Prayers were answered for some job seekers after attending a job fair where employers cared more about qualifications than criminal backgrounds.

At a job fair, going from table to table isn’t always easy. In a matter of seconds, you have to sell yourself to the person on the other side.

It’s a nerve-wracking situation for anyone. But it’s even worse for some candidates who have a criminal background.

Davonna Smith is on probation, which has made job-seeking difficult. “It’s very hard,” Smith explained. “You try to go out and get an offer, and people say no because of what I’m going through.”

She’s not alone. Ronnie Lockett has a felony charge from more than 20 years ago – a record still keeping certain jobs away.

“No matter how much education you get or studying or whatever you do, the background always holds you back,” Lockett said.

The Alliance for Safety and Justice recently took a look at difficulties people with criminal backgrounds face.

It found people with felonies make about $23,000 a year. Those with misdemeanors make about $27,000 a year.

That’s well below the national average of about $62,000 a year.

“You can’t stress over things you can’t control,” Smith said. “I just stick with that, and I pray about it, and I move forward.”

On Wednesday, Smith felt like her prayers were answered. The second annual New Beginnings Career Fair in Clear Lake featured employers willing to look past someone’s background.

“Since COVID, I’ve seen a really huge rise in any company that’s willing to take someone that does have a background,” Staff Right Talent Group representative Dawnyale Littlejohn explained. “Whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor.”

Attendees not only learned about jobs but programs.

Alvin Community College offers a New Beginnings program. It’s a place where people can receive education, jobs, and assistance with much more.

“We assist with clothing, food. If they need food, we have resources out for that,” New Beginnings project manager Inez Ihezue explained. “Even if they need some housing referrals, we do housing referrals.”

If you missed Wednesday’s events, experts say to reach out to community resource centers and ask about background programs.

Also, during an interview, don’t immediately mention your criminal past. Instead, focus on why you’re the perfect candidate.

It’s advice that can help you break through background barriers.

“Let us go. Let us be who we need to be,” Lockett said. “Let us grow into the people we need to grow into. If you don’t let us go, you know what’s next. We go right back into the same circle we were in.”

It’s a job fair that may feel awkward at first, but those seconds are what may be needed to change your life.

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