John Legend Gives Grants to Ex-Convicts Turned Entrepreneurs

February 9, 2018 Last Updated: February 9, 2018

Will Avila was in and out of jail between 16 and 27. He reached a point where he wanted to start anew, but his past wouldn’t leave him so easily. “I went through 22 job applications and got rejected 22 times,” he said.

He was facing a decision: go back to his old ways, or figure out a way to make “clean decisions,” as he put it, Fox 5 reported.

He chose the latter and founded a company called Clean Decisions. It started with commercial kitchen cleaning, then added landscaping, moving, and more.

He employs 15 people full-time, all ex-convicts. Avila pays above minimum wage—an important move in the Washington, DC, area where he operates, as the cost of living is high and a person on a minimum wage might still need additional income—a dangerous temptation for an ex-con.

“You might go back to your old ways,” said Andre Thomas, who works for Clean Decisions.

The company has changed his life, Thomas said.

“They always say this is probably not going to be what you want to do in life,” he said. “You probably want to have your own business, but we can start you off and show you how it’s done and you can go from there.”

Avila’s work has caught the attention of musician John Legend. Legend started a program called Unlocked Futures that supports startups run by ex-offenders. The program has picked eight businesses to receive $50,000 grants each. Avila’s is one of them.

Avila will use the money to buy more trucks. But, for him, support from Legend means more than just the money.

“My deepest fear was the community and society rejecting us as returning citizens, people who had been incarcerated. But for somebody like John Legend and all the support he has given us, this opens the door,” Avila said.

Credit: Fox – 5 DC/VideoElephant