“Invest in kindness” – Futurist Jim Carroll Futurist Jim Carroll is running a series that began November 27, 2023, and will end on January 1, 2024 – ’24 Strategies for 2024.’ Rather than running a trend series for the upcoming year as he has previously, this series will examine a number of his personal beliefs on how to best align yourself with the future. There will be a post each weekday, excluding weekends and holidays, until the series runs its course. You will find it on his blog at https://blog.jimcarroll.com, or on the website https://2024.jimcarroll.com If you follow me, you might get a sense that I tend to have a rather compassionate soul. After all, last year, my 23 Trends for 2023 series identified the trend wherein people were ‘doubling down on dignity.’ I try, as much as I can, to live a life that is rooted in kindness towards others. In that post, shared my despair with our current reality: Sometimes it does seem like the world has gone mad – extremely divisive politics, a rise in hate crimes, absolute emotional terrorism on social networks, attacks on public institutions, and increasing violence. Everyone has a feeling that things are getting out of hand. That’s why trend #12 on my “23 Trends for 2023” is the issue of “ Doubling Down on Dignity .” Looking back at that post, you can also sense the depths of that despair -which certainly became even more challenging throughout 2023. The world around us is a terrifying place. Politics has become so divisive that it is destructive. All of us have lost friends to the insanity of Covid-denial and other conspiracy theories. We wake up to the news of hate crimes, violent assaults, and attacks on marginalized populations. We witness major court actions and political efforts that have the ultimate goal of stripping away fundamental human rights from marginalized populations. We watch wars in far-off lands and wonder how quickly the hate that drove those wars might come to our own world. And yet, within the despair, I always seem to find an opportunity for hope: I believe in 2023, both people and organizations will find they are spending more time doing so – f ocusing more on lifting people up rather than tearing them down. This year, I found my opportunities for hope by watching individuals who were doing good in the world. Despite all the madness, rage, and hate, I did manage to find the decency and humanity within some people. In particular, I want to tell you the story of someone I never met and who do not personally know, but who I drew much strength and inspiration through the year. Meet Cheri Garcia, ex-meth addict and alcoholic, someone who now gives ex-convicts second chances and a new life through her Dallas-based company, Cornbread Hustle. Her story is the basis for strategy #17 of my 24 Strategies for 2024 series. Invest in kindness. As with many people, I first came across this remarkable young woman via LinkedIn; someone shared one of her posts one day – a story about her helping an ‘ex-con’ get a job – and it touched me deeply. I seem to be someone who is always searching for the light amidst the dark. Her inspirational story is best told through a cover story that ran in Dallas Magazine earlier this year. By the time this article appeared several months ago, I had already been following Cheri for several years. Cheri Garcia was a high school cheerleader in The Colony when she got addicted to meth. “ I tried it one time ,” she says. That was all it took. She began dealing drugs to support her habit and got into trouble for minor things like warrants and petty theft. But after about two years, she became “ sick and tired of being sick and tired ” and quit—cold turkey. Then, she discovered another addiction: being a business owner. “ It filled the void of chasing the highs and lows ,” Garcia says. “ Entrepreneurship essentially saved my life. But it wasn’t going to fix me.” She invented a water float for tanning called Luminous Envy. “ I always tell people my college tuition was my manufacturing costs, and my degree is my patent, ” Garcia says. She began volunteering for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, teaching those who were incarcerated how to develop business plans and marketing strategies. When some of the people she met got out of jail and reached out to her via Facebook, she started helping them get jobs. The first was a man who was a skilled artist but had been imprisoned for 20 years. She taught him how to use Google, and they reached out to a Dallas mural company. “ I called the owner and said, ‘Hey, I have this guy who is willing to work. He’ll take $10 an hour. He’s eager. He’s hungry. His work is amazing, ’” Garcia recalls. “ The owner said, ‘What’s the catch?’ I said, ‘Well, he just got out of prison for attempted murder, but he’s a nice guy .’” She accompanied him on the interview, sitting a few tables over at a restaurant. The ex-con was hired on the spot. That was the start of Cornbread Hustle, an employment agency she started for second-chance individuals, whether they are justice-impacted or coming out of recovery. Garcia herself has been sober for four-and-a-half years. She shared her story on LinkedIn; it blew up, and today, she has more than 145,000 followers. When COVID hit, the entrepreneur worried that the pandemic would kill her fledgling company. Instead, she bought some hazmat suits and launched a service to disinfect essential businesses. “That was my first six-figure month ,” Garcia says. “ Our phone started ringing off the hook .” While many traditional workers were home collecting pandemic unemployment, companies that had previously eschewed hiring second-chance employees gave it a try. “ We became a million-dollar agency, and we quadrupled the next year ,” Garcia says. Cornbread Hustle places a lot of skilled trades workers, from HVAC technicians to data analysts. Despite the pickup in business, she has “way more” applicants than employers. To help prepare people for success, Garcia developed a 12-week Starting Over Program, a video series that’s available for about $100. Topics span everything from codependency and learning about triggers to getting and keeping a job and becoming a productive employee. She encourages businesses to expand their minds when it comes to looking at job candidates. She has been encouraged by some to move away from focusing on second-chance employees, but Garcia is holding firm. “ It’s hard for me to turn a blind eye, but I’m not sorry for it, ” she says. “I feel that this company is being taken care of by a higher power because we’re trying to make an impact.” You cannot follow her posts on LinkedIn and not be touched by her passion for helping other people; to live a life and build a successful business in which she essentially spends time to lift people. Out on that social network – and indeed, in most of the online world – people tend to post more about their success and accomplishments, rather than posting about what they do . What Cheri does is lift the marginalized, provide them with opportunities, and change lives. She tells the story of how she found her Cornbread Hustle business opportunity in another article: So one organization I heard about was called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, where volunteers teach entrepreneurship. I was like, “This is heaven.” For someone like me, who bounced back and had to become resilient from addiction and alcoholism, I felt like, “I bet I could find some savvy entrepreneurs in prison and help them hone in on their ideas. ” So, what I did was reverse engineer what their ultimate goals were, empower them, and help them find a job that would accept them, and help them hone in on their intrapreneurship, so they could learn more about the industry they wanted to be in. … I learned what helps people coming out of prison, is putting a bigger goal that is their passion, attached to the small milestones . And so, I did that; and it was so much fun for me. I’d hang out in the halfway houses, and I’d help them get jobs. And one day, I woke up, and I was like, “Well, I guess I need to make this my job if this is what I want to do every day. ” And I’m just not a nonprofit type of gal; it’s not for me. I’m not the type of person that has the courage to stand up in front of people and say, “ Hey, give me money, and I’ll make a difference. ” I’m an entrepreneur, and I want to know that I provided some value to earn your money. … I Googled “ how to start a staffing agency. ” And the rest is history from there. And at the end of the day, I don’t eat or pay my bills unless I’m helping others eat and pay bills. Cheri Garcia pays second chances forward at Cornbread Hustle staffing agency 30 December 2021, Austin Business Journal Online Every day, it would seem that she proves that it is possible to build both a personal and business future in which you invest in kindness. The interesting thing, as a Canadian, it would seem that many of those she is helping have spent their time in prison due to what are minor drug offenses; the US incarceration infrastructure does seem designed to destroy lives rather than helping them. And so while in Canada cannabis is legal – and can be purchased everywhere and anywhere – many of those who Cornbread Hustle is helping to place into productive, working jobs had originally been sent to prison for a minor drug offense. They are not ‘bad people’ – they are just caught up in a system that has yet to catch up to many other parts of the modern world. (Fast forward a decade – cannabis certainly will be legal throughout the US.) And yet, Cornbread Hustle does not limit itself in those it lifts up – anyone is eligible for a second chance. Re-read the story above about how her first job placement involved someone convicted of a murder. Everyone deserves an opportunity. Today, Cornbread Hustle and Cheri continue to accelerate their efforts, most notably through significant corporate outreach programs where the idea of hiring those who were previously institutionalized is formalized through corporate action. She tells the story briefly in another article with an effort that continues after a discovery during the pandemic of what could be accomplished through formalized programs: What opportunity for your company over the next year has you most excited? Why? We have partnered with Lennox Industries and expanded to Arkansas to help create a second-chance hiring plan for one of their warehouses. Within a couple of months, we’ve already hired about 100 employees for that location. We are excited to continue the journey with Lennox and other companies that have hired us to do the same thing in other locations. For her staffing company Cornbread Hustle, 2020 meant pivoting — then pivoting back to explosive growth 21 July 2021, Dallas Business Journal There are many other individuals like Cheri that I follow online for inspirational and personal guidance, but suffice it to say, what she has demonstrated to the world is that you can build an actual business that is based on the concept. And to me, that is unique – you CAN invest in kindness. Kindness? Watch this: That’s why I provide this as a key strategy for going forward into a new year, particularly as the curtain of societal madness continues to accelerate. In 2024, you can define your success by what you do – but keep in mind, you can also define that success by what you do for others.