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Opinion

Most people don't get a second chance like Ted Williams

Everyone in the country must know by now the story of Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden radio baritone. He became a sensation after an Ohio newspaper's video of him making voice-of-God announcements on a street corner went YouTube. Since gaining national attention, Mr. Williams has recorded voice-overs for MSNBC and Kraft, and he's been offered an announcing job by the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. He's also apparently headed for some drug and alcohol rehab after his family called him out on the " Dr. Phil" show.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Mr. Williams, who is 53, trained to be a radio announcer years ago and worked for an R&B/soul music station for a while. But drugs and alcohol took over in the 1990s. He served time in prison for theft and forgery and had numerous misdemeanors.

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We like to root for a guy like this. Mr. Williams came across in the original video as a good-natured man with an impressive talent lost to the sickness that has ruined so many lives. There are obviously a lot of people who want to give him another chance, and maybe gain a little attention themselves in doing so.

Nice story, but not the reality for most men and women who've been through addictions, homelessness and/or jail. The ones I know always have a tough time getting a second chance — even when the economy is robust, and particularly in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks. Corporate standards for security have risen in that time, while hiring practices in general have become less personal. Countless ex-offenders have told me they can't get past the question on the standardized application forms: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" Answer yes, and you're doomed; answer no, and you're caught in a lie once the background check comes through.

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So, as demonstrated by all the rooting for Mr. Williams, we like to believe in the ideal of second chances. But most of the thousands of ex-offenders out there have a frustratingly tough go finding work even in good times.

From what I've seen, the answer is in relationships — the small-business owner who takes a personal interest in the ex-offender he hires, or the owner of a company who opens up his hiring standards because he sees that it might mean the difference between more incarceration and honest citizenship for someone's father or mother.

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a good day to reflect on this — and maybe even act on it.

For employers looking to hire, adults looking for work, and those who can volunteer some time, the annual jobs fair at St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore is a good way to spend part of MLK Day.

The organizers call it "a day of service and self-help." The fair takes place in the school's community center, at 501 E. Chase Street. Doors open at 6 am. The jobs fair commences after a free lunch. For information about having your company represented, or volunteering to help the hundreds of job-seekers who usually turn out, call 410-539-5794, extension 30 or 28.

Kenny Campbell lost his job in Baltimore radio five years ago, but not the way Ted Williams did. Mr. Campbell went the way many deejays have gone in the age of mega-media and its push against original local programming — he got the boot from the general manager at Mix 106.5. Prior to that, Mr. Campbell had been half of the popular Mix morning duo of Kenny and JoJo.

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A talented man, Mr. Campbell was known for writing clever parodies and singing them on the air. He and his partner, JoJo Girard, who remains at the station, also engaged in numerous charitable adventures, including "radiothons" that raised millions of dollars — more than $1 million in 2005 alone, Mr. Campbell's last year at Mix — for the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

When Kenny C. called last year, he had been unable to find another job in radio and was selling cemetery plots. He contacted me last week because now that job had ended. "I'm seeking a full-time position doing what I can to feed my family," he said. So I'm mentioning him here. Kenny Campbell once made a lot of people in this community laugh, and he'd raised a lot of money for a children's hospital. That should still count for something with somebody.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.


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