Building his future from the ground up

Young black men with incarceration in their past have little in their favor as they try to get back on their feet: few employers or landlords will take a chance on them, so housing and jobs are scarce.

Antwann Dillard, 30, says the felony he committed at age 19 – a first-time offense for which he served 18 months -- continues to hinder him as he seeks employment. He is full of gratitude to Ujamaa Place, which serves men between 18 and 30 who seek support to overcome barriers to employment and housing.

He’s also grateful for his Kimball Court housing, part of a Beacon partnership with Ujamaa Place. His one-room apartment with a shared kitchen and bathroom isn’t fancy, but he appreciates being able to come home to a place that's his own. 

“This is a home. It’s not just a roof,” he said.

Dillard says the combination of intensive, personal support and stable housing has given him a second chance. He says the Ujamaa program is like a family where each man is welcomed and respected. There’s a spectrum of support from community meals three times a day, to interview clothes, to bus fare or a ride, mental health counseling, job training, access to the YMCA, and even Outward Bound trips and participating at Rondo Days. 

His biggest motivation is to be a good father to his six-year-old son, who he visits daily. He dreams of building a house for his family, enjoying family time, attending school plays, taking his son to Vikings games.

For now, Dillard’s building that future, literally from the ground up: He completed Ujamaa’s construction training program and earned OSHA-10 certification and is learning the ropes of the construction business, helping to install floors at job sites three days a week. He eventually wants to join a union. He holds a second job at a Burger King restaurant two days a week.

“There are still barriers but Ujamaa kind of gives you the training wheels. You’re not just looking up and wondering how to get up there,” Dillard said. “If you want it, they’re going to help you figure out how to do it."