By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]

Despite the investments of corporations who are bringing additional revenue streams into the community, the engine that drives the economic system of Prince George’s County remains small business. However, access to funding and the proper education to understand the strategies for success as business owners for County residents remains distant. 

Prince George’s County Council member Jolene Ivey made an attempt to break down the barriers that keep those intrepid souls with a passion for business ownership from their dreams by holding her first Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Expo for Returning Citizens at the First Baptist Church of Highland.

Ivey drew inspiration to create this platform by hearing stories of returning citizens, who after release from jail, used their skills and experience to create businesses and organizations to sustain themselves, their families and their communities.  

Council member Jolene Ivey hosted a forum to address entrepreneurship and opportunities for returning citizens. (Courtesy Photo)

“If you can’t find someone to hire you, hire yourself,” is Ivey’s mantra. 

The day featured conversations about resources and information to help residents interested in entrepreneurship succeed and to let them know they are welcome in the County. It was also a day for those reentering the community after being incarcerated a chance to learn strategies from several organizations.

MBE Compliance Manager for the Prince George’s County Council Mirinda Jackson gave a presentation on “How

to Quickly Start a Business with Minimum Resources.” During the afternoon session, there was a panel consisting of returning citizens who are business owners and advocates of minority entrepreneurship in the DMV region.  

One of the main themes for Ivey’s expo was to provide help for those who had previously been incarcerated with strategies to succeed after serving time in correctional facilities.  Issues such as housing, employment, mental health, recovering from chemical dependency, continuing education, life skills and family reintegration were addressed by several community based organizations. 

Life After Release is led by formerly incarcerated women that provide at risk and returning ladies in the County with an opportunity to overcome the barriers that women of color face after being released from prison.

Catholic Charities provided information and assistance to men and women who were previously incarcerated about their programs that are designed to help them adjust and reorient their lives. It’s “Welcome Home Reentry Program” works as a collaboration with many organizations to ensure that men and women are unconditionally welcomed back into the communities where they live.

The Bridge Center at Adam’s House  is a collaboration between the  County’s Departments of Health, Corrections, Social Services, and Family Services.  They form community based partnerships by providing holistic assistance to those who were formerly incarcerated, veterans,  and  young adults between 18-24 years old and trying to stabilize themselves in the community were eligible for assistance.

Unshackled Ministries, a non profit organization, used a faith based approach to help returnees develop independent survival skills. Their method is to provide each client with a case manager to oversee a comprehensive re-entry plan that structures the activities of returning citizens through services that offer a safer community for them.  

Perhaps the most innovative approach is being led by the The Mass Liberation Campaign (MLC). MLC is a comprehensive effort to end the criminalization of communities of color and low-income people by directly confronting and transforming the current criminal justice system. They are hoping to become a force for progressive governing power by working with social justice advocates to cut probation and parole in half by 2030.