Last Thanksgiving, Aziz Scott spent the holiday in jail.
This year, he’ll be cooking a turkey, ham and all the fixings for his family at their new home in Richmond’s Highland Park.
“We’ll have some family over. I’m going to make turkey, stuffing, collard greens, baked mac-and-cheese. I’m looking forward to it,” Scott said.
The 53-year-old has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
He was released from jail in August after serving time for drug-related charges. His story about turning his life around, getting off drugs and recommitting to his family was shared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and on television on CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling” and the syndicated “Steve Harvey” show.
Many Times-Dispatch readers wrote in to help the Scott family. Scott and his wife, Tyia Coles, were living in a low-income apartment in Richmond’s East End in an area so violent that they were afraid to let their daughter, De’Andra, 8, and son, Aziz Jr., 4, play outside.
One reader offered to pay for his groceries for a month, and another donated $1,000 to help him move. The “Steve Harvey” show had already written him a check for $5,000.
After an outpouring of support, Scott has a job and a new apartment where his kids can safely play in the backyard anytime they want.
But getting there wasn’t easy.
“I don’t think even I was prepared for the (challenge of moving),” said Sarah Scarbrough, creator of the REAL program — Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles — at the Richmond City Justice Center.
“He can’t drive. He doesn’t have a license. He doesn’t have a car. And he didn’t have any furniture.”
Scarbrough contacted Housing Families First, an organization that helps families in need find affordable housing.
“If it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t be in a house right now,” Scarbrough said. “We’re talking about a felon with no credit.”
Income, background, rental history and credit are the top four factors that landlords use to screen potential tenants, said Toni Jackson, a housing coordinator with Housing Families First. Many felons don’t pass those screening tests, and that keeps them trapped in low-income neighborhoods and a cycle of violence.
Jackson reached out to several landlords to see if she could find a good match for the Scotts.
“I called eight different people and was able to find one who would give the Scott family a chance,” Jackson said.
The apartment is the top floor of a white Victorian house in Highland Park. The neighborhood has sidewalks and streetlamps. It’s safe and quiet. It’s close to the bus, which Scott takes to his new job at the Haley Buick car dealership on Midlothian Turnpike.
Barry Moore, Haley’s general manager, offered Scott a job after meeting him at the screening of the “Lisa Ling” show at the jail in October. Moore recently ran for the state Senate and has been working with local charities such as The Healing Center and Caritas.
“It was obvious this guy needed a job. Painting wasn’t going to do it. He needed a job with a steady income and benefits,” Moore said. He offered Scott a job in the detail shop and parts department at the dealership.
This is the first “real” job Scott ever has had.
“It’s like a new identity for him,” Scarbrough said.
“I love it,” Scott said of his job. “I stay busy all day. The people have treated me like family since day one.”
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SOURCE: The Richmond-Times Dispatch – Colleen Curran