Being the Change
Growing up, as he described it, "poor" in Peoria, Ill., Cannon saw the challenges and heartbreak his community faced, including incarceration.
When he joined the military, as a young adult, and became a distinguished member of the military police, Cannon thought he'd found his path in life. He became a prison guard for most of his adult life, seeing the impact of incarceration firsthand.
"I thought that was it for me — working the yard, controlling movement of inmates from housing to work, keeping inmates in," Cannon said.
Until one day, "I didn't want to be me anymore," he recalled. He wanted to prevent incarceration, rather than enforce it.
"Most people in there, if they could go back and make different decisions, they would," Cannon said. "I realized that I was good at keeping people in prison, but I wanted to keep them out."
Cannon saw that he could make an impact right in his backyard.
In 2011, Cannon started New Window ELITE, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of both kids and adults in Peoria by focusing on behavioral rehabilitation. His efforts include teaching them soft skills and getting students engaged in hobbies or jobs so they are "occupied and off the street."
"We see a total turnaround in people. If you can help flip their behavior, their grades or circumstance will follow," Cannon said. "Then, they can become role models for others."
ELITE, across their elementary and high school programs, re-entry program and game-changers program, has certified more than 1,600 graduates and helped more than 120 people re-enter society after incarceration, boosting student GPAs by 67% in the process.