Derreck Johnson did a good job keeping his nose clean as a kid.
In spite of growing up in what he calls "the toughest neighborhood in Oakland," Derreck says his large, close-knit family helped keep him out of trouble.
For the most part, that is.
"There was one time," Derreck says. "I don't remember what I did, but it must have been bad, because my mother took me up Tacoma to visit the prison." He knew immediately that was not the future he wanted for himself. "Yeah, OK, no."
Still, Derreck is very aware that, for many of his peers, prison was their future. It's why, 11 years ago, when Derreck opened Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland's Jack London Square, he was determined to help them out.
Since then, Derreck has hired a steady stream of people who other businesses won't even consider hiring: ex-offenders. "If they are wanting and able to work, that's all I need to see," Derreck says.
Derreck's staff is now filled with people, with checkered pasts, who have shown him he made the right decision. "They are loyal employees," Derreck says. "We have a very consistent staff."
Chaniquea Cooper is one of those whose transgressions Derreck looked past. "I made some mistakes," Chaniquea says. "I did my time." In the 9 months that the mother of two has worked at Home of Chicken and Waffles, Chaniquea has risen to the position of assistant manager.
In fact, it is now Chaniquea's job to screen applicants for Derreck , giving them the same second chance she got. "I had a gentleman in here the other day in tears," she says, "because no one would give him a chance. Not even Burger King."
Derreck says he has seen more than a few tears himself. "I had one man cry when I handed him his check," Derreck says. "It was the first paycheck he had ever earned in his life."
Derreck says he is paid back every day by his employees in terms of hard work and commitment. He just wishes other business owners could see what he has seen, and hire more people deserving of a second chance.