Empowering communities

Love’s commitment beyond Black History Month.

“Love’s has been a tremendous partner with the Urban League over the years.” This sentiment from Dr. Valerie Thompson, president and CEO of Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City, highlights Love’s commitment to positively impacting the lives of those in black and brown communities.

For many years, Love’s has advocated for inclusion, equality and community development through an ongoing partnership with the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City (ULOKC), a United Way Partner Agency. Love’s specifically supports their Community Convening & Social Justice (CCSJ) Department, with a focus on criminal justice reform and working to make things fair. At the heart of Love’s company values lies a dedication to empowering communities and working to address these social and economic inequalities.

“It’s because of Love’s generous support that our department exists and we’re able to do this work,” Jabar Shumate, vice president of CCSJ, says. “I’m very grateful that Love’s is a company that gets resources into the hands of folks who are really touching the community.”

A photo of a Love's employee reading to students at Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City
Participants in ULOKC’s fifth annual “Black Men Read (We Read)” event.

Courtney Franklin, Love’s manager of community relations, has watched this relationship grow. "We've partnered with the Urban League here in Oklahoma City for well over a decade now," she says. "A lot of the reasoning behind that partnership is due to Jenny [Love Meyer]. Love's has given nearly a million dollars to them because of the incredibly good work they do helping people – teaching them new work and career skills, assisting with homebuyer education and affordable housing, small business resources so people can start their own businesses – you name it! The Urban League is all about putting those with real needs in touch with the resources required to make a better life for themselves."

Many non-violent offenders who have paid their debts benefit greatly from the Urban League’s criminal justice reform program. Lawyers may tell clients their convictions will eventually “fall off” their record, but that is not the case. Expungement is a lengthy process that comes at a great cost – with some lawyers charging nearly $1,000 per hour. That is where the Urban League steps in with its program called HERE: Highlighting Expungement and Rehabilitative Excellence. Through the HERE program, eligible clients receive invaluable legal and financial assistance, ensuring a smoother expungement process. Since 2021, ULOKC has saved 1,900 clients over $1.1 million in legal and court filing fees.

One of those clients, Eboni, is thankful for the work ULOKC does. “It’s very expensive,” Eboni says. “I’ve looked into the expungement process on my own and although the initial filing is only $150, they really advise you to have an attorney because there’s so much paperwork and minute details that need to be taken care of properly, so you don’t get yourself into more trouble trying to advocate for yourself.”

“That part was a barrier for me, which I know is a barrier for a lot of people,” Eboni continues. “After receiving my charges and even completing all the requirements such as probation and community service, I would go into interviews, I would make it past the screening process for certain jobs, I would make a great impression on the hiring managers and recruiters and then a week or so later, I’d get that letter of adverse action.”

Eboni’s criminal record has been sealed, allowing her to secure employment and aspire to a promotion. She says, “I just had to sit still until I was able to have that cleared. Now that that’s happened, I can look forward to having a higher position, increasing my revenue and just continuing to go forward with my life.” Shortly afterward, Eboni continues with, “Being able to be a part of different community endeavors and show how I can make an impact on those around me, that’s priceless.”

The HERE initiative not only aids individuals like Eboni by sealing records, which significantly enhances employment opportunities, but also offers crucial workforce development and entrepreneurial training. By improving job prospects and facilitating access to quality housing, it aims to break the cycle of recidivism.

The Community Convening & Social Justice department at ULOKC also operates another program, this one tied specifically to inclusive economic development. This program provides opportunities for income generation and focuses on essential training. Love’s contributions to the Urban League have allowed it to partner with Metro Technology Centers in the development of curricula focused on retail industry fundamentals, customer service and sales certifications, business of retail operations and profit certification, as well as warehouse, inventory and logistics training. Additionally, Love’s support allowed ULOKC to partner with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber to work on developing data systems which identify gaps in diversity and economic development throughout the city.

Through these dual initiatives – HERE and the inclusive economic development program – both ULOKC and Love’s aim to reduce poverty, improve living standards and contribute to building a more equitable society. But beyond financial support, Love’s commitment extends to actively participating in events that promote community equality. In collaboration with ULOKC, Love’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG) helped with this week's fifth annual Black Men Read (We Read) event. This event invited team members to engage with the community by reading Black-authored books to Black and other underserved children. Events such as this align with Love's broader mission to foster inclusivity and make a positive impact in local communities.

As Love’s celebrates Black History Month, it once again renews its pledge to advocate for justice, equality and community development. By supporting the Urban League's CCSJ programs and actively participating in community events, Love’s hopes to inspire positive change and contribute to building a future where every individual can thrive.