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Job fair offers young adults makeovers, haircuts and 2nd chances

They lined up out the door for free makeovers, haircuts, blazers and ties — not in preparation for a night out, but for the chance to land a job with employers offering on-the-spot interviews at Malcolm X College.

“I think it’s amazing,” jobseeker Emonnie Hicks said. The 17-year-old South Sider heard about the “From Hi to Hired” career fair the day before, and said she appreciated to see a job fair offer beauty treatments.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. Sometimes they feel they’re not beautiful. I think that’s why they gave us makeovers — to make us feel confident.”

Hicks was one of hundreds of young adults on Wednesday who attended the career fair, which featured mock interviews, résumé counseling and 18 employers. The 4th annual fair was hosted by nonprofit LeadersUp, which advocates to end youth unemployment and the opportunity divide.

Emonnie Hicks speaks with a counselor at the “From Hi to Hired” career fair at Malcolm X College on May 15, 2019. | Provided

LeadersUp reached out to South and West side community members disconnected from employment opportunities, according to LeadersUp CEO Jeffery Wallace.

“It’s not just students,” Wallace said. “It’s about hope and opportunity. … In my opinion, it’s about making people feel they’re assets to Chicago, and not liabilities.”

At last year’s fair, companies hired 82 percent of the people they interviewed, Wallace said. The goal, he said, was “to shift the narrative” that these communities don’t have talent. “They do,” he said.

One prospective hire was 22-year-old Denzel Johnson, who graduated from Monmouth College three days earlier. The communications major came dressed in a suit and tie and had studied the list of employers the night before.

I’ve never seen anything like it,” Johnson said. “They put you into the thick of it. That’s a blessing.”

Johnson came prepared to go straight to an interview but stopped by the résumé station because he was open for tips, he said.

“They kept it real with me. They told me, ‘Denzel, you to need to focus on this and this.’”

A jobseeker gets a free haircut at LeadersUp’s job fair. | Provided

LeadersUp, besides arranging career fairs, advocates for employers to rework hiring practices to be fair for people with criminal backgrounds, Wallace said.

Their initiative “Fair Chance” asks companies to adjust hiring practices so background checks that show an arrest don’t become an instantly disqualifying mark.

According to Wallace, background checks are far too strict and don’t offer the proper context. For instance, one-third of FBI files can’t be connected to a case or conviction, Wallace said.

LeadersUp published a report that shows low-income youth of color are over-represented in arrests and incarceration. The result is an implicit bias that impacts education and job opportunities, according to the report.

Wallace said there’s an untapped talent pool in the 70 million people in America with a criminal backgrounds. His goal is to build a coalition of 80 employers to hire from a pool of 1000 people with criminal backgrounds, Wallace said.

“That’s an underutilized pool of talent,” Wallace said. “We want employers and recruiters to walk away and feel that this was the best use of their talent.”

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