Law professor touts forgiveness during TedxPittsburgh talk

When she was approached to submit a discussion topic for this year's TedxPittsburgh event playing off of the general theme Activate, Tracey McCants Lewis didn't have to think very long.

An assistant clinical professor and pro bono coordinator in the School of Law, McCants Lewis teaches in the school's Civil Rights Clinic and the Unemployment Compensation Clinic. After submitting the topic Activating Forgiveness, she was just one of 13 individuals selected to speak at the May 22 TedxPittsburgh, an independently organized, community-based version of the larger TED talks.

"I talked about activating forgiveness with regard to people with past criminal backgrounds, specifically how employers, landlords and others need to look at these people as individuals-not at what their past shows," said McCants Lewis. "Right now, a large number of people with criminal backgrounds are being deprived of adequate employment or from employment overall, or they can't live in subsidized housing because of a particular crime or because private landlords can just turn them away."

During her 15-minute talk, McCants Lewis emphasized that activating forgiveness with these individuals is an important topic not just in Pittsburgh, but also nationally. "For example, individuals with low-level drug offenses may face major obstacles in obtaining employment and housing because of their record and the requirement to check the box acknowledging their record on job and housing applications," she explained. "We have to rethink how we are treating those trying to reenter society. We have to give them opportunities to work and live because if we don't, we will see an increase in recidivism and a further breakdown of our communities."

From an economic standpoint, McCants Lewis discussed the positive impact of these individuals getting the opportunity to become productive members of society. "If they're working, paying taxes, buying goods and services, buying property-that builds our economic system," she added. "Why not give someone an opportunity vs. having them in jail, where we, as citizens, are paying to house and feed them as inmates."

McCants Lewis also explained the work that Duquesne law students do through the Civil Rights Clinic, representing eligible individuals pursuing expungements and pardons that are preventing them from finding work, housing and more.

"By activating forgiveness, there is great benefit to that individual, to our society-you're building community," said McCants Lewis.

Duquesne University

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