Founder, Good Call
Jelani is a community organizer and serial entrepreneur. During High School, Jelani started his first online business, for which he was awarded the NYS FBLA Business Plan of the Year award, and was featured on national TV. Prior to founding Good Call, Jelani worked on a variety of issue-based and electoral campaigns, in addition to being a community organizer at AirBnb. Growing up in Far Rockaway, NY, and organizing in low-income communities across the east coast, Jelani experienced firsthand the pitfalls that exist for those oppressed by the criminal justice system. He works every day to better communities similar to where he grew up, and hopes his work will be a stepping stone for other young black males. In addition to being Co-executive Director at Good Call, Jelani is an Echoing Green fellow and a Civil Justice Fellow at Blue Ridge Labs.
I realized early on that my work had to be impactful and make a difference in people’s lives. As a teenager, I have distinct memories of the moments I saw first hand how unfair and systemically wrong our justice system is. As an entrepreneur, I worked with communities for years before coming to the program that fueled me to cofound Good Call based on those realizations I had had as a teenager. Now my work focuses on giving communities access to legal support while fighting for systemic equality and fairness. I hope to be able to break down methodologies in our system that are hurtful to people of color, and provide myself as a mentor to other black men that have dealt with our unfair justice system and are looking for a way to make a difference in their communities.
How did you get into the industry?
I was unfairly arrested as a teenager, and dealing first hand with that sort of systemic racism opened my eyes to how lacking and unjust these systems are. That experience over time manifested into much of the work we do now, providing more access and opening doors for many people that did not previously have the privilege of being able to contact a lawyer immediately after arrest.
Any emerging industry trends?
We’ve seen a lot of hype happening around justice reform, including activists, celebrities, and public voices becoming more involved. It’s great to see this amount of interest and dedication to our important work, but I’m also cautious of those with either a “saviour” mentality or a lack of understanding of how deep this work really goes into communities that have been treated unfairly for a very long time. While it’s exciting they are keen to be involved, I encourage them to find good community connections and partner with important organizations that have been doing a lot of this work all along.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business? While being arrested as a teenager did inspire a lot of our work, what we realized early on is that early legal intervention can make an incredible difference in the life of someone that has just been arrested. Knowing your legal rights and having a lawyer available to invoke them can decide whether someone spends months in jail awaiting trial, or is able to be at home, working and with family while waiting for their court date. For now, we provide immediate legal assistance to anyone arrested in NYC by calling our hotline (1-833-3-GOODCALL), and have ideas of expansion for the future.
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