Jackie: Friends, thank you for tuning into Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. My guest today is Pastor Tony Lowden. Pastor Lowden is Vice President of Reintegration and Community Engagement at Viapath Technologies. He's also head pastor and founder of Jabez Ministries and the Vice Chair for the State Charter School's Commission of Georgia.
Pastor Lowden founded and served as executive director of Stone Academy, an afterschool enrichment program for at-risk children in the Macon Bibb County area. He has served in other leadership capacities and numerous civic organizations in middle Georgia. Pastor Lowden is the former pastor of Maranath Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, where his congregation includes former President Jimmy Carter, and he is a chaplain for the Secret Service in southwest Georgia.
Tony, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm so excited to talk to you.
Tony: Well, Jackie, thank you for having me. I feel honored.
Jackie: Oh, thank you. Will you tell us a little about yourself, your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
Tony: Well, I'm just a kid from North Philadelphia that have sound, has found favor in everything that I, God has allowed me to do. I'm originally from North Philadelphia, 10th and Cumberland. So some people when they say they're from Philadelphia, you always ask 'em where, because they could be for upstate Pennsylvania and they claim Philadelphia.
But I'm from 10th and Cumberland Night, and I call it one of the worst ghettos in America. I grew up there, in Philadelphia where my mom ran a trap house in that area.
Tony: and I was a slave of that trap house. And for those of your listeners that might not know what a trap house is, it's a bootleg house to the OGs. It's a speakeasy for the old, old, old OGs and for the Generation Z, it's a trap house in all the rap music.
Tony: Well, I was a slave to the house where it was my job to come home every day to clean up the mess, the vomit, take out the trash, pick up the needles, sometimes pick up my mother off the floor and clean up, provide.
But I grew up in that, what I call that filth, but I had a nana that said, if you come to church, I'll bake your banana pudding, and I would take that journey 27 blocks of 27th and Lehigh and go to church on every Sunday chasing that banana pudding, but more importantly, my nana would always speak life into me.
Tony: After church, she would take this balm with baby oil and cocoa butter and rub it into a balm and then tell me to take off my shirts and take off my pants when she would rub it into the wounds on my body, from a beating with a braided extension cord for my mother, from, not from being a bad kid, not from being in the gangs or following my uncles or nephews or anything like that, but just because I, I came home from school with after school activities and being late to clean up the trap house.
And so growing up in all that gave me a perspective. It showed me something different. I knew all along that that there was a call on my life and then that God wanted me to do something different cuz I was always asking him the questions. Why? Why did I have to be born in a family like this? Right?
Why is all my uncles involved in gangs and shooting? Why are Black men shooting and killing each other over a street corner they don't own? well, why are we doing all those things? And how come we're, my family's in and out of prisons? I was always asking why. You just couldn't feed me anything because I always had these questions.
And, getting out of North Philadelphia, being able to go and, get an education, travel around the country, I always knew that I wanted to put back. sports gave me that opportunity to play sports, and showed me a new world other than just the ghetto of North Philadelphia, you know? And it gave me an opportunity to have a passion to want to do something about it.
I think it's when, when people talk about all the accolades that Tony Lowden's done and stuff like that, it's because I'm working hard to kill myself for what I grew up in. I'm working hard to try to do everything I can to change the lives of other kids and people that come behind me. You know, we can't celebrate Black history unless we want to be a part of the new history that we want to try to create for our, our people.
You can't celebrate Harriet Tubman and still not want to have black men and Black women free to this day because we are still not free yet because there's so many different things that hold us down and have their foot on ours. So that's a little bit about the, the makeup of Tony Lowden.
Jackie: Tony, thank you so much for sharing that and, and for that vulnerability. You know, one of the things that we do as humans is make assumptions about people and, and who they are and what their background is based on what they're doing now, right. Or what they look like, or what those accolades are and, and understanding that backstory and, and where that passion comes from because, you know, I read a, a brief snippet for our listeners. of the things that you are doing and have done. It's so brief in the research that I did, just understanding more about you, and it's amazing all of the things that you touch and influence and understanding that backstory and that drive is, is so amazing.
And you know, I, I had a nana that was amazing and poured, loving into me as well. and so I, I resonate with that and, and know how important, those family members can be.
Tony: Maybe one of these days we can honor the nanas, right? Who made a difference in so many of our lives.
Jackie: Absolutely. Absolutely. So we talked about where that passion comes from. tell us a little about some of the, the organizations that you're involved in. Let's start with Viapath Technologies. What's the mission of that Organization?
Tony: I'm really excited about Viapath. it gives me a unique opportunity to be able to do a lot of things I want to do at the White House, without government being involved, without, having to worry about an election or trying to win an election. The Viapath allows me to be able to be the vice president of reintegration and education and community engagement.
Simply means that it gives 'em an opportunity to do everything I can to help men and women inside of our prisons through technology, using technology to reengage and bring families back together. Using technology to put high school diplomas on, on tablets, on the inside, heating and air, welding, social skills, career skills, all those things I want to do while I was at the White House, and now I get opportunity to do it because this is the mission of the company.
Tony: because our CEO have had a, a family member that was just as involved, and when they came home, they couldn't make it because they didn't have any resources. We call corrections, corrections because we believe that it should correct people lives when they come home, when in reality we should call it warehousing because we're, it's all we're doing.
And so this gives me an opportunity to change the game with that. So for we just loaded North Carolina a week ago with 39,000 tablets, including men and women who are on death row, and some listeners say we give tablets to people on death row? Absolutely, because that man, that woman may have a child growing up in the hood of North Philadelphia, who you want him to keep that engagement and speak to his son or his daughter, don't follow my footsteps. They might not be able to go and visit them in the prison. But then what if, what if by chance going through the process, this person sitting on death row get an opportunity to be found out that they're innocent?
So shouldn't we be looking at ways to correct them too? and not on that because of the staffing shortages around the nation. It keeps the facilities safe when inmates are learning educational stuff, learning stuff that changes their mentality. Learning career stuff, of finding ways to communicate back and forth with their families.
Changing the game for real. Not just saying, we gonna put lipstick on a pig, but do whatever we can to change the game. And that's what we're doing in this space, and I'm really excited about being a part of it because I believe it changes the game. Also in North Carolina, we are putting all their educational stuff on the tablets as well.
We're putting, their manufacturing stuff on tablets. for the state of, Tennessee, we put all the correctional training for staff on tablets, also on their computers because the pandemic has changed the game. Those that know anything about prisons, volunteers can't get in like they used to because staff shortage and because we're still dealing with the, with Covid, those who's helping with high school diplomas or GEDs can't get in like they used to. Prison fellowship, they can't get in like they used to.
There's lockdowns in prisons that take place because of staff shortages. North Carolina has closed three prisons because of staff shortages, and so how do we continue to deliver spirit of excellence because men and women have a time certain they're coming home. No one's gonna say, we gonna pause your date and then catch up later on and prepare you to get ready to come home.
So how do we give them what I call transitional accountability plans when there's no reentry counselor coming inside the prison? We look at ways of doing it through technology where they can figure out where am I going to eat? Where am I gonna live, where I'm gonna get a job? We even have an application on our tablets called Honest Jobs where a person can actually look for jobs, put in the crime that they've committed, start looking for jobs, find those jobs, apply for those jobs, or start training while they're on the inside with our tablets for those jobs.
Jackie, it's a true game changer. And I am so excited to be about to be the part of it. We are, one of the largest tablet com companies in the nation. We have 60 plus percent of the market and, and growing like crazy. and we are getting into juvenile space as well because we have to do that with juveniles as well. And so it, it is a, it's an honor to be working for Viapath.
Jackie: That's so amazing. And you know, as we expand the definition of diversity from race and gender to include other aspects like age and disability and neurodiversity and personality, right, and experience. What we're not talking about often enough is the experiential diversity of formerly incarcerated people. Right. So that's not yet part of the conversation. People wanna say, you know, oh, we should have more equity and inclusion. And then when, you know, you say something about formerly incarcerated, you get the close up, right?
And last year I wrote a, an article for Forbes on this specific topic in detail, understanding in my own research that so many of the people that are incarcerated are incarcerated for these small crimes that very often relate to drugs that now are legal in many states that they wouldn't be serving time for, that are, that are, you know, not, you know, dangerous to other people type of crimes. Right. And we don't realize that we just put them into this figurative box the same way we do an actual box
Jackie: we don't wanna say, okay, now it's time to help them get this second chance that, that we say, you know, when you come out of there, you know, do better, you know, have a, a legitimate career and be gainfully employed and all of the things. And, and then we're not helping with that. And that's, that's such a problem.
What do we, Tony, as business leaders need to be considering when we're receiving applications from formerly incarcerated individuals? Or even a step further, how do we benefit as an organization and as a society from giving these folks the opportunity for gainful employment?
Tony: I, I wanna say that's the biggest challenge. that our nation need to really put the gas pedal on and change the whole game because we have 78 million people in our nation that has felonies, 78 million, and some of them are walking the streets right now in this invisible prison because they can't get a job.
Tony: can't get an apartment to live because they have a felony. they don't have their, vital records because they have a felony. some that have been arrested and, and come from public housing, can't go back into public housing because they have a felony. If we truly are going to be this nation of second chances, we have to give individuals who are now on our tablets that we're working with a second chance.
There are stacking credentials on the inside of the facilities waiting to come home. But what we do, we put 'em in this box that's invisible prison and saying, oh, you know what? Not in my backyard. You can't live here. Oh, we're not hiring felons. And here we are in a great resignation where people are staying home and not working, and we need labor.
We need people who can come in and work. And so in, in my experience, I've seen where individuals who are formerly incarcerated have become some of our best workers. They want to work, they want to provide for the families, they want to come back home. So we have to ask ourselves the question, do we constantly push them to the side when they end up living on our streets, living on our bridges because they can't take care of themselves, because desperate people do desperate things.
The federal government department of Labor would bond a company, give them a bond to protect them from theft or anything that may harm them. Not only that, the federal government gives you also a tax credit of $2,500 for hiring returning citizens, so it's a win-win. The other biggest piece that I, I strongly believe is that we can start moving our economy in ways we've never moved. All the vacancies that we have right now, we can't get things to market because we have all these labor shortages, but we have this surplus of individuals that want to work our company at Viapath, we're hiring returning citizens. We're putting them in key roles because they're forensic peer mentors.
You'll find across the nation that there's department of Corrections that are hiring returning citizens to come back in and mentor men and women. Why? Because they're, they're forensic peer mentors, right? Or credible messengers in some case. When I was with the federal government, we created a policy that allowed the Washington DC parole and probation to hire credible messengers to come alongside of people who are coming back home to be the guides, their GPS, to show them their way.
Not only that, in our company, we're standing up a staffing agency to hire returning citizens across the country, so that those who may be just as involved already out, those who are just as involved coming out, they can go to a place, sign up and get temp work and we're, we will take the risk because we know that these people want to work.
There's a stigma that individuals who are just as involved shouldn't be working. Well, let me flip it. There are politicians who comes up on ethic charges in our Congress. They end up going through the ethic committees. They end up being found guilty. They're not kicked out of office, that goes into their files. They end up staying in their positions instead of having a stigma that they are a returning citizen, justice involved. We should do the same about men and women who are in our prisons and come home with a non-violent record or change their lives, wanting to get back into the community to do whatever we can.
If, if they want to feed their children isn't that what the things that we want so that their children don't end up incarcerated? Because if the parents are desperate, the children are desperate. When the pandemic hit Las Vegas, the hospitality capital of the world, had an issue because they needed labor. People were not working. They worked with a program called Hope for Prisoners, hope for Prisoners, did all the training, the men and women that was incarcerated, and when they got out, they joined the Hope for Prisoners program under John Ponder.
He trained them for 18 months. He became mentoring them. The sheriff that arrested them also came alongside with this individual and put their name on them. And Las Vegas stayed open and opened faster than any other city in the nation. Why? Because they took down the stigma. They not only put them in hospitality jobs, warehouse and manufacturing, CDLs, they put 'em in all over Las Vegas, and they're still doing it to this day. And that's why John Ponder's program have a 6% recidivism rate.
Tony: nation's average is 71 plus, and he has a 61% recidivism rate in Las Vegas, Sin City. What's the secret sauce? It's being able to trust the individuals and know that we can take the protective measures to give them an opportunity to be back in our communities. A lot of counties and cities have done what we call band a box, but band a box is not good unless you put somebody in the box.
Tony: You gotta put them in a chair in your company and give them a job.
Women who are firefighters in prison should be to come home and be a firefighter when they, when they get out. Women and men who are putting out fires in California with, with the California, department of Correction. When they get out, they should be to apply in the state to get an opportunity. We should band a box on industrial license all across the nation because if I'm learning how to cut hair inside the prison, I should be to get my license with the Secretary of State and come home and feed my family and not work in the shadows, come out of the shadows.
This is what companies need to do, and if, if a company really wants to try to be a good social justice partner in our communities across the nation, we do it by helping these communities that are in distress, where there's tension, and bring jobs in those communities and help those communities grow, not just make a profit off those communities, we shall allow them to work in those communities.
Jackie: Absolutely. And you know, I love that. And you know, another thought about being incarcerated. If you think about our criminal justice system, what we see is you have two people, different demographics, commit the same crime: one's going to prison, one's not. And so, but they're, they're, they did the same thing.
Right. And so, but you're, you're putting those stigmas on the one that went to prison versus the one that didn't. Right. And, and if you think about, you know, the, the wealth gap and, and the earning potential for a person with a felony versus not, it's so significant. And, and going back to that first point, if we wanna create that systemic equity right, that, that so many of us say that we want from, you know, from in our communities and our organizations, we have to have that in mind and consider that and give that equity a real shot from the criminal justice and, and the formally incarcerated individual's perspective.
Tony: So if your listeners, go down to North Philadelphia and they know where Temple University is, you'll see that Temple University has done some great things up and down Broad Street. Up and down, maybe two or three blocks into Broad Street, creating housing for students, creating an economic engine for students who are going to school to work and do all those things.
But the people that have lost their property in those areas, or the gentrification in those areas, they have not went deep enough in those communities. Every city has a 10 to 15, 20-year plan, aware they're gonna grow and what this city gonna look like in 10 to 15, 20 years. Every mayor has that plan, but what happens in these distressed communities, they're not a part of that plan.
Usually they're part of their plans where we need that community. We need that community for a ballpark or football stadium. But more importantly, you need to include them in the plan, not just when you want their votes during midterms and general elections. And speaking of voting, we should also allow people with felonies get their voting rights back.
If they're true, a true returning citizens, allow them to come back and vote. You want them to work, pay taxes, but can't vote. That's called taxation without representation. If you want to bring them right back into the community and make them feel like they're part of the American fabric, open the door wide open because how do I lose my citizenship just because I went to jail for a mistake maybe on some marijuana that you now make legal?
Jackie: That's right.
Tony: We should look at ways of doing everything we can to take our prison system and say it's a system where we're trying to correct behavior, not punish people with a lifetime of poverty, and that's what we're doing in a lot of our communities.
Some communities you have what we call drug courts. Some communities you have where people go to prison. Some communities you have where you have traffic court, some communities have where people go to prison. There's a big disparity in sentencings across our nation and the federal government has to address that. I tried to address that when I was at the White House. Unfortunately elections has consequences.
Jackie: Mm-hmm. Let's talk about that a little bit, Tony. Former President Donald Trump appointed you as reentry czar for formerly incarcerated individuals entering the workforce, which former president Jimmy Carter wholly endorsed and was excited about that. What was it like to work in that environment and tell us the difference in, in working in, in, you know, having conversations and the mindset of two different presidents of different parties.
Can you give us a little bit of the inside scoop there and how you navigated that? with President Trump?
Tony: Well, I, I, I, I think first of all, I've been able to navigate that all my life growing up. when I was in California, and I stopped playing sports I worked for Willie Brown. Who at that time was the speaker of the house in California and I was a staff member that ran Democratic Caucus for the California legislature. And then five years later, I end up running the Republican Caucus under Jim Britty for Pete Wilson. So I've, I've been able to navigate on both sides of the aisles.
It's very important that listeners know that I, I turned that job down three times at the White House. I had three different, what I called dog and pony shows where they gave me a tour of the White House. They took me all around in the East Wing, the West Wing, all those different things. Recruited me to be a part of the organization. I turned the job down three times, and then one day I'm sitting at home and my phone was going off like crazy at four o'clock in the morning and a friend said, congratulations, I'm, congratulations on what?
And then he sent me an article saying that President Trump intends on appointing president's Carter's pastor as the re-entry czar for the whole country. And I'm like, you got to be kidding me. And so that night, well that morning, I, I, I got up early so I can get to President Carter before the news got him, unfortunately, had already gotten to him, and I sat down, drove down to the, his presidential compound, sat down and told him what was going on and how we got there.
And, he said, well, I, I think you should take the job because when your country calls you to take the job you have to answer if you are a true servant leader with a servant heart. And then he said to me, I just got one question. Are you still gonna be my pastor? If that's so then I need you to come home every weekend and, and be my pastor. And so I said, absolutely, I keep my word to you that I will be your pastor. And so for the moment that I got sworn in, when I put my left hand on the Bible and raised my right hand, I made a commitment to serve the nation, not to serve the president.
Tony: You serve the you at the will of serving the president, but you are, you are chosen and appointed to serve the nation. You don't look to make rules or opinions. That's in the best interest of the president is always in the best interest of the nation. And that's something I learned from President Carter. Was it tough sometimes? Absolutely. Cuz there was a lot of things that I didn't agree with.
The toughest part from me, which was the greatest disappointment, was when I had an opportunity and other African Americans with me to stop our nation from exploding because of George Floyd, all the African Americans on the staff that worked on criminal justice reform, including some other members that was elected, went into The oval office and he asked for recommendations and we all went around the room.
And I was very wide open about what we should do. I talked about the recommendations from the police commission that I was also a part of, that we've already had some issues, some policies that can address the issues to stop our people from rioting that would give them clarity that no officers should have immunity, that the entire world saw that this was murder.
Tony: And we should call it out like we call it out. Don't worry about a base. We don't, we don't worry about a base. We lead and sometimes those places are hard to lead from, but we'd lead and we tell the truth. And then we talked about the fact that, you know, you should hold a press conference and, and, and, and call it out.
And, and don't worry about the police, what unions and all just call it out because a lot of them are calling it out. And that didn't happen and, and several nights later, our nation was on fire in so many places, even in DC And it broke my heart. It broke my heart that, you know, we had an opportunity to lead and get out in front of it and, and be able to let America know that we are gonna stand up for justice like everyone else was up for justice. And, and that being said, I mean, if you look at both parties, and it's just Tony Loudon speaking Now, who I don't worship the, the donkey or the elephant. I worship the lamb.
Tony: We, we, we, we should have signed the John Lewis bill to get people their voting rights. We should have signed the George Floyd bill. Right. The Democrats at, at one time had, is in control of the house, the senate and the presidency, and had opportunity to sign the George Floyd bill and that bill still have not been signed, Same way the John Lewis bill.
The Republicans will need to look at ways of making sure they not shouldn't be using race bait issues to divide our country. And, and the George Floyd, when we see things that happen to minorities, people of color, or people who are just as involved, you say exactly what you saw. You stop worrying about the base, you worry about the nation because the nation is the base. Without the nation, we have no base.
What was it like? It was tough, but I did not allow it to correct my core. One of the greatest thing that I really enjoyed was, there was people who were, pull me to the side from both parties and always asking me, how's President Carter? how's President Carter? how's President Carter? Because there, there's, there's, there's a bunch of people in this nation that understand that our nation is a great nation.
They understand that we have some tall trees who have served in some high places that have always done the right things. Maya Angelou's poem When Great Trees Falls, and so when we have these great trees that's living with us right now, the Bible says there are cloud of witnesses, right? You and I, were not there with Moses and Abraham and all those other cloud of witnesses they talk about in the Bible.
But we are here today where we see some great leaders leading in our spaces and we allow people to tear them down, but quietly people behind who are not political and experts of political consultants say, how's President Carter? How's he doing? Because they know the man is the real deal. They know that he's a servant leader with the servant heart. And so, yes, I was torn, but I believe we accomplished a lot of good things under my watch as the reentry czar for the nation.
Jackie: You know, thank you for sharing that and it's good advice for any of us who are in positions of leadership to get out in front and, and be open and be vulnerable and speak the thing, because whether it's a nation or an organization, people are looking for that vulnerability and that transparency to allow that a little bit of trust, right?
I think one of the, the issues that we have in our country is that bipartisan thing, that we don't trust each other. We don't look for ways where we're connected anymore, and we need to get back to that.
Tony: Jackie, you said something powerful there, that trust issue. The people in Michigan don't trust the government to take care of their water. The people in Alabama don't trust the government to take care of their water. Now, the people in Ohio don't trust the government to clean up from a, a, a train derailment, and then for them to drink the water as well.
We have a, a confidence, a lack of confidence in our leaders in, in our nation, and I think it's because they're always worried about running for office instead of upholding the office. There's a big difference. There's this big giant book that every president is given when they get elected. And it's called the, the duties of the presidents. President Carter's big book from when he was in office sits outside his office at the Carter Center, at the Presidential Library.
So this big massive book sits there. And then there's this book that every politician, every leader, whether on state accounting, any elected official, appointed official, take their left hand in their right hand and put it on the Bible, which is a very small, a much smaller book. Unfortunately, they don't keep their commitment to the one that they swore to. They keep their commitment to the wedge issues and the divide and the lobbyists and all these things that they think that will make them popular.
And that's what's hurting our nation in a way. We don't have no one that's real. No one that gets up and say, you know what? There shouldn't be a place in America where a person is afraid to drink their water. And we as the government, we should take care of that infrastructure. And anyone that travels abroad you see. Go to, go to Haiti and see that China is building infrastructure in Haiti. Cuba, Jamaica, Africa, China is in the Pacific. They're in, they're now in the Atlantic building infrastructure. They're teaching military tactics in Africa, helping the military there.
Have we become so divisive in our nation that we're not looking at our borders, where we're now surrounded economically, where we're now divided educationally, where we're so divided, where we have the biggest mass in, incarceration system in the world, and, and we're not even building our own infrastructure with people around us, nor are we building infrastructure in our own country? And the people that we say that are against us are building infrastructure and say, we we're imploding. If we don't start electing other leaders that understand that, and I know, you know, I may get slapped on the hands with talking, but this is, this is the reality.
This is why I love working for Viapath. Because I get an opportunity to build a, infrastructure that changes people lives and get them into the communities where they can change their family's lives and change the trajectory of their lives, their families, their children's, and everyone. And so that's why I work so hard that I'm doing, people say you're on the charter school commission.
You're, you're, you are working with juveniles, you have a nonprofit. You're, you're, you're working with bypass. How you doing all those things? Infrastructure building.
Tony: Because this has to be a holistic approach to change people lives.
Jackie: Absolutely. Absolutely. So Tony, we're recording this podcast on February 23rd, 2023, and Jimmy Carter has been provided hospice care at home. Can you share how President Carter is processing this life transition? How is his family doing?
Tony: I would, I would ask everyone to pray for him and his family. This is a very, very special time in their lives. I, I try not to share anything that I know about the family and him because of being his pastor, but the one thing I, I can say is that the servant leader who has a servant heart, who took a black man like me and asked me to be his pastor.
Tony: and not only did he ask me to be his pastor, but he also took me to a cemetery down in Archery, Georgia.
Tony: Archery,. Georgia is a little old town where sharecroppers lived in 1923, where Jimmy Carter was a little boy. This town, this cemetery that he took me to, is a cemetery that has no cemetery marking. So when you drive down this road and then go into this dirt pathway, there is no markings that says here is a cemetery.
But once you get out of the car, you see hundreds and hundreds of grave sites. President Carter one Saturday said, Tony, you get here real quick cause I want to take you for a ride, and he took me to the cemetery. Secret Service, was pushing him in the wheelchair.
Tony: His aides were behind him. Miss Rosen was there. Amy was there. And as they're pushing him, he's giving me a tour in, in my history. This is Bishop William Decker Bonner, AME pastor who in 1928 introduced me to Jesus.
Tony: This is the 39th President, saying this Black man, a shared cropper, a preacher introduced him to Jesus Christ. Over here is Rachel Clark, who taught me about what it's like to be married and, and what a man should do and how he should take care of his bride over here, here's a gentleman here that worked on my father's farm. He served in World War I. And died in that war. His son served in World War II and died in World War ii. He gave me a history walk into my history.
Tony: We have politicians today now saying that they're trying to take away that type of education in our books.
If we lean into that kind of stuff and not lean into the type of history that President Carter, that blacks made a difference in president Carter's life in Georgia, all the way from the plantation to the farms where they were sharecroppers. And even up until now, then you write me out completely. Because majority of the people that are in our prisons like me.
Jackie: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Tony: The majority of the inner cities that are exploding look like me.
Tony: And so that's why I love him. So, and that's why I'm hurting.
Jackie: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I know that's, that's gotta be hard for you and you're getting the questions of, you know, how's he doing? Right? How's his family doing? But are people checking on you? So thank you for sharing that. You know, it's, it's so important that we do think about our history, right?
And, and here it's Black History Month. So Black history is American history and we have to incorporate that into what the history of our, country is because it, we wouldn't have the country we have without the, the work of, of black people in the, in the United States, and the, the love and the heart and so many, so many different things that, that make us who we are as individuals and as a nation.
Tony: I know this Black History month. I would hope that you're listeners, and I, I applaud you for all the work you do in this space.
Jackie: Thank you so much.
Tony: Well, Black History month, I want your listeners to think about this, that African Americans did such great work for this nation when we're on the plantations. When reconstruction took place, even during the Depression, world War I, world War ii, we fought on both sides of the war, during the Civil War, we've, we've done a lot. We, we helped build the White House. We've done all kinds of things, only to get to the point now that surviving the plantation, here we are in 2023. Majority of our prisons that are in the South. Angola prisons, prisons in uh Mississippi, other areas in the south, those prisons are on former plantations.
Tony: The question that we have to ask ourselves in 2023 in Black history, how did we survive all those things? And a great, great, great, great grandchildren end up back on the plantation in 2023 in record numbers in prisons, prisons surrounded by cotton, and they're still doing the agricultural work in those prisons. How do we still have a chain gang in, Angola? When I was in the White House, one of my recommendations is they closed six prisons that was former plantations
Tony: Because it would be symbolic that in this nation in 2023, we don't want African Americans think that we're sending them back to the plantation.
Tony: We have to get to the point that if we know our history, we'll know how not to repeat it.
Tony: And I hope that African Americans who listen to what I'm saying, but I'm not trying to do anything about race baiting. What I'm saying is our children are killing each other. They're committing crimes, they're doing things in our communities.
Yes, some of them may be innocent, but we are ending up back on the plantation after such a rich, strong history. How do we create Black Wall Street and end up back on the plantation? We are better than that and I, I know there's a lot of mitigating circumstances, but guess what? A Black man and a Black woman is on a podcast talking about how do we change our trajectory. So it can be done, we can make it, we can do some incredible things in our nation.
Jackie: Absolutely. Tony, I mentioned earlier how much work you're doing and, and how many incredible things you are and have been involved with. You know, so many of us have a hard time just balancing, you know, professional work in our personal lives and, you know, trying to get our, you know, our, our mental wellness time In. Right. And, and all of those things. Give us some insights on, on how we create a, a balance or a blend with all of those things. can you give us some tips on that?
Tony: Yeah, Jake. I think work, family life balance is crucial.
Tony: I love to come home and watch my little baby girl play. She's five. You know, she's a high flyer. She's in pre-K doing, she's in kindergarten when she's supposed to be in pre-K cuz she has a November birthday and she's doing first grade work.
But every day that I look at her, I'd say I have to do what I'm doing. And even more so because I don't know what the world is gonna look like after I'm gone. And so since I have this Abraham challenge where I have a five-year-old in the latter part of my life, I gotta look at ways of doing everything I can to change the nation.
Jackie: That's right.
Tony: So I give myself, you and I are on borrow time and we've probably had the best of our lives and our adolescents lives, but for now it's all about legacy building and being able to leave something that our children, our grandchildren, can stand on. My five-year-old girl the other day sitting while we're both watching.
She said, daddy, I got a question. I said, what Tabitha? She said, when is this house going to be mine? This is a five-year-old asking about this new house that her daddy has purchased. When is it going to be hers? And I said to her, baby, it's already yours. You just don't have the keys yet, but you will get the keys.
Why do you ask? She said, because I, I got some things I want to do around the house because I'm, I'm instilling in her mind, Jackie, that she's allowed and she's expected to do big things one day, when I was on a Saturday, I go down to President Carter every Saturday to spend some spiritual time with him and his wife, and I was trying to get some rests and her wife, my wife had already went to the dance studio to work on a program. And so Tabitha, I was at home babysitting Taber and, and, well, more like SpongeBob was babysitting and I'm laying across the bed.
And Tabitha jumps on the bed and she says, daddy, I want a strawberry milkshake. I said, Tabitha, it is eight o'clock in the morning and where I get your strawberry milkshakes from, they are not open yet. And so you have to understand that I teach Tabitha that she shouldn't get frustrated. She shouldn't get upset. She should figure things out because she's allowed, and when her, when her tablet doesn't work or her, she can't get her books to do what they need to do or whatever she figures out, don't complain.
And so she jumped off the bed and then, about a minute later, she jumps back on the bed and she said, daddy, I said, what baby? She said, you are Lowden. Figure it out. And so,
Tony: She's my balance. I got up out the bed, I put on some flip flops, I put on some sweats. I put my baby in the back of the car, and when I got my baby a strawberry milkshake because I had to figure it out, what drives me?
Yes, we have, we all have busy days. We all are doing life, but we gotta figure it out so that we can have a better place. Jackie, I'm tired of driving into places like Atlanta and seeing majority of the African American men sleeping underneath the bridges. I'm tired of traveling into DC and seeing men and women who've gotten outta prison now sleeping on our Capitol steps outside the Capitol.
I'm tired of seeing going down to Los Angeles, seeing skid row that majority of the people, of the hundreds of thousand people in the garment district that is on skid row are African Americans. I can't close my eyes and say it don't exist when I know the numbers. If we are the majority of the homeless, if we're the majority in our prison, if we're the majority that's killing each other with Black-on-Black crime, a genocide is taking place.
Tony: What are we going to? We have to do something about it. So I'm, I'm just honored that Viapath gives me an opportunity to help build the infrastructure platform to be able to not only help the people that I love, but also help others, both black, white, and Brown, to be able to, change the trajectory of our lives and to be able to change the trajectory of our company and do more than one thing I love, and that is to figure it out.
Jackie: Well, you know, you've said the word infrastructure, a few times in this, episode and you know, whether that's family infrastructure or systemic, you know, institutional in infrastructure, it's important. And it's important for our, the legacy that, that we're trying to leave. It's important for opportunities to create equity and we have to have that infrastructure, absolutely.
Tony: infrastructure is so important. The pandemic, it pulled the covers off America
Tony: because students in our rural communities could not do their homework because they did still, since 1980, did not have an on-ramp to the information highway. They had no broadband or internet. Even in some of our inner cities, kids do not have access to the broadband or internet.
And here we are in a technology world. now we're putting technology inside the prisons to give men and women an on-ramp to be able to change their lives when they come on. We definitely have to build an infrastructure across our nation, just not in technology, but from education, from economics to healthcare, desert communities, food desert communities, all that.
We have to look at ways of trying to be able to change those, those trajectories of people lives. And so that's why I do what I do now. I may not make the Black History books, but I'm gonna grind as much as I can so that my daughter can say, my daddy changed my life.
Jackie: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Tony, as we begin to, you know, I could double the length of this, this episode, but in respectful of your time,
I, you know, I just wanna say before we get to the last question, how much I've appreciated this time with you and, you know, your, your spirit, we're two different states, but your spirit just comes through and, and I appreciate all the. That you're doing to make changes in our country. It's, it's such important work and, and I just wanna say thank you.
Tony: Well, thank you Jackie. I'm so glad that, our paths crossed. because when they told me about this, this particular segment, you know, I usually do my homework a little bit and I check the person out, and I was so impressed with your work and what you're doing and the platform that you have to be able to change people lives and I was honored to be a part of it.
Jackie: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Tony. What's the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?
Tony: The biggest thing I want to tell you that I think mass incarceration, men and women in our prisons, we can't keep up with the numbers. The numbers are too great, 78 million men and women are, are, have felony records. We have a record number of our veterans in our prisons right now who come on from fighting some of the longest wars.
It's so much now that a lot of correctional facilities have what they call veteran dorms because we have so many veterans, they wanna keep them together. We have men and women that's on felony paper all across our nation, where fines are stopping them from being able to take care of their children and being able to get transportation to go to work.
We're still in today's technology world, releasing men and women from prison who don't have their driver's license, social security and birth certificate. There's something wrong with that, and this day of age of modern technology. Push for your local legislatures and your, state representatives to get our systems to talk together so that when a man or woman gets ready to go home, we can get their birth certificate, driver license, social security card, even just an ID card so that they can rent a, a home, a place to live instead of living on our streets.
Tony: Or being able to get their education while they're incarcerated. Is it a second bite? Yes. But we as a great nation should look at trying to educate a person all the way until they're a hundred if we can, if we truly believe in continuing education. Just because a person mess up doesn't mean they can't get up.
And we gotta look at ways of being able to, help those individuals who can get up because they can contribute to our nation. And lastly, I would say that make sure that you are fully engaged.
Tony: Don't sit back, don't, just don't do anything. Don't read the headlines and, and just have an opinion. Research. Look at both sides, form an a, an opinion, but more importantly, do something for somebody at the at the end of every Sunday School lesson, my friend Jimmy Carter at every Sunday school lesson, he's done hundreds of thousands of them throughout his lifetime.
He said, I challenge you to go home and do something for somebody. Do something for your neighbor. Help somebody out. The neighbor that you don't even know, that you don't, they live right next to you. Don't know their names. Do something for them. Bake 'em a cake. Say hi to 'em, but do something for them.
Africa was not a close neighbor to America, but from Plains, Georgia, President Carter went to Africa and helped eradicate the Guinea worm.
Tony: And I'll never forget Jackie, when this, this, this man from Africa who had just graduated from medical school, came to Sunday school to see President Carter. And I didn't think President Carter was gonna show up, but he finally came in with his wheelchair.
He was sitting in the front row. I went up to the President Carter. I said, listen, this man, he's from Africa. He just graduated from middle school. He just wants to meet you. I know you're tired. I know you don't feel all that great, but he just want, he said, well, bring him up, Tony. Bring him up. And I brought him up.
Jackie this, this man from Africa with his family behind him, got on one knee, with tears running down his face, looked at President Carter and said, you eradicated the Guinea worm in Africa. It saved my life as a kid. It saved my family life. My wife is back there. My children are here. I just graduated from medical school and I just wanted to stop by and tell you thank you.
Tony: Jackie. I looked back and President Carter had leaned in and both their foreheads were touching each other and they both were bawling and crying. It reminded me of the story in the Bible where Jesus healed 10 lepers. And then he said, only one came back to say thank you. And he said, didn't I heal 10? And only one came back. But that one made the, it made his day that at least one came back to say thank you.
And that was the greatest moment, I believe for President Carter, that this man from Africa came back to say thank you. And I, I would imagine his heart was touched, the same way he was touched by those Africans who are now Americans was in that cemetery. It became full circle for him.
Tony: that he was able to do something right or wrong that our nation did to oppress African-Americans, put them in slavery and make them work for peanuts or not using peanuts and tongue and cheek, but barely anything as sharecroppers.
Tony: And I believe President Carter was moved by that, and that's why they both were there crying.
Tony: And so I, I hope your listeners know that we can do some something for someone in another country, even in another state, another city, rural community, inner city, even locked up in our prisons. Don't just get up every day and not be grateful and you never do anything. Do something for somebody.
Jackie: Thank you for sharing that. Tony, how can people learn more about your work and get in touch with you?
Tony: Well, I'm overly exposed. How about that? But you can find me on Facebook. You know, I do a lot of stuff on Facebook. I, I, I'm very transparent on Facebook. Some of the work that I do. I'm on LinkedIn as well. I'm very transparent, I use LinkedIn to highlight best practices around criminal justice reform. And some of the things that our company is doing that are, I think, is changing the game in a major way.
Those, that, those are my two social media platforms that I have. So, but I'm overly exposed everywhere. also Jabez Ministries on Wednesdays and Sundays, and. I try not to be too overly exposed, but I do know that to whom much is given, much is required and that I'm required in this space to give, to give myself as much as I can.
So that's how people can stay in touch with me.
Jackie: Awesome. Well, Tony, thank you again so much. This has been such an impactful hour. I appreciate your amazing stories and sharing the incredible work that you're doing. And again, just thank you.
Tony: Well, I hope that the people that are listening to you forward your platform to five of the people and tell them to listen in and, and grow your, like Jabez, say, Lord, expand my territory for your glory, so that they can expand you because you're doing the right work. And so many people always say they share stuff with their friends. They share TikTok and all these other things. Share something that's important and get them to follow her. Follow Jackie!
Jackie: Thank you so much.
Tony: Thank you.
In this special episode to honor the end of Black History Month, Pastor Tony Lowden shares his incredible journey from growing up in a “trap house” in North Philadelphia to becoming President Jimmy Carter’s pastor. As the Vice President of Reintegration and Community Engagement at ViaPath Technologies and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform, rehabilitation, and reentry programs, Tony is committed to helping people nationwide rebuild their lives after being released and highlights the importance of taking action to help others.
In this episode, Tony shares his vision for building infrastructure to support communities in need, stories about his relationship with our nation’s oldest living president and the legacy he is leaving though his testimony and his work, impacting countless underserved individuals and communities across the United States.
Connect with Jackie and Tony Lowden on Linkedin.
Follow Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox on Linkedin, Instagram, and Twitter.