In Greenville County, you meet people like Blassingame, who has worked with 5,000 men and women, only four percent of whom go on to commit repeat offenses. And David Taylor, a former pastor who started the Momentum Bike clubs to engage disconnected youth around cycling and provide mentoring and social support. And Sarai Bautista, a founding member of Upstate Dreamers, which opened the door for DACA recipients—those immigrant youth with federal protection from deportation—to bring their experiences and stories to centers of power and influence in the region. They have shared their personal experiences with the county’s school board and Chamber of Commerce, as well as legislators in the state capital as well as Washington, D.C.
These are some of the leaders working to create an environment of inclusion, shifting policies, building connections, and strengthening communities. “It’s just so important because it recognizes us as people who matter,” the 28-year-old Bautista says of her work with Upstate Dreamers. “Right now, our biggest challenge to living healthy is to live without fear.”
For Stephanie Morales, 15, the Momentum Bike Club is like family. “You can go to anyone here, you can talk about anything, and they will give you advice and confidence,” the 15-year-old high school junior says.
At Soteria, Wallace Justice, 47, says he left prison five years ago “scared to death” about what came next. Now, he works full-time at the workshop training others and owns a house, pays his bills, and even has enough money left over to help out his mother in West Virginia. “My health, my mental health, my stress level,” he says, “It’s helped me all around.”
Blassingame recognizes how having a job is essential to anyone’s well-being, and how a criminal record can be an automatic roadblock. With state legislators, he advocated for expunging the records for men and women with non-violent felonies like drug charges, and found an ally in the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. The passing of a state-wide expungement law in 2018 immediately gave more than 70,000 people a better chance to find jobs to support themselves and their families, says Carlos Phillips, the chamber’s president. He adds that there are 20,000 job vacancies in Greenville County, with many in the growing hospitality industry.
“Now, more people have the opportunity to find work, take care of their family, achieve their career goals,” says Phillips.
“It helps society,” Blassingame adds, “to see that people can change.”