Look Inside: Floyd Stafford, Research & Policy

Floyd Stafford is a Senior Project Manager of Field Building in Heartland Alliance’s Research & Policy division. While he is one of the newest members of the department, he is not a new face to Heartland Alliance, having played a major role in one of our most innovative programs, READI Chicago. Floyd is a born and raised Chicagoan who has a passion for sports, family, hip hop, and his community and has made each an integral part of his life. Meet Floyd Stafford!

Share a Little About Yourself!

I am from the West Side of Chicago, born and raised in the Austin community and I still live there to this day. Prior to my current role, I was the Community Project Manager for READI Chicago with Heartland Alliance. And prior to that, I was the Legislative Coordinator for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council where my charge was to reduce the population at the jail and juvenile detention center.

What brought you to Heartland Alliance?

It was a conversation with Eddie Bocanegra, who is the Sr. Director of READI Chicago. We go way back from undergrad and graduate school at University of Chicago. While working for the Justice Advisory Council and helping to establish a community triage center, Eddie gave me a call, pitched READI and how it was an innovative program, and I wanted to be a part of it. One of the things I always wanted to do was go back into the community and do some meaningful work in close proximity with communities of color, and READI Chicago gave me that opportunity. So I made the decision to come to Heartland Alliance.

While at READI, I was working in North Lawndale, which I call my “community of transformation”. And what I mean by that is, when I was released in 2009, I came to North Lawndale. It was the first stop during my re-entry process and I spent some time taking part in programs there—I was connected to employment, internships and built great relationships that have served me well. So I wanted to go back and engage with organizations and partners, coordinate, plan, and build from the ground up. It took a high level of partnership and working with the community, and I wanted to do it because it was great to work with individuals who normally do not get served because they are overlooked. It was good to see them be acknowledged and serviced and I really enjoy working with the participants using a strength based, restorative justice approach.

What was the driving force behind moving into public policy work? Why is that part of social justice work so important?

I like to say thatpolicy chose me.” Part of my identity is that I was one of the first cohorts in Chicago to be part of the integrated school busing systems when I was a student in the 4th grade. This was when kids from communities of color who were facing educational inequities—the qualities of our books, our schooling, everything was different—were bused to schools in predominately white neighborhoods with more resources and opportunities. Prior to us kids of color coming to the school, they had open campus lunch at the elementary school, which I had never experienced, but within a week of us being there, they cut that out. It was a response from communities not wanting kids of color walking around, going to the stores and things like that. At the time, I didn’t make a big deal about it, but that experience, along with many others, helped me realize the fact that in America, and in Chicago, there is a tale of two cities and that there are 70-something communities that have a lot of diversity and things that should be celebrated, but to this day there are still racial inequities that exist when Black and Latinx kids show up in spaces that are traditionally white, and that changes policies and people’s behaviors.

I am also a person with a criminal record and one thing that became apparent to me that quality education was not something afforded to everyone. My parents were able to provide me with an opportunity, but while I was incarcerated, I met people who weren’t able to read and I helped them read and write letters and realized that many of the individuals were going to be released back into the community and have a criminal record and have all of these barriers to obtaining employment housing and things that should be equal and fair to access. And in the spaces where people are making policies, there are not enough representation of these folks with lived experience there. I shudder to think about all of the decisions being made by people, as well meaning as they may be, who don’t know the impact of these policies and how they are going to play out once they are implemented in peoples’ lives. It made me feel like I needed to be at the policy table and refine my efforts and shape myself around policy making. And quite frankly, the work I do is in my own self-interest—my kids are people of color, they’re growing up in a community of color, and I want to try and level the playing field to help them achieve their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I want them, along with people who have records, and everyone in the community, to feel like they have opportunities in society, because at the end of the day, policy is what helps shape the activity that affects the community.

When did you know that you were in the place you needed to be?

Now, if that makes sense. Heartland is a great place to work. The culture of innovation and allowing diverse people of all ethnicities, creeds, sexual orientations—the whole gambit of people, is what a human rights organization should be and just shows me that we care about a lot of different individuals and they are allowed to come here, grow, and learn. We say that in the language we use here but I also see it in practice. My team is pretty dope, too.

What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?

I am all about music. Music is a tool of healing and inspiration. I’m an old school B-Boy. Every generation owns something, and mine owns hip-hop, and part of my love comes from the fact that I am a DJ. I had a breakdancing crew, and all of that stuff. I also love sports, and I coach youth football, and something that I want to be doing ten years from now is working with, and coaching kids that want to play sports, because there are a lot of parallels between sports, especially football, and life—teamwork, problem solving, bonding—those things help shape you as you grow.

Who inspires you?

My mom. She’s amazing. My mom went back to school at the age of 67 and got her bachelor’s degree in social work, primarily because she didn’t understand me and some of my maladaptive behaviors, and in an effort to reclaim her son, she felt the need to learn more, understand more, and understand that I was not an anomaly in my community, but that I was actually, unfortunately, becoming the norm. So, that bothered her, and she wanted to intervene. She is a spiritual woman and comes from a long history of social justice as well. In the 60’s she was part of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party and helped establish shelters and things of that nature. To this day, at 88 years old, she still goes to the Daley Center and sits out there and prays for people going in and out of the Daley Center.