Video: Employing the 'unemployable'

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/5/2007 7:29:39 PM ET 2007-01-06T00:29:39

At sunrise, Edna Stewart is already busy kneading her famous biscuit dough.

"I'll put my biscuits with anybody's biscuits," she says.

She's serving up soul food and a second chance at life for those in need.

For 41 years Stewart has dished up collard greens and cornbread on Chicago's West Side, where in the 1960s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to eat and organize. Stewart's dad, a sharecropper, insisted King eat for free.

"We always help each other," says Edna Stewart. "We just help people — period."

For years Stewart, now 68, has offered work to those others won't touch — ex cons like Davey Watkins, a former drug dealer who now washes dishes.

"It's making a big difference in my life," says Watkins, "because if I wouldn't have been working here, I would have been out there on the streets, probably doing whatever, you know?"

Stewart's already helped keep about 100 former felons off those mean streets.

Does she tell them: "I'll give you a chance, but after that you have to stand on your own two feet?"

"Right," says Stewart, "and then I let them know this is a little job. They got to go to a bigger job. I won't be here forever."

But for now, after years in and out jail, Larry Price has built a new life.

"If you're trying to change your life from your past," he says, "she's willing to stick with you all the way."

Edna's is still a neighborhood magnet, and Edna Stewart is its soul.

"It's not changing the world," says customer Richard Graham. "Obviously there's a lot of people getting out of jail, but she's taking one step in that 1,000 mile journey, so she's doing something where nothing is being done."

"Because they've been in jail doesn't mean they're the worst people in the world," says Stewart about her employees. "It doesn't mean that. We all make mistakes."

A simple recipe for success.

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