Aaron is the Founder & CEO of Equity Solutions, a justice-focused consulting firm that educates tech professionals and empowers leaders and organizations to create a more equitable society. We encourage justice reform, publish data relevant to the equity space, and create innovative products — featuring Justice Reskill, a first-of-its-kind learning platform for justice-involved individuals. Aaron is a Twilio Champion, an A* member, and facilitator of /dev/color. He currently leads the Equity Initiative for Energize Colorado, acts as the Chair of Inclusion & DEI Track Captain for Boulder Startup Week, and is active in multiple community workforce development projects.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact! Podcast. I am John Shegerian and I am so honored to have with us today, Aaron Clark. He is the CEO and founder of Equity Solutions and Justice Reskill. Welcome to Impact! Aaron.
Aaron Clark: Thank you, John. It is a pleasure to be able to share with you today.
John: Hey, listen Aaron, before– I know you and I know what you are doing and the great work and we are going to share that today with our listeners, but before we get into that, can you share a little bit about your backstory, your journey leading up to what you were doing, and how you got to where you are today?
Aaron: Awesome, sure thing. Well, my journey towards equity and towards the work I am doing now had a lot of bumps, a lot of changes but for the past ten plus years I have worked as a freelance software developer which means that folks wanted to hire me to build things for them. I build things for them for hire. The problem is I was a good software developer, not really a great software developer, and I found that, partially, that was because I had a love and an interest for working more with people on a one-on-one basis than I did working with just hardcore tech consistently. So after bouncing around for a while I started to realize that I could not find a lot of people working in tech that look like me, that talk like me, and so I begin to look for where there are more black and brown people inside of tech and I ran into a number of organizations that I got to volunteer with, some civic organizations until I got to a place where I was like there is a gap in the market in terms of DEI type education for individuals. So, about three years ago, I decided to start building what is a new platform to help give people instructions on leveraging their own DEI journey from some– from an app perspective.
John: I am on your website now, Equity Solutions, and for our listeners out there it is equitysolutions.io. Can you talk a little bit about the mission statement of Equity Solutions, “Equity not Equality.” What does that mean to you and what is your ultimate mission at Equity Solutions?
Aaron: Yes, the words that we use matter, and when I say we, I am referring to people that are working in Equity. These are Equity Consultants, Chief Diversity Officers at different companies, and so we are really particular about the words that we use and, unfortunately in this work, a lot of words are used as scapegoats. To me, equity is making sure that every person has what they need to succeed. It is the fair treatment, the opportunity, the advancement of all people. It is what we considered– what I consider my north star. I am not satisfied with just diversity, which is normally a check the box or numbers. I am not satisfied with inclusion, which is normally just making sure people feel a sense of belonging but I am striving for that actual equity which means that if my friend over here needs more resources just to survive and thrive in this world, we should give that person extra and more than other people that may not need that. So that is kind of what we mean by equity versus equality. Then Equity Solutions as a company is a consulting firm that we work at the intersection of Tech Equity and Criminal Justice Reform. Those are the areas that I feel very strong and passionate about and what we are doing is trying to create that society that we see as fair and just for all people. We do things like have education initiatives, programs and apps like DEI Today, which is helping people understand equity, justice reskill, which is a reskilling platform for justice of all people, and we also work directly with clients to help them understand the core truth of their DEI journey, their DEI goals and how to integrate those into the culture of their workforce.
John: You just mentioned Justice Reskill, again, for our listeners out there to check out the great work you are doing there, you could go to justicereskill.com. I am on your site now. What is the core problem? What is– why did you create Justice Reskill and what is your ultimate goal there?
Aaron: Well, Justice Reskill has two core things that it is doing, and for the listeners, Justice Reskill is a community of justice-involved learners, folks that have had some sort of an involvement with the Criminal Justice System, whether they have been arrested, gone to jail or prison, or maybe gone to court diverted. Once that happens in a person’s life, everything is different from that point forward. You are now part of a statistic that is normally stigmatized, unfortunately, in our country. So we are taking those folks in this community. We are doing two things. One, we realize that once you have been involved in the justice system it is going to be very difficult for you to actually build wealth for yourself through career, through work, pay your fees, fines, whatever you have got to pay, save, buy a house, send your kids to college, i.e., live the American dream. So, one, we are focused on ongoing career advancement and long-term financial stability for justice-involved people. The second piece is community. In tech, what tends to happen a lot of times is that we silo with people that think like we do-
Arron: -and that come from similar backgrounds and that is why we have a lot of really great resources to learn how to code or learn technical skills online for free, it is because we know how to find community and find people that are connected to us. One of my favorite resources is freecodecamp.org, founded by an amazing gentleman named Quincy Larson, and what he built was he built a platform so people can learn how to code all for free but the core of it is he is bringing people together that help each other. Justice Reskill is doing that for justice-involved people. It is simply a for us by us type of program so that we can help each other succeed and find long-term financial stability.
John: Hmm, okay, that if people that are listening now who are of course affected by what is going on in the nation at this given moment that we are having this conversation, more social upheaval than we have seen in a long time and they want to get involved and they want to do something and help your efforts, how do they get involved? How can they help?
Aaron: Well, that is a great question, and as our clients that we have with Equity Solutions, a lot of folks ask that and one way is to support black and brown businesses and black and brown organizations to amplify those voices. So we, of course, have methods for that on our website justicereskill.com. You can send us an email or message to get involved and there is a couple of ways that you can do that. One is the easy and obvious one, you can give them your money. We had a fiscal sponsor, the open collector foundation so you will follow your own c3 status to them. You can get right there online to the donation link at the bottom of the website and that money will go towards either operations or to funding for students to do additional learning through our platform, so that was easy, but the other call-out is for people that are interested in helping to build this platform out, helping to build out this community of justice-involve learners. The easy solution there or the easy application for the people that are maybe in tech or have some sort of skill around tech that they want to help teach other people, we are building a way that people can help give of their time, either mentoring, teaching, supporting, doing guest lectures. So if you want to get involved with this community, I would suggest sending us a message and then the other piece is, you know, this is a community effort. These is an effort that has to be connected to other people, and so if you or someone you know is working with a re-entry organization or a justice organization, feel free to reach out to us and see if you can make a connection. We would greatly appreciate that.
John: That is great. I recently watched your presentation called Black at Netflix and Somos, can you share with our listeners a little bit more about what you were trying to accomplish with that presentation?
Aaron: Definitely. So the tech industry is known for creating associations of like-minded people. Most larger tech companies have employee resource groups, and so this is a group of people that might be of one particular ethnicity so that they come together and can kind of have some camaraderie and so I had the privilege of talking to their Black at Netflix group and Somos Netflix which is the Black employee resource group, and the Latinx employee resource group and they were simply asking the same questions you were. They were saying, “Hey, as a company, we feel very passionate about the world that we live in and we are not satisfied with just selling subscriptions for our services and building content. We, as humans, want to get involved with the cause around us.” And so they peppered me with questions about how are you going to do this? What are your thoughts are on this, and in and that.” They asked, “How can we get involved?” Then I was able to give them information I just shared and several of their team members, individually, not as a company but individually said, “Yes, we believe in this mission either because we know someone who has been justice-involved, or we see it at our community, or we might have ourselves, and therefore we want to support this so that other people can have a chance to sit at the seat that they are sitting at, which thankfully we have a sit in the seat of tech jobs. We are very privileged and thankful to be in this position. We wanted to share that with other people.”
John: That is awesome. For our listeners who have just joined us, we have got Aaron Clark on with us today. He is a CEO and founder of Equity Solutions and Justice Reskill. You can find Justice Reskill at justicereskill.com. You can find Equity Solutions at equitysolutions.io. A few weeks back, we lost in America, Aaron, one of the greatest leaders, icons, legends. John Lewis passed and one of his quotes that always stuck with me is, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” How much of those words apply to your life? Someone who is very young and successful and could just go along being a wonderful coder in high demand, living your life, doing your thing, but you have stepped out, you have created and are part of two very, very important movements, Equity Solutions, Justice Reskill, and the ripple that you have created is going to reverberate onward and forward. What are those words mean to you and how is that going to further guide you in the future in what you are doing?
Aaron: Those words mean a lot to me. I was raised in Montgomery, Alabama, right outside of Montgomery, Alabama, about forty minutes away from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I recall as a kid playing next to that bridge. I recall running in and out of some of the churches that Dr. King spoke at, up and down in Alabama, and Atlanta, and Mississippi. Now, my upbringing, I was not taught to focus on the civil rights, unfortunately. It did not click for a long time in my life until much, much later. I got into a lot of trouble because I realized I was trying to be something that I was not. I was trying to be a person who assimilates to culture versus a person who lives in their calling and lives in who they are and what they are meant to do for this world. So when I hear the words of the great John Lewis saying, “When you see something, say something,” what that tells me is I say, “Thank you, Mr. Lewis.”
Aaron: Now, you said that for your entire life, your entire career, we the younger generation to take that to the next step and now we are saying, “If you see something, do something.” We no longer want to just see police brutality and see discrimination and racism and speak about it. We are now demanding that these things be changed which is why with Justice Reskill I have seen this problem for many, many years. I am reminded of Richard Brooks’ video, the man that lost his life, was killed in Atlanta and he spoke about the problems of the probation parole system and that he was literally just trying to make money to provide for his wife and three kids and he was having a hard time just reaching them. So Justice Reskill at its core says, “We see the problem. We see the opportunity and instead of just talking about it we are actually going to just build it and we are going to look around for all of the people that want to step up and support this type of work and get our people that are justice-involved back on track, back in working, back as contributing members of society so that we can all live in an equitable world.”
John: I love it. I love it. Aaron, you are the reason I do this show. You are the reason I put this kind of podcast together and get it out because not only are you doing great and important work and I want our listeners who find it in their heart and in their soul to support your efforts, but for the next generation coming behind you, I want them too, as well, follow in your footsteps and in John Lewis’s footsteps, to not only say something but to do something and you are doing something really important with Justice Reskill, with Equity Solutions. You are the reason that I do this show. You are making a great impact, and I am just very, very grateful for your time today and for all the great things you are doing now, and you are going to be doing in the future and I thank you again for your time today, Aaron, and I hope you have continued success in your endeavors ahead.
Aaron: Thank you, John. I really appreciate the platform and to all your listeners out there, I appreciate you taking the time to listen and hope you all have a great day.