Thanks to technology, and a man who was once touched by incarceration in his own life, there is a way for families to stay connected to their incarcerated loved ones. Flikshop Inc. a growing Washington, D.C.-tech company, is meeting the challenge. Customers are able to send photos and messages that are delivered on real postcards in the mail to incarcerated people in over 2,700 state and federal jails and prisons throughout the U.S. And now, according to a press release, Boeing is providing a $250,000 investment in support of Flikshop’s efforts to provide families with Flikshop credits, access to Washington, D.C.-based Byte Back’s digital literacy program, and Flikshop School of Business’ entrepreneurship program.
Flikshop credits are used by families to send postcards, letters, and photos to their incarcerated loved ones. Byte Back provides a pathway to inclusive tech training that leads to living-wage careers. Thus, the combined partnership benefits an often-neglected population needing more support and services. Adding the win with Boeing will strengthen the program’s offerings and perks for Flikshop’s users.
Additionally, Boeing will expand its commitment to advancing equality and supporting nonprofit and social impact organizations focused on education, social justice, and economic opportunity for underserved communities.
Jason Pak, director of Boeing Global Engagement, said “Flikshop and Byte Back have already had overwhelming success within the community reducing recidivism within the community. Boeing is excited to help them continue to build on those successes by offering additional resources for families and opportunities and career pathways for returning citizens to thrive after incarceration.”
In an interview with Black Enterprise, Marcus Bullock, CEO of Flikshop, said that he is grateful for Boeing’s leadership, and the company’s desire to want to invest in the community while supporting businesses wanting to end mass incarceration.
“Our partnership with Boeing is catalytic for Flikshop, the families we support, and the community that wants to see people come home from jail or prison and succeed,” Bullock also remarked in a press release. “So many doors were slammed in my face after I was released from prison. We want to help open up a few windows of opportunity for the men and women that are coming behind me.”
Bullock stressed that one of Flikshop’s goals is to ensure that every person in every cell receives mail every day because just one letter or photo can make or break it. He also noted that many people who return home after incarceration do not have an idea about how to use the internet, leverage technology like using email, use apps, or create revenue with technology. Flikshop’s partner, Byte Back, is doing those things well.
Bullock also explained that the Flikshop School of Business curriculum focuses on teaching students how to build their portfolios and is centered around entrepreneurship. However, Byte Back’s digital literacy program is a prerequisite to enroll in its business school. Bullock described it as an introduction to tech which comes with a certification.
“We’re excited about what we’ll be able to unlock with these kinds of opportunities, and we’re hoping that other corporate partners are able to see the value in this kind of investment so that we can build on to this flywheel that we’re starting to create,” said Bullock while reflecting on Boeing’s generous investment.
How did this partnership [between Flikshop and Boeing] come to be?
It’s interesting. I was introduced to one of the mid-Atlantic region, corporate social responsibility directors over at Boeing, Jason Pak. I was introduced to him by another partner. It was interesting because immediately Jason wanted to figure out how to help support us with stuff, and he didn’t know what that was going to look like initially. But we were already working with a partnership with Byte Back and trying to figure out how to help connect the resources that they have over at their tech learning center over to returning citizens that are returning back to DC neighborhoods.
After that discovery conversation of what it is that we were working on with Byte Back and with him learning how crucial family connectivity is to soon-to-be-returning citizens, he wanted to figure out how we could leverage Boeing’s desire to increase their social impact footprint with our mission of keeping families connected while also figuring out how to provide education resources to people that are in themselves.
What does this partnership look like in practice?
Well, one of the things that we’re very intentional about is to help support returning citizens in their pursuit of breaking through this new future of work, and what it looks like to be able to work inside of the tech spaces or even inside of some of the community retail spaces, or even in some of the construction spaces, they all have some kind of tech footprint. It’s a big side of the chemistry of their company. And a lot of people are coming home from these cells and have no idea, one, let alone how to use the internet, but even trying to figure out how to leverage all of the technologies that you and I use every day. Like sending emails, attaching emails, learning how to use the office suites, learning how to leverage some of the software and apps on the internet to be able to create revenue.
This new gig economy that we’re entering now where so many people are figuring out ways how to leverage their own skills, whether it be on social media, like TikTok dancing, or whether it be through creating freelance websites, all of these kinds of new tools that are available to people that are coming home from incarceration weren’t available years ago. And we want them to see have the opportunity and to take advantage of that. And so that was kind of the genesis of how the conversation started and we realized that what we could do in order to be able to be closer to accomplishing our goal would be to partner with an organization that already does that really, really well, and that was Byte Back.
So Byte Back, be like, hey, if we are able to partner with Byte Back DC, then we would be able to not only help keep families connected while they’re incarcerated. So Boeing is helping by giving away tens of thousands of Flikshop credits to family so that they can keep in contact with their loved ones for free. But also, they’ll be able to learn about the different resources that are available coming back home to DC like Byte Back that want to figure out how to contribute to the mission.
What about the Flikshop School of Business, and the Digital Literacy Program? Are those two separate entities or does the School of Business house the Digital Literacy Program?
Great question. The digital literacy piece is kind of the prerequisite that allows you to be able to get into the Flikshop School of Business. It’s like an introduction to tech, and it actually comes with a certification. The introductory piece component with Byte Back allows the participants to be able to be prepared for the FSB program, the Flikshop School of Business program, which’s more centered around entrepreneurship. So like a tech development component that gets you used to leveraging technologies and then your come into the FSB classroom that, for those people who want to deep dive into their entrepreneurial journey, they’ll come in and they’ll enroll in our class. And that goes a little bit deeper into how to go from zero to one with starting and launching a business in a gig economy.
Speaking of business, are there particular lines of business FSB focuses on?
Yeah. We’re very focused on teaching our students how to build their tech portfolios. And so we have a very intentional curriculum that’s centered around web development and what that looks like, it allows our users to learn, a lot of our participants to be able to take their skills they learn out of Byte Back and kind of evolve in our classroom and allow them to be able to learn how to build websites for the neighborhood real estate investor, or learn how to be able to take design screens and put them in PSDs, Photoshop, to allow for the next designer or freelancer, to be able to leverage their skills when they’re building their mobile application. We envision leveraging tools like Fiverr or Upwork to be able to create profiles for our participants so that they can participate in the upside of this new future of work.
With your history of directly impacted by incarceration aside, why is Flikshop an important initiative?
So, I’ll say what Flikshop means to me personally, every day at 4:00 PM, there’s a mail call in every jail and prison around the country. And that is the singular moment that the family member has the opportunity to show their loved one who is in prison that someone cares about them. And when an officer either walks past your cell and signals to you that no one on the street is thinking about you, or they stop at your cell and are able to give you mail, it can be the thing that makes or breaks your day. Once you have that one letter, that one photo, that’s the thing that you will carry around with you all day until the next day that there’s another mail call. And our mission at Flikshop is to make sure that every person in every cell receives mail every day.
This is one of the reasons why the Boeing partnership is important so that we can give away free Flikshop credits so that if we don’t have to worry about the expense of helping to keep the family connected, the families don’t have to worry about that any longer.