Austin-Based Justice Center Will Get Funding From NFL

Texas Appleseed to get a portion of $6.5 Million

Austin-Based Justice Center Will Get Funding From NFL

Texas Appleseed, the Austin-based public interest justice center, has once again received a sizable grant from the National Football League, part of the NFL's Inspire Change social justice initiative. "The work Texas Appleseed does embodies the true meaning of Inspire Change," said Anna Isaacson, the NFL's senior VP for social responsibility. "Their continuous efforts to reform policies and practices that disproportionately affect low income residents and minorities, as well as their work with key decision makers, shows their commitment to Texans across the state."

Twenty-one organizations nationwide are divvying up $6.5 million in funds as part of this grant renewal. Some of these are well-known national nonprofits – Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club, National Urban League – but most are groups like Texas Appleseed whose work involves challenging the people in power and fighting for real change in how they treat the poor and marginalized. So the Inspire Change initiative is at least walking the talk it launched with in 2017, amid the Colin Kaepernick controversy and the prior year's police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile outside of St. Paul.

Texas Appleseed's core mission is to promote justice for all by "leveraging the skills and resources of volunteer lawyers, other professionals, and community partners to identify practical solutions to difficult, systemic problems." Jennifer Carreon, director of TA's Criminal Justice Project, highlights some of those practical solutions that the NFL is helping make happen, such as ending driver license suspensions for failure to pay previous fines (and then incurring new fines if caught driving without a license). "There's a cycle of debt [incurred by] drivers without a license, who are beholden to a third-party vendor to pay fees and fines for what are basically traffic violations," Carreon said, noting that this impacts "tens of thousands" of Texans. "And none of that money is going back into the communities. So we are working diligently to end that program statewide." They've already seen success in ending locally incurred fines leading to license suspensions in Harris County, Austin, and Dallas.

Other initiatives the NFL is helping pay for include "reducing the amount of contact with law enforcement for people with mental health or substance abuse issues"; a Clean Slate initiative making it easier for Texans with low-level criminal records to get those sealed (it's possible now, but only 1 in 700 eligible Texans has been successful at doing so); and getting higher education offerings into the state's adult and juvenile prisons, a "rare" criminal justice reform measure that also enjoys substantial support from conservatives.

Much of Texas Appleseed's support in its 26 years of existence has come from fellow Texans – law firms, foundations, philanthropies. But support from national organizations – particularly high-profile ones like the NFL – is becoming "imperative" to its work, says Carreon. "From a statewide perspective, the political landscape informs the business landscape, and the people who have the money to potentially fund things like this on the state level. We're in the belly of the beast here; criminal justice reform in Texas impacts the politics of Republicans throughout the Southern states, so what we do here matters." Support like this sends a message that the official politics of Texas "are not how all Texans feel, and that we need help," Car­reon says. "And that help comes in many forms, including funding."

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National Football League, NFL, Texas Appleseed, Inspire Change, Jennifer Carreon, Clean Slate, criminal justice reform, Anna Isaacson

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