Michael “Zaki” SmithNext100 Policy Entrepreneur Brooklyn, NY Award Year: 2020
Michael “Zaki” Smith was in and out of the criminal justice system for many years before spending a decade working with youth. He eventually lost his job due to the collateral consequences of his incarceration. As a Next100 Policy Entrepreneur, he worked to dismantle laws and barriers that affect the lives of formerly incarcerated Americans, including those that impair their ability to access employment, housing, education, occupational licensing, and voting. Zaki combines legislative and policy work with using art to empower and educate impacted communities. He built his policy and legislative advocacy skills by working with the Clean Slate New York Coalition to promote the automatic expungement of criminal records. He has testified in front of the New York State Assembly, published op-eds, drafted legislation, created two community murals, and led community education/empowerment sessions. He is committed to continuing his efforts to dismantle the 44,000 laws and barriers that affect the lives of formerly incarcerated Americans.
Zaki used his award to host A Feast for Fair Chances, a unique dinner gathering where participants learned about how America’s criminal legal system is designed to perpetually punish the 70 million people with a criminal conviction after they have completed their sentences.
Zaki is also using his award to support his ongoing work on behalf of the Clean Slate Act, a bill he co-authored that would automatically clear a New Yorker’s criminal record once s/he becomes eligible and will strengthen communities by ensuring that returning citizens can be full participants in economic and civic life.
Zaki co-authored an op-ed and presented testimony to the New York State Senate for a public hearing on Senate Bill 1553A, the Clean Slate Act, where he explained from the perspective of a formerly incarcerated person why the legislation is urgently needed.