economic mobility, and many of the residents most directly impacted by a lack of economic opportunity are African-American. This inspired Goler Community Development Corporation, a local urban real-estate nonprofit, to get involved, helping ensure all residents enjoy a share of the city’s recent success.
“When you concentrate poverty on a particular part of town, you’re not going to have great outcomes,” says Michael Suggs, president of Goler CDC. “In order to have a sustainable community, you need these different incomes together.”
Watch the full documentary above to see how Winston-Salem rallied its citizens to shape the future of its economy.

Generating Coding Fever in Tech-Loving Minority Teens

Alongside the glinting waves and pristine beachfront property, a surge of talent is transforming Miami into a tech hub.
The Kauffman Index rated the metropolitan area of Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach as the number one entrepreneurial area in America, and international tech startups are using the city for its geographic proximity to Latin America.
But in Broward County, just north of the white sands of Miami Beach, there’s a stark reality for the youth of color: They don’t have access to technology or entrepreneurial leaders the same way that some of their well-to-do peers do.
“In areas of high growth in the tech and entrepreneurial or small business sector, [minority] populations are completely left out of that activity,” says Felecia Hatcher-Pearson, co-founder of Code Fever Miami. “If you have an idea, oftentimes you have to leave your neighborhood in order to execute on that idea or get the right resources in order to make that happen. And that’s a problem.”
Hatcher-Pearson’s organization is bridging that digital divide — which she refers to as an “innovation desert” — by providing opportunities to young teens of color in coding lessons and pitching business startup ideas.
Since 2013, Code Fever has introduced more than 3,000 youth and adults to the tech ecosystem. It’s also served as host to more than 100 tech events, including boot camps and hack-a-thons.
This isn’t Hatcher-Pearson’s first attempt at bringing entrepreneurship to youth. After losing her marketing job at Nintendo in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, she moved back into her parent’s Florida home and opened an ice cream and popsicle stand in Broward County. She noticed that the kids in the community looked up to moneymakers: those selling drugs.
“Sometimes the first way [these kids] get introduced to entrepreneurship in their neighborhoods when they live in impoverished neighborhoods, it’s the guy that’s selling on the block, right? And if he’s successful, he’s getting a mentor, like someone showing him how to do it,” she says.
Hatcher-Pearson began pairing teens with entrepreneurs to learn how to market and sell sweets using extra stands she had laying around.
“We know what happens when young people can’t get their first jobs or don’t learn the basic skills on how to be self-sustainable, the entire cycle of poverty continues,” she says.
As Miami’s tech scene started taking off in 2010, Hatcher-Pearson recognized a similar lack of entrepreneurial mentorship.
“It wasn’t inclusive,” says Hatcher-Pearson, referring to the tech scene in Miami. “It didn’t include the black community or the Caribbean community in any of the activity, the resources, the programming or any of the spaces.”
With the help of her husband, Derek, the two started Code Fever.
The organization’s reputation is built on its ability to foster African American tech talent through its Black Tech Week. The summit provides multiple pitch opportunities to help finance burgeoning startups, class intensives geared toward making older generations more digitally native and education for teachers on how to bring in more technology into the classroom — a massive hindrance for students, Hatcher says.
“Oftentimes, their teachers don’t have the right tech training or tech confidence, and they’re the ones that are not doing a good job of allowing technology to be in the classroom,” Hatcher-Pearson says.
Ryan Hall, who heads the curriculum for Code Fever and Black Tech Week, says that based on his own personal experience, the role the organization plays in students’ lives is essential.
“I personally found that I was in a lot of these tech spaces, and I didn’t see a lot of people who look like me,” Hall says. “We care about taking people who are minorities and bringing them into the technology economy, because it has the ability to raise people out of their socioeconomic situation.”
Both Hatcher-Pearson and Hall attribute the program’s success to its ability to allow kids of color to integrate their own personal lifestyles and interests into coding. Code Fever accomplishes this by bringing in local black celebrities and creating hybrid projects that merge music and tech or sports and tech.
“Culture plays a major role in introducing students to [science, technology, engineering or math] fields,” says Hatcher-Pearson. “We have to introduce them to computer programming because… the current narrative is that the black and brown community doesn’t exist in tech, and we are pioneers in tech and innovation.”
The 2017 AllStars program is produced in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal and celebrates social entrepreneurs who are powering solutions with innovative technology. Visit from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2 to vote for your favorite AllStar. The winner will receive the AllStar Award, a $10,000 grant to help further his or her work advocating for change.
Correction: A previous version of this video stated that Miami is the birthplace of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He was born in Albuquerque, N.M. NationSwell apologizes for this error.
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3 Ways to Make Life Better for Working Parents and Undocumented Immigrants

In the United States, there are almost 210,000 childcare workers helping to raise our nation’s youth. Of those, about 24 percent are undocumented workers and employed illegally — making them vulnerable to low pay, workplace abuse and an inability to seek out care if hurt on the job.
Officially, a family can sponsor a caregiver for a green card, which allows the person to live and work in the U.S. But the aging American immigration system has gotten in the way, leaving behind a broken process in which domestic caregivers who do seek citizenship almost always get rejected.
Watch the video above to learn about three solutions for modernizing the system for today’s workforce.
Homepage image courtesy of Leslie White
MORE: Alleviating Obstacles to Sponsorship

How a Service Year Helps Turn Four Walls Into a Home

“A home, to me, is much more than four walls and a roof,” says Adam Hunt, a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte, N.C. “I try to build homes — where you have Christmas and where you have birthdays, where you come home soaking wet after a rainy day, those kinds of things. That’s home.” As a child growing up in Lynn Haven, Fla., Hunt lived in a home built by Habitat for Humanity, an organization that constructs affordable housing and promotes home ownership for low-income families. While Hunt’s house was being built, he put in a 5-year-old’s version of “sweat equity” — picking up stray nails around the property — just like every other Habitat resident.
In this episode of NationSwell’s eight-part mini documentary series on service years, watch how AmeriCorps service year corps members help increase Habitat’s ability to provide affordable housing in Charlotte.
“[Habitat] meant a great deal of stability for myself and my family,” Hunt says. “I want to be able to give other families that same opportunity.”
NationSwell asks you to join our partnership with Service Year Alliance. Watch the video above and ask Congress to support federal funding for national service. Together, we can lead a national movement to give young Americans the opportunity to help bridge the divides in our country.

A Prison With No Walls

This isn’t Thomas DiSilvestre’s first stint in prison. At 23 years of age, he’s already been inside New York’s Rikers Island and the Ulster Correctional Facility for felony drug charges. His arms are scarred, and his almond-shaped eyes are downcast on the table in front of him.
“You have to always worry about people running around, cutting you,” he says, talking about his previous times in prison. “You don’t feel safe.”
DiSilvestre is incarcerated again. In May 2016, he was caught breaking into someone’s home stealing, according to the police report. Being his second offense, he took a plea deal with the Queens County, N.Y., district attorney for attempted burglary and received another three years in jail — a terrifying prospect.
But DiSilvestre didn’t end up in the same prison environment as before. He’s currently held about an hour south of the Canadian border near Lake Placid at the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility.
To be clear, inmates at Moriah do not receive shock therapy, as its formal name seems to infer. Rather, non-violent felons, like DiSilvestre, are “shocked” by therapeutic social programs and military-style schedules designed to lower recidivism rates.
At their height, shock programs were in more than 50 prisons nationwide, but most have been shut down over the years due to inefficiencies and poor outcomes.
Still, there are two shock programs in New York that have proven effective and have drawn praise from state department heads, academics well-versed on military-style prisons and inmates. The prisons boast both lower recidivism rates and lower costs. Advocates say it’s because of their focus on social programs and therapy, rather than just military drills and discipline.
Luis Tena, a 43-year-old Bronx, N.Y., resident, was caught dealing drugs in 1994 and sent to Lakeview.
“I actually learned about the people I was hurting. The same people I was selling to, I was hurting, and I was victimizing my own people,” he says, adding that the boot camp training is what gave him the discipline to walk into a job interview post-incarceration.


At a time when there’s bipartisan support for the overhaul of America’s prison system, alternatives to traditional incarceration are being examined — especially for low-level drug offenders. Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to reform the state’s prisons by providing more education and keeping youth offenders out of jail. But little attention was given to New York’s shock program.
Two prisons in New York house shock programs: Moriah, in Mineville, and Lakeview, in Brocton. The facilities can serve more than 1,000 inmates combined, including women. During sentencing, judges give some felons a choice to go to Moriah or Lakeview in exchange for a shorter prison sentence.
“Before I went in, I couldn’t hold a job, I was an ignorant prick,” says Mike Semar, a former inmate at Lakeview’s shock program. “But when I got out, I wasn’t the old me I was before. That guy is dead and buried, he’s in the past.”
Cheryl Clark, a doctor in health and human services, developed the shock program in New York in 1987. By the early 1990s, its popularity increased as the crack epidemic (similar to today’s widespread addiction of opioids) swept through poor cities and neighborhoods across America.
NationSwell repeatedly asked to speak with Clark about shock incarceration and New York’s program, but she was unavailable for comment.
Interviews with current Moriah inmates, people formerly held at Lakeview and Moriah, and incarceration experts reveal that there are several factors that make New York’s program different. For one, the facilities themselves are unique. Unlike other prisons with towering three-story-high walls and guard posts with armed corrections officers, there’s very little of that at Lakeview — and none at Moriah.
“At other prisons, you’ll see a more physically hands-on policy with inmates when they act up or misbehave or throw them in a cell,” says Kim Schaefer, program administrator at Moriah. “We don’t even have cells here.”
Secondly, the New York prisons operate what are considered “second generation” shock programs, according to a report by the Department of Justice. New York shifted the focus from boot camp prisons, which were proven ineffective in the mid-1990s, to incarceration facilities that focus on therapy and education. Moriah and Lakeview’s success, even when others have failed, seems to be how they merge discipline with education and “self-based treatment,” which is different from typical prisons, which offer very few — if any — therapy programs.
According to shock’s prescriptive routine, a quarter of inmates’ time is spent in boot camp-style training and discipline. The remainder of their schedule is divided as follows: 25 percent on education, about 33 percent on therapy and group programs and the remainder on hard labor.
“When you teach people about self development, self knowledge and self awareness, you build those cognitive skills that are imperative to go back to employment and be part of their community,” says Katherine Vockins, founder and executive director of Rehabilitation Through the Arts, which uses art in prisons to teach felons how to make better decisions upon release.
Research shows that programs focusing on education are more effective in preventing felons from committing crimes in the future.
“It’s not a matter of contention among the department, this program works,” says Martin Horn, executive director of the New York State Sentencing Commission and a distinguished lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “The program has proven its utility and is now integral to New York’s prison system.”


When inmates look out their windows at Moriah, where the prison has taken occupancy of a 19th-century former iron mine, they see ponds filled with geese and mountains in the distance.
It feels more like a camp, says Boyce “Bud” D. Rawson II, who at 5:15 a.m. is barreling through Moriah’s front door gleefully.
“Hey boys!” he hollers to the staff. The man is enormous; he stands above six foot and has the build of a linebacker.
Rawson jaunts up the hill behind the administrative building passing by a flock of geese that he calls the prison’s “jailbirds.” He walks into one of the prison’s barracks where more than 40 felons are sleeping and picks up a touch dial phone.
“Ready,” he says, and within a minute, the speakers blast a crackled version of “Reverie.” The inmates jump out of their beds, count off and rush to the shower. They’re given 15 minutes to shave and get dressed before lining up outside for the morning drill, which is a grueling two hours of military exercises followed by a two-mile run.
The boot camp format isn’t for every inmate — even Rawson admits to that. “You have to really buy into this. You have to make that connection that what you learn here you can use outside this place.”
Schaefer, who was hesitant about working in corrections before seeing the atmosphere at Moriah, acknowledges that it’s unique. “It’s still a prison — we never forget that — but the goal here is different than other prisons. At other prisons upstate, they carry batons. Our officers carry whistles.”


Other states have modeled the shock program, focusing heavily on the boot camp aspect, but prison advocates regard those as detrimental.
“Some of the people who are in prison have suffered a tremendous amount of abuse in their past, be it physical or mental,” says Vockins. “I can’t imagine these military programs could work for everyone because it could reacquaint them with that old trauma.”
Dave Allen, an officer at Moriah, says that the boot camp portion of shock is simply a way to get inmates focused. “The point isn’t to degrade them — that’s not why we’re here. But we need to make everyone understand that you can’t talk back, and you can’t be disrespectful, and if you do that, you can really do well in everything else we have here.”
Older studies conducted by the Department of Justice have also found that boot camp prisons aren’t effective in reducing recidivism rates. In June 2003, the department released a report that found boot camps — though effective in the short term — didn’t have positive effects in the long-term with inmates reoffending.
And recidivism rates are tricky to analyze, says Vockins, as there are a handful of ways to cherry pick data, which can produce different results. Agencies, for example, can track recidivism as re-entry into the prison system after three years due to a new crime, but could also not take into account parole violations that would put them back in the system after they are released.
Moriah and Lakeview stand apart from other programs that have seen cuts in funding or closures. The facilities cost less to operate than other New York state prisons — about $20,000 less per inmate per year. And they have some of the lowest recidivism rates in New York, according to data from the New York State Department of Corrections. Recidivism rates for New York prisons average around 65 percent after three years. For the shock program, they hover around 31 percent every year during the same time period.
But a change in New York’s harsh Rockefeller drug laws (which required mandatory minimum jail sentences) also means that fewer people are filling beds at Moriah.
“There really aren’t many low-level offenders in New York’s prisons anymore,” says Horn. “Because of [the changes in the law], those who are in prison are those with fairly serious crimes.
Currently, Moriah houses just under 200 inmates, but could accommodate around 100 more.
“If we ran at full capacity, we could save the state $90 million a year,” Rawson estimates.
The problem comes down to exposure to the shock program. Interviews with department officials say that many judges and district attorneys are unaware of Moriah.
“People say we’re the best kept secret,” says Schaefer. “Problem is, we don’t want to be a secret.”
Horn, for one, is skeptical of this and says that he goes to attorneys’ offices regularly to speak about the program.


It’s been almost 20 years since William Schoch was released from Lakeview, yet he still remembers the five steps to make better decisions that he learned while incarcerated.
“See your situation clearly, know what you want, expand your possibilities, evaluate and decide, and act,” he rattles off over the phone. “It’s become second nature to me.”
Two years ago, Semar, of Perry, N.Y., had a wife and child. On his 37th birthday, he was jailed for drug usage and ordered into Lakeview’s shock program.
“About three months in, I got served divorce papers. When those papers came in,” he says, “my [corrections officer] came over said, ‘Look, I’ve been there. A divorce isn’t something that you look forward to. But everything you’re doing right now will make you better, stronger. You’ll be able to deal with a lot more stuff,’ he told me. After that, I bought into the program.”
Rawson receives numerous letters and calls from former inmates and their parents with positive feedback about the shock program. He says that it’s those messages that convince him it’s working.
DiSilvestre, who was caught stealing, is less than a month away from graduating from Moriah. When that time comes, he and his platoon of inmates will dress in their best. Then, in front of their family and friends, they’ll walk in formation across the grounds to receive a diploma listing their achievements.
“There is a lot of pride from the guys that leave this place. They’re changed men,” Rawson says. “It’s a great feeling, knowing that these moms and dads have their kids back.”