Breaking the Cycle

Maria working with a CW Member in the job search area

I began my journey with Cincinnati Works September of 2016. Hanif was released from prison that same month. Hanif had been in prison longer than I have been alive. I met him as a quiet old man who had absolutely no idea how to work electronics. He insisted on pressing random buttons on his small phone, believing that that would eventually show him what he needed to see. Despite being away from all of this new technology for 30 years, he learned quickly. He was eager to learn and to get himself a job. It wasn’t long before he could log into his email all by himself. He did this almost every day for a month after graduating JumpStart.

You learn a lot about someone helping them out for a month. I noted Hanif had an almost serene demeanor. He did not seem to know the word worry. I learned that Hanif knew a little Arabic, because he would write words that I knew in the margins of his job search log. Things like “Insha’Allah” (If it is God’s will) showed me his hopefulness. I learned that Hanif is a veteran of the Vietnam War, the very same war my father was in. To say the least, Hanif was a great Member at Cincinnati Works.

Some short time before August 1973 Hanif met his father for the first time. He went to his home, knocked on the door, and was promptly spoken to through the screen door. Hanif’s father would not let his son in. He described it saying “It was like I was a dog.” August 1973 was his first felony, a robbery charge. Maybe there were other factors, but to him that was the event that set it all off. He said it all went downhill from there.

Hanif learned about God while in prison. He got certifications in HVAC, electrician work, janitorial services, and floor tech. Although we don’t know when his attitude changed, we know that it did. At some point, Hanif recognized his value and began to act upon it. A man who knows his own value knows the value of education in turn. He is worth more than what this world and our society may have told him he is. Hanif has been objectified, dehumanized and a victim of the generational cycle that leaves black men fatherless. More than any of that, Hanif has pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Hanif is not his father, nor is he the man before his father fighting for his own freedom, he is his own man.

Becoming part of our Phoenix Program here at Cincinnati Works, Hanif has broken the chain that could have led on and on for generations. Although he has made mistakes in his past, he has pushed to overcome them. He went through our JumpStart class, learning valuable skills to get and maintain a good job. He has learned money management, how to use a phone, and how to use a computer. He has gained a support system. Hanif earned employment with a manufacturing company, and recently went to get his driver’s license as well. I can tell you working here, because there are so many successes, I got very tired of ringing a cowbell every time someone got a job. But when Hanif got a job, I skipped my meeting that morning to come to Cincinnati Works and ring that bell for him.

The difference may be that I took the time to learn his story, and my joy for him was astounding. But now you know his story too, and you can ring your bell for any Member that shows the incredible things one person can do.

Maria Todd

We take poverty personally at Cincinnati Works. After more than 20 years in the fight, we know well its devastating effects on individuals, families, and the community as a whole. We also know that with the right resources and one-on-one coaching individuals can pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Everyday we witness how gainful employment and personal stability can restore the lives of adults and create tremendous opportunity for their children. 

In 2017, we will continue to share this firsthand perspective on poverty from our many and varied constituents including employer partners, board, staff, investors, and Members. Please continue to check our blog, social media pages (linked in top right corner), and newsletters to hear more from those on the front-line of poverty elimination at Cincinnati Works.