AIG teams up with the Be a Coffee Bean Foundation

AIG’s Pro Bono Program’s work with The Foundation furthers the company’s commitment to giving back and making a difference in criminal and social justice reform.

Over the last year, many have witnessed so much change in their lives both professionally and personally. However, AIG's commitment to giving back and its culture of helping those most in need has not waivered. The AIG Pro Bono Program has grown significantly, and the company is committed to making a difference in criminal and social justice reform.

AIG recently partnered with Damon West, co-founder of the Be a Coffee Bean Foundation, which helps incarcerated black men secure educational degrees and support their re-entry into the workforce. AIG’s partnership comes as a wave of other major corporations take action and draw more attention to systemic racism in the US criminal justice system.

Earlier this year, Damon met with Lucy Fato, AIG Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Global Head of Communications and Government Affairs, at AIG’s New York City headquarters. And Damon shared the story behind the founding of the Be a Coffee Foundation with his wife Kendell Romero:

Growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, a refinery town, Damon was a rising high school football star who went on to play at the University of North Texas on a scholarship. When he graduated, Damon landed a job at a Wall Street bank and never imagined that only a few years later he would serve more than seven years at a maximum-security prison.

“I came from a great family, and my parents have been married for 53 years at this point,” says Damon, adding that his mom worked as a nurse and his dad was a sports journalist for his hometown newspaper. “I didn’t come from a broken home.”

However, Damon’s struggles with drug addiction followed a rash of burglaries and a first-degree felony for organized crime. His prison sentence served as a wake-up call, pushing Damon to seek recovery in the face of adversity. It was also in prison where Damon formed a deeper understanding of racism and the flaws of the U.S. criminal justice system – lessons that inspired him to drive positive change and co-create the Be a Coffee Foundation.

“Life is going to knock you down so hard some days that when you get back up and dust yourself off, the world will look very different.”

As Damon explains, think of dealing with adversity like a pot of boiling water. If you put an egg in a pot of boiling water, it hardens. Put a carrot in and it softens. But if you put a coffee bean in boiling water, it turns into coffee and therefore creates lasting and positive change.

That analogy has inspired the initiatives at Be a Coffee Bean – one of which will involve increasing racial diversity in America’s classrooms, as black men make up only 2 percent of teachers in a US public school system where more than half of the student population is nonwhite. This lack of representation has long been an issue in US education, and The Foundation plans to provide education and teacher training to a select group of men with low-level criminal offenses.

By the time they complete their sentence, they will have graduated with a degree in elementary education and a teacher certificate. The Foundation plans to help participants transition out of prison, pairing them with a host family and a teacher they will work with for a year before teaching in a classroom.

“Our pro bono work has provided me with the opportunity to meet some incredible people who have dedicated themselves to shining a light on the serious flaws in the U.S. criminal justice and prison systems and how men and women of color, in particular, are most impacted,” Lucy says. “We are really pleased to be working with Damon to further AIG’s commitment to giving back and helping those most in need.” 

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