By, Jessica Snow
Strangers sending messages of encouragement and hope to other strangers behind bars, and our community could not be happier.
This act of love and inclusion occurred earlier this month when Amazon Web Services (AWS) Global Inclusion Ambassadors held a Moment of Empathy Team Event with Flikshop. Nigel Moralee describes AWS’ Global Inclusion Ambassadors Program as: “A vital initiative within AWS, dedicated to fostering inclusion, diversity, and equity within the organization.” This vitality and inclusion was especially felt by our team and scholars present in the room that day.
With incredible partners and compassionate advocates like Bishop Bylery, and De’Rell Bonner, the AWS team event was constructed to include Global Inclusion Ambassadors at AWS HQ1 in Seattle and team members in Arlington at HQ2. The combined event incorporated our Flikshop Team and Flikshop School of Business (FSB) graduates after the completion of our recent cohort, hosted and funded by AWS.
The program began with opening remarks from Bishop Bylery, Sr. Account Manager in Priority Accounts, and his personal journey meeting Flikshop CEO, Marcus Bullock. Becoming an advocate and supporter of our mission, Bishop has opened many doors for Flikshop. From access to Innovation Grant Funding, speaking opportunities with AWS conferences and events, and cultivating a deepening partnership with AWS over all, Bishop has paved the way for Flikshop to expand its reach and impact. This was seen most recently by securing funding and serving as host to our FSB Cohort #109.
“What makes Marcus so special is his authenticity. He is real, He is mission-driven. And people are hungry for his message,” Bishop shared as he invited Marcus to the stage.
Marcus then shared his personal story from being a young person that was sentenced within the criminal justice system, to the importance of family support, his reentry experience, and his journey to social impact tech CEO. Marcus expounded on FSB’s partnership with AWS and the impact this partnership made on nine phenomenal graduates of our most recent cohort.
FSB Cohort #109 explored pathways to tech careers, even if the learning scholars are formerly incarcerated, like Bullock. FSB’s partnership with AWS allowed scholars to learn about career paths at the global company, entrepreneurship, building a brand post-incarceration, creating a business, crafting a pitch, and how to utilize generative AI tools to accomplish each of these quickly. Our scholars walked into HQ2 with an eagerness to learn and a motivation enhanced by the grind, hustle, compassion, and professionalism that surrounded them–both in the HQ2 building, and by AWS team members.
“With the Flikshop School of Business we are not just building a group of educated learners and scholars that are going to shape the world,” Marcus shared, “but these are the people that are also going to fill the seats in some of our companies all around the country.”
After Marcus, De’Rell Bonner, on the Seattle side of the event offered words of motivation and encouragement on the importance of corporate inclusion with social responsibility. He shared his experience interacting with our Flikshop School of Business scholars during cohort 109 and the capacity he saw within each of them. De’Rell beautifully tied in his FSB experience with the overall mission of Global Inclusion Ambassadors, which segued the program perfectly into the
Moment of Empathy.
The Moment of Empathy event was an incredible success. By the end of the event, Amazonians were off to send anonymous postcards directly to incarcerated residents within our Flikshop Neighborhood that are looking for words of encouragement. Attendees sent words of unity and hope in messages like:
“This is only a chapter in your journey, you still have the rest of the book to write!”
“May your path be filled with hope, and may the world unite in recognizing the value of every individual, regardless of their circumstances.”
“These scholars overcame every challenge post-incarceration and are now entering the tech industry. Remember: our past does NOT define our future.”
As ambassador event attendees in Seattle and the audience in Arlington sent their postcards, Bishop, Marcus, and recent FSB graduate, Shana Frundt, entered into a Q&A session. Shana -who in addition to being a graduate is also an entrepreneur and founder of Bandit Hare Care- reflected on her time in FSB.
“FSB was an amazing journey. For me, I took it for more than just a journey. It was something that I needed to accomplish for myself. When I was incarcerated in 2019, that experience took a toll. I lost myself, I thought my life was over. I was worried when I came home that everyone would look at me as a criminal,” Shana shared. “When I found out about FSB, I thought, what have I got to lose? Coming to class gave me the encouragement that I needed. It taught me, ‘You got this! Pick yourself up. You can be so much more if you’re willing to do more.’ I would have never known how to use these tools or had the self-encouragement to grow my business.”
Marcus added to this, saying, “We’re not only delivering skilled learning content in the classroom but also bringing a community of other folks within these offices into our classrooms that allow our scholars to be exposed to incredible careers and tech opportunities and tech tools. That is how we create change in our communities and I am super grateful for that.”
The Q&A also included interaction between the present and virtual audience.This included an emotional moment where a Seattle event team attendee shared gratitude on the storytelling offered in the program empowering her to share her own lived experience going from an unhoused person to an AWS staff member. Her question related to how the Flikshop School of Business is looking to expand– a topic we at Flikshop are super excited to continue exploring, because in our eyes, the possibilities are endless.
Before closing the event, Bishop, Marcus, & Shana discussed efforts to reduce recidivism and how that is occurring through FSB.
Marcus responded, “I think it’s interesting having conversations around the Future of Work and the inclusion of people that typically come out of marginalized communities. That was one of the biggest things we were specifically able to do inside of this cohort is that we were not only able to support our scholars and help them understand what possibilities there were as they looked for new career opportunities inside some of these amazing companies, but I think that there was some reciprocity of we could give to the AWs members that came to join us.”
It was exciting to see those same AWS, BEN-DMV, and accounts team members in the room to support the Moment of Empathy. The incredible welcome, support, and continued connection within this group has been immense, having a tremendous impact on Flikshop School of Business Scholars and team, alike.
Bishop closed the program stating, “Here at HQ2 the feedback from everybody that was a part of [FSB] was just overwhelming. How excited they were to have FSB in the space. What a great experience it was to collaborate with everybody. This left a lasting positive and meaningful impression on all involved, and we’re excited to figure out ways to
host FSB again in the future.”
We, at Flikshop, are grateful to the attention and inclusion the AWS team has shown Flikshop and returning citizen scholars. It was beautiful to see a shared Moment of Empathy for all as currently incarcerated neighbors were included in the partnership. The story is not over in this collaboration as AWS and Flikshop continue to seek inclusion and equity in our current workforce, and in our society as a whole.