There are some people you don’t forget. For us, his name is Cleveland.
Cleveland Finch carries himself with certainty. With honesty. He’s transparent when he tells us about the 11 times he’s been to prison. His voice shakes when he talks of the 27 years he’ll never get back.
He doesn’t hold back when he shares about the assault he faced as a teenager, or the crimes he’s committed since.
While we listen to Cleveland, it doesn’t feel like an interview. It feels like something bigger.
We met Cleveland through StepUp Greensboro, a local nonprofit that provides free job readiness training, mentoring, and support services to those who need it in the Triad area. Cleveland had gone through the program once before. He’s clear when he says that he hadn’t listened to what they said.
This time, he tells us, was different. This time was a second chance.
Now, he’s 19 months strong working at the ministry that once housed him. He reminds us that his work there isn’t just a job. That being a janitor isn’t something to be scoffed at.
It’s a sign of trust. It’s a reminder that the world has faith in him.
A feeling that, up until now, Cleveland hadn’t ever known.
“I wanted to show my mom that I could do it,” he tells us.
Now, we see Cleveland carrying his house keys. His keys to the office. His car keys. He holds them like something precious.
To some people, keys are a burden. The forgotten thing on the kitchen counter. A relic of times past, before thumbprint ID and face scans.
To Cleveland, a set of keys is a promise, a beacon of light. A set of keys is hope.
Our work with organizations like StepUp is a message to Cleveland. To his mother. To any person or organization doing the work to contribute to a brighter future. A message that says that we believe in you. That we believe in the voices that bring us hope. That we will do whatever we can to make sure that voice is heard — because authentic storytelling matters. Because your story matters.