Sean Spicer's Emmys bit is the redemption arc we don't need right now.

It's not quite the level playing field we'd like to believe.

Sean Spicer, the man who began his tenure at the White House by claiming, contrary to all evidence, that Trump's inauguration crowd was "the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period," received a roaring round of applause when he appeared on stage at the Emmys.

Sean Spicer at the Emmys. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.


Reactions in the audience ranged from delight to shock, as the same man who once ranted that "not even Hitler" used chemical weapons or gas on his own people (blatantly false) was invited to spend the evening rubbing elbows with Hollywood's elite.

Less than two months after officially leaving the White House, the same man who supported Trump's claim that there were "millions" of illegal votes in the 2016 election by misrepresenting a 2008 study has seemingly shed his pariah status. How?

Actor Jason Isaacs shared his feelings on Spicer's Emmys appearance in a no-holds-barred Instagram post.

"What were the Emmys thinking celebrating this modern day Goebbels, who was the thuggish face of Orwellian doublespeak just moments ago?" Isaacs captioned a selfie he took at the Netflix after-party with Spicer in the background. Spicer "has the aura of a giant festering abscess," Isaacs wrote.

It's not as though Isaacs is alone in thinking the gleeful reintegration of Sean Spicer into polite society is out of bounds.

Spicer's ability to shed his poor reputation is not without precedent.

People just love a good redemption story. Conservative commentator David Frum, a speechwriter during George W. Bush's administration, is best known for the infamous "Axis of Evil" speech that laid the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq. Today, you can find him being approvingly retweeted by liberals and progressives for his "#NeverTrump" views, offering political commentary in writing and on TV.

The same can be said of Rick Wilson, a Republican ad-maker who was the driving force behind a 2002 TV spot suggesting that  Vietnam veteran Max Cleland was sympathetic to Osama Bin Laden and a racially-tinged 2008 ad centered on candidate Obama's pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. These days, he can be found making regular appearances on MSNBC and being favorably written about on liberal blogs.

For the most part, their pasts have been wiped clean. It's no surprise, then, that so many are willing to ignore Spicer's propagandist past and allow him to be remembered more as the lovable satirization Melissa McCarthy played on "Saturday Night Live" than for the very real harm he caused to American citizens during his brief tenure as Trump's press secretary.

Spicer during a January press briefing. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Not everybody gets the kind of "good redemption story" that Sean Spicer is currently enjoying.

In a tweet following Spicer's Emmys appearance, MSNBC host Chris Hayes summed the problem up perfectly.

Forgiveness, redemption, and fresh starts are too often offered only to the powerful. The wealthy. The elite. The rest of us aren't so privileged.

Perhaps no better example of this dynamic exists than two stories currently playing out at Harvard University. The school recently unveiled its Institute of Politics visiting fellows for the Fall 2017 session. Among those invited were Sean Spicer and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Chelsea Manning, who served seven years in a military prison for leaking classified documents, was also slated to join the group. Manning's inclusion was met with backlash (CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell even resigned from the fellows program in protest), and she was swiftly and unceremoniously removed from the lineup.

Lewandowski at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Lewandowski, who was charged with battery for grabbing a reporter during the campaign and was recently accused of threatening his neighbors with a baseball bat, has since landed a cushy CNN contributor position for several months during the campaign and is now headed to Harvard. Like Spicer, redemption came easy for Lewandowski.

Chelsea Manning, though? She doesn't get to be forgiven. She doesn't get to have a fresh start. She doesn't get an invite to the Emmys or to be a CNN contributor, even though her sentence was commuted by President Obama in early 2017.

The same goes for Michelle Jones, who after serving more than 20 years in an Indiana prison, applied and was accepted to Harvard's exclusive history program before a dean overturned that decision. She worked, studied, and made it into the school on her merits, but her past kept her from a fresh start.

"We didn't have some preconceived idea about crucifying Michelle," John Stauffer, a Harvard American studies professor, told The New York Times, which published Jones's story last week. "But frankly, we knew that anyone could just punch her crime into Google, and Fox News would probably say that P.C. liberal Harvard gave 200 grand of funding to a child murderer, who also happened to be a minority. I mean, c'mon."

This is the kind of elitism we need to rail against, the kind that holds people to different standards based solely on who they are.

The world isn't yet a just and equal place for everyone to live, and we should always question why we're so willing to help reintegrate some who've sought a fresh start back into society, but not all. If the Spicers, Lewandowskis, Wilsons, and Frums of the world deserve a chance at redemption, why shouldn't that extend to people from marginalized groups, like Manning or Jones?

The dynamic spelled out between the anger and disbelief of Isaacs's post-Emmys Instagram post and the sober reality of Hayes' tweet about redemption say a whole lot about what justice looks like for those in power versus those who lack it.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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