On Thursday, Oct. 3, Sinclair partnered with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, as well as the Ohio Department of Youth Services to host a seminar called “Effectuating Change from the Inside Out.”
The event was free to the public and starred Jeffery Henderson, famously known as “Chef Jeff” from the hit TV show “Flip my Food.” The symposium was an all-day event that included 17 speakers and two workshops.
Many of the featured speakers were formerly incarcerated and shared their experiences. A few other speakers, such as Kemba Smith of the Kemba Smith Foundation, spoke of their work to help educate the public on drug policy and their hopes of reforming the criminal justice system.
The focus of the event was on encouraging young people to work hard to better themselves, despite the criminal culture that surrounds them.
Henderson grew up in the 1980s, when cocaine was just becoming popularized. He lived in a poor neighborhood in LA and the possibility of making fast cash presented hope for him and his community.
“I wanted to create my own version of the American dream for me and my family,” Henderson stated. By dealing cocaine, he could make as much as $35,000 a week.
Henderson was charged with drug trafficking in 1988 and was sentenced to 10 years and seven months in prison. Despite his situation, he was determined to turn his life around. He read all the books he could and took business classes that were offered in prison. Eventually, he worked in the kitchen, where he discovered his passion for cooking.
When Henderson’s sentence was over in 1997, it was hard for him to find work with his criminal background. After numerous rejections, he was offered a job as a dishwasher. Henderson worked hard and eventually moved up the ladder to higher positions. By 2001, Henderson was a well-established cook with titles such as “Chef of the Year.”
Henderson knows he’s fortunate to be where he is today. When looking back, he acknowledges that though he made the choice to deal drugs, he, like many others, was criminalized because of the circumstances of his community.
“We were growing up on the streets with no guidance, no purpose. We did what we could to survive,” Henderson said.
Most of Henderson’s speech gave insight into the experience of poverty. He spoke of the desperate measures people must take in order to get food on the table. Even though parents make the sacrifices they do to provide a better life for their children, kids are impacted by seeing their parents struggle and ultimately make the same choices.
“I would’ve never imagined the impact cocaine would have on our communities and for future generations to come,” Henderson said.
Although Henderson claims we are living in a society where criminal culture is thriving, his story proves to us that change is possible and that it’s never too late to start over.