Trident Family offers community building, literacy programs

By Kristi Eaton

Dieter Cantu and a group of individuals have come together to create a social enterprise affecting thousands of individuals through a host of programs. A social enterprise is a business that invests its profits back into its mission and the communities it serves.

Called The Trident Family, the social enterprise offers a community garden, literacy program for incarcerated youth and more.

Offering books to youth who are incarcerated is especially poignant to Cantu, who lives in Houston.

“I was incarcerated when I was 16,” he said. “I just felt like I didn’t have a lot of resources and so my brother was also incarcerated as well and he would send me books back and forth,” he said, adding that it included subjects like finance.

The enterprise also offers a pen-pal program for youth so they can connect with other individuals as well as workshops for people to know their rights.

“They go one step further than just giving people general information,” said Ed Jointer, one of the social enterprise founders, of the workshops. “That extra step not only to know your rights, but also, how do you apply your rights in the way that makes everyone safe and no one feels violated?”

Jointer is a lawyer and says he’s able to pull from real-world experience with his work as well as personal experience.

Cantu said he hopes to expand the literacy program to more prisons. It’s currently in five states and he’d like to see it in additional areas. The social enterprise is in the planning stages to expand to Oklahoma, Cantu said, and is interested in partnering with interested individuals, organizations and other entities.

Jointer said the plan is to scale the social enterprise, but to do it in a way that is effective and efficient, which may mean leaning more on technology, given the current pandemic.

“Technology will have to take us places where we cannot be physically,” Jointer said, adding that that may include virtual visits to prisons.

Jointer and Cantu have bonded through the years – both grew up in Chicago and were involved in the criminal justice system as youth. Both took those experiences and learned from them to start a business they hope will create change.

And, as the U.S. and world take notice of racial injustice through protests, marches and other means, both Jointer and Cantu are steadfast in their belief in the power for change.

“The world is changing whether or not we are prepared for it,” Jointer said. “The question is what role will we have in this metamorphosis? We can choose to take a proactive role or passive role, but either way, the world is changing and there’s an undeniable energy and undeniable force. There isn’t a better time to be alive than right now. The world is changing and I’m just glad I’m able to be a part to aid in that change.”

Cantu said it’s important for people, organizations and the news industry to not sensationalize what is happening and to keep companies accountable and not only be reactive but proactive. “It’s more than a protest and more than a march,” he said.

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