On this day five years ago, Meek Mill told us why he was launching REFORM Alliance. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “We have people who don’t have a voice. I’m here to speak on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice.” From that day until now, that’s exactly what Meek has done: use his platform to shed light on the flaws of our probation and parole systems and build momentum for change.

Creating change is hard work. It requires patience, tenacity, and an uncanny capacity to keep pushing, even when the odds are long. Still, it can take decades to see your efforts pay off. As an organizer with more than two decades of experience, I know this well. 

That’s what makes the story of REFORM Alliance both improbable and extraordinary. In our five short years, we’ve had an immediate, precise, and transformative impact on the justice system. Working with partners from all sides of the political aisle, we’ve uplifted lives, we’ve facilitated jobs, and we’ve replaced destructive laws with constructive laws: 18 reforms in 11 states from Florida and Virginia to Michigan and Illinois to California and New York have helped create pathways for more than 800,000 of our fellow citizens to move out of the system and into lives of stability. 

It’s rare that a cause perfectly meets its moment in history. The unjust incarceration of Meek Mill awakened the nation to the tragic conditions so many Americans face. If this could happen to Meek Mill, it could happen to anybody. And it does happen, with astonishing frequency. First, we organized to free Meek. Then we organized to free the millions of others like him, the millions trapped in a system that manages failure instead of facilitating success. Then we held job fairs so system-impacted people can support their families and revitalize our workforce. The result has been more economic livelihood in our communities. 

Alongside an incredible and visionary board, REFORM was built on a few simple propositions: The justice system should set people up to thrive. The justice system should keep communities safe, not needlessly tear them apart. The justice system should help people find work and wellbeing, not leave them to suffer in poverty and despair. Our bipartisan successes are a testament to this fact: Americans are united in wanting to end a vicious cycle of recidivism.

Last month, we passed legislation to transform Pennsylvania’s probation system. At the bill signing, Meek said: “We grew up in the streets. We tried to be better, but they labeled us ‘felons,’ sent us back to jail. I had to fight against that the whole time to gain my respect and be who I am today. And I’m proud of that.”

I am proud of Meek. I am grateful to have lived at a time when Meek stood up, and millions more organized, to better our communities. I am grateful to all of those who galvanized this movement. I am grateful to our coalition partners who advocated, to the legislators who voted, and to every person who courageously shared their story. I am grateful for the challenges and our victories. I am grateful to everyone who got us to where we are and to everyone who will get us to where we want to go. Our work is far from over. 

Serving as CEO of REFORM has been the highest honor of my life. Today, I celebrate REFORM and all of my colleagues forging a safer, freer, and more just America.