B.MORE Initiative Community of Practice Spotlight: An Interview with Carl Chadband of KISRA

By Caitlin Schnur, Workforce Research and Policy Fellow, NTJN
with Jonathan Philipp, Research and Policy Assistant, NTJN


In recognition of Black History Month, this February the National Transitional Jobs Network (NTJN) will produce a series of blogs related to Black Male Achievement.  To kick off our blog series, we talked with Carl Chadband, Chief Operating Officer of KISRA (the Kanawha Institute for Social Research & Action, Inc.) and a member of our B.MORE Initiative’s Community of Practice.

Located in Dunbar, West Virginia, KISRA operates education, employment, economic empowerment, and behavioral health programming for low- and moderate-income individuals and families in several West Virginia counties.  While Carl oversees almost all of KISRA’s operations in his role as Chief Operating Officer, he is especially committed to opening doors to employment and economic advancement for low-income black men, including black men returning from incarceration.

In this conversation, Carl discusses the power of entrepreneurship for black men; shares the importance of guaranteeing the full rights of citizenship to people returning home from incarceration; and explains why even human rights champion Mahatma Gandhi might face chronic unemployment today.

NTJN: What do you believe are the most prevalent contributing factors to the high rates of unemployment and economic insecurity among African-American men?

Carl Chadband: I think the two biggest factors contributing to high unemployment and economic insecurity among African-American men are today’s education system and the high rates of incarceration among this population.  In regard to education, I think many young black males believe that the “traditional” education system doesn’t engage their multiple intelligences, and that there is very little authentic assessment to allow students the creativity to display knowledge of content.  This type of traditional education has traditionally failed black boys; it’s an obsolete model to them, and it’s not relevant to their interests and goals, yet we’re not changing it.  I think young black men are interested in a hands-on education that draws a clear connection for them as to how to what they’re learning will help them meet their future monetary goals.  What’s more, their educational prospects shouldn’t be derailed early on if they exhibit “disruptive” behavior in the classroom—young boys want to get up, move, and roam around.  That shouldn’t be cause for remediation or a long-term placement into a special education setting.

The lack of educational settings that foster success for young black men can lead to incarceration.  When you have a limited education, your employment opportunities and earning potential decrease and you’re not able to get gainful employment.  Not having a job can lead to involvement in high-risk behaviors, which can lead you down the path to incarceration.  So then you’re incarcerated with a low set of skills, low level of education, and possibly used to making money illegally.  It’s not surprising that when many black men come out of incarceration with a criminal record and no job prospects that they will go back to engaging in high-risk behaviors, leading to a cycle of incarceration and unemployment.         

What strategies do you feel are most promising, or have been proven to be the most effective, in addressing poverty and unemployment among black men?

Carl Chadband: Promoting entrepreneurship among black men, and supporting those entrepreneurs so that they can actually keep their businesses’ doors open, is an effective way to address poverty and unemployment for this population.  Entrepreneurship provides an individual with a job, income, and a sense of power and control over his life.  If you’re working with a black male coming out of incarceration who doesn’t want to work 9-to-5 and wants to be his own boss, he feels empowered as an entrepreneur.  Members of his community become his customers, and his community becomes safer because he’s no longer engaging in illegal activity to make money.  KISRA promotes entrepreneurship so that when a client says, “No one will hire me,” that’s no longer an excuse—hire yourself, be your own boss.        

NTJN: Can you tell us how KISRA promotes and supports entrepreneurship?

Carl Chadband:  We have a few different ways of doing this.  We offer Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and we match $8 for every $1 that a person saves through an IDA.  In six months, someone can save $500 and KISRA will match that with $4,000.  So that’s $4,500 that someone can put toward their education, a down payment on a house, or starting a business.  KISRA is also a Small Business Administration (SBA) micro-lender—we can lend up to $50,000 to someone who’s looking to start a small business, even if that person has a criminal record.  We also help individuals with business planning, credit counseling, and social services as needed.  Finally, through our Growing Jobs Project, individuals can learn how to become a local grower; become certified in kitchen skills and move into the food industry; and, by working from our mobile food truck, learn to become vendors and discover if they’d like to become their own boss one day.

NTJN: What, if anything, is being overlooked in the conversation around addressing poverty and unemployment among low-income black men?

Carl Chadband: One important factor that’s overlooked in addressing poverty and unemployment among low-income black men is that we spend so much time “rehabilitating” men for employment, but the hiring guidelines of many employers have not been “rehabilitated.”  We know that many black men have a criminal background, but if the private and public sector refuse to hire anyone with a criminal history, what’s the point of these men trying to find employment?  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much great work an organization does preparing an individual for employment if no one will hire that individual because he has a criminal record.  There needs to be a fundamental change in the attitude of employers toward hiring people with criminal backgrounds. After all the time and effort that men put into going through employment programs, they deserve to see results and not continuous rejection.  Based on today’s common hiring guidelines, most employers wouldn’t even hire Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.—two of the world’s greatest human rights advocates—because of their arrest histories.  Think about that!

NTJN: If you could guarantee the passage of any current (or future, not-yet-proposed) piece of federal legislation that you feel would significantly improve the life outcomes of low-income black men, what would it be?

Carl Chadband: I believe that there should be federal legislation that guarantees the full rights of citizenship to people coming out incarceration.  When you have a criminal record in America, you continue to serve your time after you are released from incarceration because your rights and privileges as a citizen are not fully restored—you may not be able to vote, run for public office, access critical resources such as public housing, or even apply to many jobs.  I believe that the full restoration of citizenship following incarceration would significantly improve the life outcomes of many low-income black men with criminal records.  After someone’s served their time, they deserve the same opportunities as everyone else—and I’d like to see the passage of federal legislation guaranteeing that.

Like what you read?  Later this month, Carl will be guest blogging for the NTJN – don’t forget to come back and check it out! 


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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

3 responses to “B.MORE Initiative Community of Practice Spotlight: An Interview with Carl Chadband of KISRA”

  1. Sharon Stevenson says :

    On point about the black young men not getting that 2nd chance. All they need is some place to turn too. I have seen so many of them go back to the life that put them on the inside the laws need to change so they are able to get jobs to feel better about themself an to be better father’s in there childrens life’s…

  2. Bill Sumiel says :

    I’m so proud of you Carl as I know your parents are also. Your wisdom supersedes your age. Keep up the good work and know there are many of us out there who support what you do and are trying to make a difference, especially when it comes to hiring those with criminal records. The criminal record could be better described as a life sentence if employment practices aren’t rehabilitated. God Bless the work you are doing.

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