I’ve read a lot of feedback over the past couple of days about our petition to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to reject Mark Wahlberg’s pardon request. The most interesting feedback was the thought-provoking stuff: specifically, let’s assume, for sake of argument, that Wahlberg has changed in the past 25 years. If that’s true, what could Wahlberg do to earn our trust, blessing, and goodwill?
I sat down with my colleagues and friends and talked about some ideas. These ideas are based on Wahlberg’s claim that the reason he wants the pardon is to allow him to expand his work mentoring youth from low-income communities. He’s also said the pardon will be “proof” that you can overcome your troubled past. Of course, part of the problem is he’s running into trouble getting the right licenses to open Wahlburgers restaurants in California, but we’ll get to that too.
Here’s our list of ideas for you to prove you’ve overcome your past, Mark. The ball’s in your court.
Get involved in the national campaign to “ban the box.”
Organizers are pushing back at the state and national level, against that question I’m sure you’ve seen on employment applications: have you ever been convicted of a felony? If you check this box, it’s likely your prospective employer will just trash your application. Wahlberg can speak to this disadvantage directly as someone who’s trying to expand his business and meeting roadblocks due to felony convictions.
Why not use that experience, and celebrity reach, to transform conditions for others, instead of just yourself, Mark?
Prioritize employment for people with convictions.
Wahlberg owns a business, that employs people. The Root editor Yesha Callahan wondered out loud on Twitter whether or not Wahlburgers might hire someone with a similar record to Wahlberg’s:
@mark_wahlberg is it true your restaurants don’t hire people w/criminal records?
— Yesha (@YeshaCallahan) December 8, 2014
Great point. If you want to prove that you can put your past behind you, why not help everyday people trying to do the exact same thing?
Ditch the badge.
Look, I know Mark thinks that becoming a reserve police officer puts him in a great place of authority to mentor youth. But think about this: for many youth in over-criminalized communities, a law enforcement badge does nothing to instill confidence or trust. It might do the opposite. Not to mention the boneheaded logic of this in a time when police are increasingly militarized and in the hot seat for killing unarmed Black people.
Just forget about the badge, Mark.
Financially support organizations that stand up against racist violence and/or work with youth.
This is one of my favorites. I asked some friends which organizations they think Wahlberg could get behind, so here’s a shortlist.
First is CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. In addition to being the organization that stood by Wahlberg’s victims in 1988, this grassroots group continues to fight police violence, environmental injustice, and economic exploitation in Asian American immigrant communities.
My friend Josh, who grew up in Lowell, MA, also suggested the United Teen Equality Center, based out of Lowell, which works with some of the very same youth Wahlberg professes to be concerned about. They serve a lot of Southeast Asian American youth, in particular, as well.
There are other Boston-area Asian American organizations Josh shouted out that Wahlberg could consider. VietAid. The Dorchester Vietnamese-American Civic Association. The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell. The Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts. The list goes on, and we’re just talking about the greater Boston area.
Why not put your money where your mouth is, Mark?
Support organizations that are fighting to prevent the double jeopardy faced by undocumented people with criminal convictions.
The fact of the matter is, it’s much harder for someone with a felony conviction who is also undocumented to turn their lives around. This is especially an issue in a lot of Southeast Asian American communities, where refugees from wars in Vietnam and Cambodia came to the U.S., lapsed on their status, and integrated into neighborhoods where gang membership is often a key to survival.
My friend Linh pointed out that Wahlberg’s assumption that you can turn your life around after a felony conviction is based on his privileges as a white male U.S. citizen: a great way to give back to the Southeast Asian American community would be to support organizations working to keep families together and fight the injustice of double jeopardy, like the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who advocate for individuals as well as broader policy changes.
Not everyone has the same shot at redemption, Mark. Use yours as a force for transformation.
Support the effort to bring more transformative justice programs to communities that need them.
One of the central issues Wahlberg is dealing with is a heavy-handed criminal justice system. My friend Justin pointed out that Wahlberg could become a funder and high profile advocate of these types of efforts.
Transformative justice is a concept and set of models that is based on the idea that the punitive criminal justice system does more harm than good, and that for real justice, we need to not just address wrongs, but also transform the conditions that surrounded the wrong in the first place, engaging the person who caused harm to find ways to become a force for change.
For you, fostering more transformative justice programs could be transformative justice, Mark. Go for it!
Establish a scholarship fund.
The cost of college continues to be a major hurdle for youth who are coming up out of the high school system. My friend Pavan suggested that Wahlberg could endow a scholarship fund with the mission of sending youth from low-income communities of color to college.
Not everyone gets a shot at stardom, Mark, but higher education is an amazing opportunity.
Support civic representation for Asian American & Pacific Islander communities.
According to the New American Leaders Project’s Immigrant Leadership Scorecard, Wahlberg’s home state of Massachusetts earns a dismal C in AAPI and Latino civic representation. One way to help ensure long term justice and equity is helping lawmaking bodies become more representative of the communities they serve. Wahlberg should consider supporting AAPI candidates who come from immigrant, low-income backgrounds who aspire to serve as legislators, since they are familiar with the unique challenges their communities face.
Help share the power, Mark.
These are eight solid suggestions. We’d love to hear yours! What could Mark Wahlberg do to demonstrate the transformation that’s happened inside of himself over the past 25 years?
EDIT: here’s bonus #9. Reappropriate found out that Wahlberg’s publicist gave an apology at a CAAAV/GLAD press conference in 1993, promising to make an anti-racism PSA. How about making good on that promise, Mark?
Cayden Mak is the Chief Technology Officer at 18MR.org.