Giving Second Chances

Giving Second Chances

Giving Second Chances

Fortune Small Business
July.August 2007

The clerk at Walgreens had a strange glint in her eye as Roy Jay approached her counter. Next thing he knew, she was rushing toward him, arms outstretched. “Thank you!” she cried, hugging the befuddled 6-foot 4-inch Jay. “I got my job here because of you.”

The clerk was one of the thousands in Multnomah County (which encompasses metro Portland, Ore.) who have benefited from Project Clean Slate (, a program Jay founded in 2005 to help local residents expunge convictions for offenses such as marijuana possession and driving without insurance. The project converts outstanding fines to community service or completely erases some offenses, restoring driver’s licenses and clean records and paving the way for better jobs, housing, and education.

Jay launched Project Clean Slate as a one-time event, a Saturday in July when judges, deputy district attorneys, lawyers, and counselors gathered at a community college to meet with 500 applicants who had passed background checks. Instead, an estimated 3,000 queued up in the summer sun. Only a third of the hopeful could be processed that day, but after watching one Portlander after another walk outside and break down in tears of relief, Jay knew the project couldn’t end there. It now has an office across from the county courthouse.

Jay, 59, is the owner of several Portland businesses, including three limousine-rental companies and a convention marketing firm. He is also CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon. The impetus for the program was that Jay and other chamber members were having to turn away too many prospective employees because of a suspended driver’s license or a mistake in the distant past.

Since January about 100 additional minor offenders a week have had their slates cleaned. Jay is seeking state funding to expand to other counties in Oregon.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” he says.


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