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How the Clean Slate Initiative is changing millions of lives

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How the Clean Slate Initiative is changing millions of lives

Sheena Meade knows first-hand the importance of second chances. In 2004, she was arrested right in front of her four children after her $87 check to pay for groceries bounced. While she was able to pay off the balance and fees related to her arrest right away, that one mistake rippled through her life. 

The simple things Meade could no longer do included:

  • Volunteering at her children’s school
  • Renting a car, a house, or anything else where she wanted
  • Being accepted to college, as well as certain certification and occupational licensing programs

“How am I supposed to get out and do better if no one will rent to me, no one will hire me, and I can’t even go to school?” Meade asked, when she spoke at TED2023 in Vancouver. This isn’t uncommon. Employers, landlords, and colleges lean on background checks to exclude people with criminal records.

Meade shared that 30 million people are eligible to have those records cleared, but only 10% of them are successful. It’s not surprising when you consider that most states require those people to track their eligibility and then navigate a complex and expensive petition-based process on their own to clear their records. 

“If your crime was being poor — like mine — record clearance is not even accessible,” Meade said.

Her experience inspired Meade to take action. As CEO of The Clean Slate Initiative (CSI), Sheena helps the organization work with states to pass and implement Clean Slate legislation. CSI is on a mission to help more states expand eligibility for record clearance and requires that records be cleared automatically when individuals meet their state’s requirements for clearance.

Research has proven the success of record clearance. Within a year, those individuals experience a 22% increase in earnings. 

Sheena Meade, TED2023

The Audacious Idea of Second Chances

Sheena has big goals and TED is playing a role in making them happen. In 2023, CSI became one of TED’s Audacious Project grantees. The grant is helping CSI enact a 50-state strategy that will increase access to record clearance, implementing the program in states where legislation has passed and pass laws where Clean Slate legislation is needed. Over the next six years, CSI plans to pass and implement laws that provide partial and full record clearance for up to 14 million more people, including 5 million people of color.

Before CSI received the Audacious grant, Clean Slate legislation had passed in ten states across the political spectrum, including Pennsylvania, Utah, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, and Michigan.

The spotlight of TED’s Audacious Project has helped CSI make even more progress with Minnesota and New York passing Clean Slate policies, Pennsylvania passing an expansion bill to give even more people access to record clearance and Connecticut taking steps to implement its Clean Slate law that was originally passed in 2021. This means new hope for people across the country.

“Think about all the second chances that you’ve received. Think about what that felt like, what that did for you. For me, it enabled me to turn my pain into purpose, to walk into a room and feel seen, not as damaged goods, but as untapped potential. That is the power of a second chance. That is the power of a clean slate.”

– Sheena Meade, CEO, The Clean Slate Initiative

What Is The Audacious Project?

Launched in April 2018, TED’s Audacious Project is a collaborative funding initiative designed to be a catalyst for social impact on a grand scale. With support from leading social impact advisor The Bridgespan Group, The Audacious Project brings together funders and social entrepreneurs to support bold solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges. To date, more than $4 billion has transformed ideas into action.

The funding collective is made up of respected organizations and individuals in philanthropy, including Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ELMA Philanthropies, Emerson Collective, MacKenzie Scott, Skoll Foundation, Valhalla Foundation and more.

“We started The Audacious Project five years ago as an experiment to see what could happen when we invite changemakers around the world to dream as big as they dare, and then shape their boldest ideas into viable plans,” said Chris Anderson, Head of TED. “It’s absolutely thrilling to see this much money raised for these projects. I’m in awe of the teams behind them — and of the donors who are funding them. Our experiment is gaining traction, and we believe it can achieve even more in the coming years.”

Chris Anderson and Anna Verghese, TED2018

Hear Audacious Project Grantees at TED

Not only does the Audacious Project serve as a launchpad for transformative ideas to take shape, but it also gives grantees a spot on the TED stage. When you attend TED, you’re sure to experience a TED Talk presented by one of our Audacious Project grantees, who will open your eyes to groundbreaking ideas and solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. This special part of the TED community has inspired attendees to discover their next passion project. 

What are you waiting for? Learn more about The Audacious Project and see which of them are presenting at TED this year.

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