New Year, New Life


New Year’s Day is probably the day on which we most believe in second chances. We feel certain that we can make a significant contribution, turn over a new leaf, accept new challenges. We make resolutions, create mottoes, set goals. The unlikely suddenly seems possible.

For a few days we are buoyed by optimism. Change is possible, we’re sure of it.

Then reality sets in. Change does not come automatically when the calendar moves from one year to the next. Change comes only through hard work and, most importantly, power.

Some of that hard-won change came on the first business day of 2014. With the passage of HB 3061 in May 2013, individuals with non-violent, Class 3 felonies and four years without any involvement with law enforcement could now apply to have their criminal records sealed.

Mark had dreamed of a day when he could truly have a second chance. And, on January 2, 2014, that day finally came. Saddled with a 1989 conviction, he waited in line at the Richard J. Daley Center in downtown Chicago to talk with a volunteer lawyer from Cabrini Green Legal Aid about getting his felony conviction sealed. The line was quite long.

Vanessa, a member of CRS’ FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) Project got in line next to Mark. As they discussed some of the questions that he had, she said to him,“You should go to Community Renewal Society. They know all about this sealing business.” He took her advice, and Mark got his questions answered. As he left CRS, he stated, “You’ll see me again. I want to be a part of the organization that worked to pass the sealing bill.”

You, too, were a part of this change-making work and power. We thank you for your advocacy—your messages to legislators, letters to the media, and visits with representatives and senators at home and in Springfield. Your voice helped bring about important changes for people like Mark and Vanessa.

Last year CRS and FORCE achieved three other important legislative victories in addition to the sealing records bill. With our allies we passed bills that closed loopholes on background checks for new gun purchases, required the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and eliminated the felony enhancement for prostitution. We are proud of these accomplishments, but we know there is more to be done.

We are already deeply immersed in this important work in 2014. Our Platform for Renewal includes:

  • Advocating for a Fair Tax and education funding reform

  • Expanding employment opportunities for individuals with records

  • Creating new affordable housing opportunities through the Cook County Land Bank

  • Rolling out the Reclaim Campaign and its Restorative Justice Peace Hubs

  • Increasing jobs for long-term unemployed workers

We cannot do this life-changing work without you!

Join us at Kingdom Baptist Church on Monday, January 20th for our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Faith in Action Assembly for an exciting morning of prayer, witness, and action in the spirit of Dr. King. A number of state legislators and county commissioners will come to declare their public support for our Platform for Renewal, and we hope that you will tell your legislators that you want to see them at the MLK Faith in Action Assembly.

It’s a great way to start the new year.