ILRie Helps Formerly Incarcerated
Sakiel Ruff ’25 spent his High Road summer developing a database to help formerly incarcerated people find housing.
As a High Road Fellow working for Peaceprints of WNY, a non-profit organization that offers reentry services to formerly incarcerated individuals, Sakiel Ruff ’25 interviewed landlords about their policies. What Ruff learned is that some landlord practices block formerly incarcerated people from obtaining housing.
People who have been serving time can’t provide recommendations from former landlords or a record of jobs worked because they have been in prison, not living in society. To help bridge the gap, Ruff built a database of interviews to help incarcerated individuals find independent housing after their Hope House stays expire.
While this project provides long-term support for the organization and the individuals they serve, by the end of his 2022 High Road summer, Ruff was also able to see the immediate benefit of his work; a Peaceprints client found an apartment of his own
“It was rewarding that the work that I was doing every day at my desk for hours was able to help someone,” said Ruff, who discussed his Peaceprints experience in this video.
Ruffs credits ILR’s approach to labor-management learning with laying a foundation for his perspective: “I have some level of insight I have gotten from the ILR school, I have seen things from a human-centered perspective. We talk about the citizens, not just the government, we talk about the workers, not just the administration. This bottom-up mentally ILR has made me want to help others in the public sector.”
Ruff said his fellowship was a reminder of the inequality that permeates every aspect of society and keeps marginalized individuals behind. During his High Road time, he lived with his grandparents on Buffalo’s East Side, a stark contrast to the cohort’s housing on the West Side. Ruff reflects on driving past the Tops Friendly Markets, the site of last year’s deadly mass shooting in Buffalo, every day on the way to his internship.
This was not Ruff’s first time doing grassroots work. He also spent months canvassing for political candidates Laura Lewis and Lea Webb. Both won their elections for Ithaca mayor and New York State Senate, respectively.
Ruff said being involved in the Ithaca community allowed him to escape the bubble of Cornell by learning more about Ithaca’s geography and politics.
At Cornell, Ruff is also on the executive board of Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate, an organization that brings Black and Latino men on campus together for professional development, a peer mentor for the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, a fellow of Pi Lambda Sigma Pre-Professional Government Society, an analyst at BlackGen Capital, and a student of the P3 Pre Professional Program.
Ruff says the High Road experience and other community work he has done as an ILR student is inspiring his future “I want to keep moving forward, I want to continue doing work that changes lives, to know what I did made a difference, that all the hours I spent working at Peace Prints made a difference in someone’s life, it’s invaluable.