Drive Change is the Righteous Crowd Org of the Week!
Providing Opportunities for Formerly Incarcerated Youth
In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read the famous line “justice, justice you shall pursue.” Inspired by these words, we are excited to support an organization that pursues justice for formerly incarcerated youth. Drive Change’s mission is to reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunities for returning citizens through a paid-fellowship in culinary arts training that provides a pathway to employment. Drive Change also coaches partner restaurants to build justice driven workplaces.
Read our interview below with Drive Change's Founder and Executive Director Jordyn Lexton.
What is the mission of Drive Change?
Drive Change creates hospitality workplace environments where formerly incarcerated young adults can tap into their genius and thrive.
Why did you decide to start Drive Change?
I was a teacher at the public high school on the Rikers Island jail complex from 2009-2012. I witnessed the truth that mass incarceration is the grand child of slavery. Eighty percent of my teenage students were pre-trail and detained because they could not afford their bail (average bail is between $500-$1000). They were also brilliant young people who wanted everything I wanted for my future at that age but were facing tremendous hurdles to employment post-release. Eighty percent of the people who are re-arrested are unemployed at the time of re-arrest.
How would you connect your organization to a Jewish value?
The value of Tikkun Olam (to repair the world) is deeply connected to our work. Tikkun Olam is a practice that acknowledges the truth that the world we live in is not just and is in need of healing. Healing from trauma is connective tissue for all people. We must practice Tikkun Olam and work towards liberation for all people. Racial justice work and anti-incarceration work is a practice of Tikkun Olam.
What’s a story about Drive Change that is meaningful to you?
Darius is a former Fellow. He joined the organization in 2014 as one of the eight original Drive Change Fellows. He and his seven peers helped us build the organization. When we met Darius he was 22 years old, he was living in a homeless shelter, he was curious about cooking. After joining our team his curiosity turned into passion; he became obsessed with learning about local food and blending different seasonings to make his signature spice mixtures. He also was the BEST person on our team at making our famous Maple Grilled Cheese Sandwich on the truck. After three months working at Drive Change he was able to move back in with his grandmother (and seven other family members in a two bedroom apartment in Harlem). After one year of working with us, he was able to afford his own room for the first time in his life. He moved out, got a room, and continues to pursue his culinary passions professionally.
What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
Change the language you use - instead of saying "ex-con" say "formerly incarcerated person" or "returning citizen." Get involved in local criminal justice reform politics: call your local representatives and advocate for the elimination of cash-bail and the closure of Rikers Island. You can also follow us on instagram @drivechangenyc and come eat at our Drive Change pop-up cafe in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
What has surprised you about working with Drive Change?
I was surprised about how much pride can come from cooking good food and providing great hospitality can offer people; and the effect that that would have on the fellows (formerly incarcerated youth) at Drive Change. Seeing a customer light up from a great experience, and compliment the food that you make has a tremendous impact on confidence and joy. Working the "front of house" on the food truck and in our pop-up has provided Fellows who saw themselves as "introverts" with the platform to connect with people and humanize the experience of being formerly incarcerated in a human-to-human way. I knew that the customer-employee exchange would decrease the stigma that people carry about formerly incarcerated youth, but I did not expect how much these exchanges would help to make our fellows feel more comfortable about who they are and what they have to offer the world.
What's the best part of your job and why?
The people. The Drive Change staff is a collection of incredibly talented and passionate individuals. I learn new things every day from my team and I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside them in our mission to create workplace conditions where formerly incarcerated youth can thrive. The fellows are a collection of genius-filled young people who are committed to transforming their lives and society for the better, it's amazing to be around their resilience daily.
To learn more about Drive Change visit www.drivechangenyc.org.