5 Questions with Aaron Clark, Founder of Justice Reskill

Apr 26, 2021

Aaron is the founder & CEO of Justice Reskill, a social enterprise that equips justice-involved individuals with the skills, resources, and connections needed to achieve lasting career success in tech and related high-wage industries. Aaron is a board member of the Rocky Mountain MicroFinance Institute, a Twilio Champion, a member of /dev/color. He currently leads the Equity Initiative for Energize Colorado and acts as the co-chair for the Developer Track of Denver Startup Week, a fund advisor for Matchstick Ventures, and an advisory council member for the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice. Aaron was recently named to Colorado's 2020 Inno on Fire list, and Equity Solutions, the parent organization of Justice Reskill, was selected as Boulder Chamber of Commerce Startup of the Year in 2021. He is also active in multiple community workforce development projects.

Justice Reskill is a participant in the Accelerate Equity program of the Techstars Foundation in 2021.

01. What is the elevator pitch for Justice Reskill?

Justice Reskill is a social enterprise that equips justice-involved individuals with the skills, resources, and connections needed to achieve lasting career success in tech and related high-wage industries. Through our online learning platform, cohort-style programming, apprenticeships, job placements, and advocacy efforts, we open doors for justice-involved individuals as they position themselves for more prosperous and fulfilling careers.

02. How does your organization create a more diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Justice Reskill was founded with equity as our true North Star and with the core belief that all people have the potential to thrive and contribute to society in meaningful ways. We recognize that the deeply rooted, systemic injustices within our criminal justice system are disproportionately damaging for Black, Hispanic, Latinx, and Indigenous communities across America, and in turn, we believe that our mission to empower justice-involved individuals will thus begin to reverse the damage imposed on these communities of color. We believe that equity is comprehensive, and we have designed our programs to be truly equitable, in that all our students are supported with the resources that they, as whole individuals, need to learn and progress through our programs.

We believe that by equipping justice-involved individuals with the specialized skills, professionalism, network, and experience needed to thrive in long-term, technology-related careers, they can rebuild their lives, their personal wealth, and their families. With this economic and social stability, they will eventually be positioned to become lifelong industry leaders or entrepreneurs who, by their example, can overturn damaging misperceptions around justice involvement, build a greater sense of belonging and representation for justice-involved individuals, and advocate on behalf of other victims of the criminal justice system.

Finally, we believe strongly that our work should always be guided by diverse voices and perspectives and will remain committed to promoting diversity and inclusion within our organization. As of early 2021, we are Black founded and Black-led, with a staff that is 60% BIPOC, 50% women, and 40% justice-involved. Our board of directors is 50% BIPOC, 50% women, and 40% justice-involved.

03. How will the grant from the Techstars Foundation be used to further the mission of your organization?

We believe that the support from the Techstars Foundation will further amplify Black leadership in our local business and nonprofit ecosystem while raising awareness of the challenges and unjust stigmas facing the justice-involved community. The support will also accelerate our ability to reskill more justice-involved folks, who have been especially disadvantaged by the COVID pandemic, and to help them more quickly achieve professional success and gain economic stability for their families.

04. How did you come to do this work and why is it important to you personally?

Being in tech is a privilege. At some point in every person's tech career, you begin to look around you and seek a way to make an impact on society, instead of just taking from it. When I looked around, I didn't see as many people that looked like me in the spaces I was in. That sent me on a deep dive to understand the inequity that exists in tech. The deepest inequity I see is for justice-involved folks. If one in four Black men in America have a record, and over 27% percent of justice-involved folks are unemployed, the reality of inequity in tech is staggering. Justice-involved folks are left completely out of the conversation. Armed with this information, I had to act.

05. What’s one accomplishment that are you proud of?

Recently one of our student learners let our team know that she and her young daughter were in a living arrangement that was not safe. Due to her background, she was being denied rental housing and apartments across the city. The constant rejection was destroying her confidence and impacting her ability to be present for her daughter. Not knowing if it would work, we offered to contact the apartment complex where she received the most recent rejection. We pled her case, wrote a letter of support, and issued a small financial guarantee assistance to show that we believed in her. A few days later we received word that the apartment management had reversed their rejection and our student was able to move herself and her daughter to a safe living space. These are the stories that are the most impacting for me and my team.  

Donate now and advance equity through entrepreneurship with the Techstars Foundation.