Nobody gave these kids a chance — until one young former inmate followed his dream.
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The CW Black Lightning

David Lee Windecher didn’t exactly have the kind of start in life that sets a person up for success.

He grew up poor after moving to the United States from Argentina in the 1970s, and, he says, "poverty led to my first arrest out of desperation."

"It opened the door to the darkest years of my life."


At 13, David witnessed his first murder, and the trauma of that moment led to more trouble — joining a gang for protection. He also dropped out of high school, and experienced abuse from police officers and the criminal justice system.

At one point, David had been arrested 13 times, and spent 8 months in jail — and this was all while he was still a juvenile.

David looks at a photo of himself in his youth. All images via Upworthy.

After his last arrest in 1997, David knew he needed to change.

And it was a vision of himself as a criminal defense attorney that helped drive him to do just that.

“I would always dream about standing in front of a judge with a client standing next to me, and I would win,” he says. This dream came to him while he was incarcerated — and he took that as a sign for where he was destined to be.

“This isn’t home for you,” he told himself as he sat in a jail cell.

So, he set out to find a life that felt like home — a life of supporting incarcerated youth.

He earned his GED, graduated from college, then set his sights on law school. Out of the 50 law schools he applied to, only one gave him a chance — but that one chance was all he needed.

Today, David’s a criminal defense attorney and executive director of RED Inc., a nonprofit organization he founded in 2015.

RED stands for Rehabilitation Enables Dreams, and the organization aims to engineer rehabilitation programs so that youth don't have to fall into the cycle of going in and out of prison for the rest of their lives.

RED founder David Windecher walks through a courthouse.

There are a lot of  factors that set formerly incarcerated youth up for failure, again and again. “I spent enough time behind bars to realize that the judicial system was wronging people because of their status,” David explains. “Whether they were poor, whether they had a substance abuse issue, a mental health disorder, an academic deficiency.”

“They were limited in resource, they were in a volatile environment — how did you expect them to flourish? It’s impossible.”

To take on these obstacles, RED pursues their mission in three parts: increasing literacy, reducing poverty, and stopping youth recidivism (which means relapse into criminal behavior).

When a first-time, nonviolent, youthful offender gets incarcerated, David says, RED’s goal is “to help them get on the straight and narrow before it’s too late.”

“Without them, I wouldn’t have a second chance,” says Brian, one of the young people in the program.

RED mentee Andree describes his rehabilitation experience.

But David takes that a step further. “Most people don’t understand, it’s not their second chance. It’s their first chance — they never even had a first chance.”

The U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rates in the world — and three quarters of released prisoners go back to jail within 5 years. In Georgia, where RED operates, the incarceration rate is 32% higher than the national average.

That's why to improve this grim picture, RED runs workshops on topics like creative writing, money management, and civil rights. They also have events to bring communities together, like flag football games, and they host guest speakers to inspire the youth.

“Some of the speakers, it was like they were talking about what I was going through,” says Brian. “If they can do it ... I can do it.”

Many young people are skeptical when they first join RED – but over time, their doubts transform into hope.

“By the end of the year, they’re all saying, wait, it’s over?” David says.

As long as he’s making a difference in these young people’s lives, David knows he’s making a difference in the larger world. High rates of incarceration and recidivism negatively influence our employment rates, economy, and community safety.

Graduates of RED’s programs pose for a photo with David on graduation day.

That means that with every young person he gives hope to, David gives the rest of us some hope, too.

He began with only a limited chance for success in life. Now, with his help, youth with the same limited opportunities can make positive contributions to our world.

“We all have a purpose,” he says. “If we don’t carry out our purpose, no one else can.”

“No one is beyond redemption or hope.”

Watch David's story, and RED Inc. in action:

The CW: Black Lightning RED

He spent his youth in and out of jail for gang related crimes. Now he wants to stop that cycle for other at-risk kids.For more stories about community heroes, tune in to the series premiere of "Black Lightning" on Jan. 16 at 9/8c only on The CW.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, January 11, 2018
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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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