By MARC H. MORIAL
National Urban League
“It’s really about making sure that people understand that formerly incarcerated people can make a contribution. And that a person’s mistake, or the worst mistake that they made in their life, shouldn’t control what happens with the rest of your life.” – Nike executive Larry Miller
He rose from the crime-ridden streets of West Philadelphia to become a top executive at one of the world’s most successful companies and president of an NBA team.
But throughout his nearly 40-year rise through the ranks of corporate America, he harbored a terrible secret. When he was 16, he shot and killed another teenager.
Larry Miller spent much of his teens and 20s incarcerated for a variety of crimes, including four and a half years for second-degree degree murder. He earned both his GED and his accounting degree from Temple University behind bars. But when the accounting firm Arthur Anderson withdrew its job offer after Miller disclosed his criminal record – without mentioning the homicide – Miller vowed never again to speak of his violent past.
“The secret was born,” Miller wrote in his just-published memoir, Jump: My Secret Journey from the Streets to the Boardroom. “It has lived within me for more than three decades, corroding me from the inside, haunting me day and night bringing me to my knees with migraine headaches and awful dreams.”
Miller’s remarkable journey shows the transformative power of educational rehabilitation programs when they are deployed in prisons, and the tragically lost potential when they are not. The program that launched Miller’s career no longer exists, he told Sneaker News
“To me, that’s one of the reasons to do this – is to talk about the fact there are programs that are helping people to get educated or learn some type of skill while they’re inside is gonna help not only them, but also society once they get out,” Miller said. “I feel like my story is proof that somebody can change, that somebody can change their life and turn their life around and become positive members of society.”
The National Urban League, which has served formerly incarcerated adults for more than 50 years, shares Miller’s view. Our Urban Re-entry Jobs Program affords formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials, learn employment-focused skills and form positive relationships with their communities.
Miller was devastated when Arthur Anderson rescinded its job offer, but the accounting firm was the bigger loser. Because of an arbitrary and discriminatory policy, the firm let an extraordinary talent slip through its fingers. That’s why the NUL advocated for federal legislation that went into effect last month that bans federal contractors from inquiring into job applicants’ criminal backgrounds. We continue to push for policies that prohibit employers from discriminating against the formerly incarcerated.
As part of his journey, Miller recently met with the family of Edward David White, the young man he killed, and plans to establish a scholarship foundation to benefit White’s descendants and others in attending college or trade school.
White’s 84-year-old mother, Barbara Mack, says she has forgiven Miller.
“If I didn’t forgive him, God wouldn’t forgive me.”
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.