Ivy League Audience for 2nd-Chance Hiring

Rayshun Holt at HarvardRayshun Holt has told his story many times, including on television and to audiences of local business leaders. But an 8-minute presentation last March felt different.

Holt and his boss at the time, Nehemiah Manufacturing CEO Dan Meyer, were invited to speak to second-year business students at Harvard University on the success of Nehemiah’s second-chance hiring initiative.

“I felt like I was speaking to the difference-makers of tomorrow,” Holt said. “If I can connect with them and touch their hearts, I have the potential to touch a lot of people who will be making decisions that can open doors for people in the future. I definitely feel a higher obligation to be that inspiration, that beacon of hope.”

The presentation last year went so well that Holt and Meyer have been asked to do it three times since then, and they are scheduled to do it again next week. They have presented to almost 1,000 students, and it is now part of the curriculum for first-year students.

The opportunity arose when Harvard Business School produced a case study of Nehemiah in 2019, with a focus on second-chance hiring. Holt is one of many who found stable employment at Nehemiah despite criminal records, and by March 2020 he had risen to a management position with the company. He was featured in the case study, as was the Beacon of Hope Business Alliance – an initiative launched by Nehemiah and now operated by Cincinnati Works.

Holt joined Cincinnati Works in January as program director of Beacon of Hope, and he made that a significant part of his most recent presentation to Harvard students. For as captivating as his personal story may be, the business case for second-chance hiring resonates with the students.

“They don’t get too preoccupied with my background,” he said. “I don’t come across as a novelty. I let it be known that I am not the exception. There is talent, there is potential, within so many people.”