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Marcus Bullock, Founder of Flikshop, talks equity through entrepreneurship during virtual lunchtime keynote address

On March 3, 2021, Loyola University Maryland students, alumni, faculty, staff, and members of the Baltimore community were joined by Marcus Bullock for the virtual lunchtime keynote that served as the kickoff to the Sellinger School of Business and Management’s annual event series, Building a Better World Through Business. In his inspiring talk, “Advancing Equity Through Entrepreneurship: My Journey from Incarceration to Innovation,” Marcus shared his journey from a prison system that perpetuates oppression, hopelessness, and isolation, to building a life and starting a business anchored in making a difference.  By encouraging the audience to join him in a conversation about race and justice reform and to ask the uncomfortable questions that they may be afraid to ask in other forums, Marcus engaged us to lean in, listen, ask and act. 

Marcus began by telling the viewers of his experience as a teenager within the criminal justice system. Marcus recounted that when he was a teenager, he and a friend made the decision to carjack a man sleeping in his car, in a mall parking lot in Virginia. “It was one of the worst decisions of my life” said Bullock. At his sentencing, the judge decided Marcus, at the age of 15, would serve eight years in an adult maximum-security prison. “My brain wasn’t processing what was really happening—in fact, I lived in denial of that prison sentence for the first two years.” Continually thinking that he would get out early and be home with his family, Marcus came to terms with his sentence and started to believe that he would die looking at cinder block walls. “I got immediately hopeless,” he said. 

During those first two years of denial, Marcus said that his mother would visit him constantly. However, every time she came, Marcus described having to watch the correctional officers pat her down. This was very hard for Marcus to watch.  “I don’t want you to go through this any longer,” he told her, in an effort to stop her from visiting. Marcus’s mother chuckled and said, “you have lost your ever-loving mind if you think I am letting you go to prison culture.” He said it was in this moment that she committed to sending him a picture and a letter every day for the remaining 6 years of his sentence—a commitment that Marcus credits with saving his life. 

On February 3, 2004, Marcus was released from prison. After walking through the exit doors, Marcus and his mother were able to hug each other without the 10-second prison limit. According to Marcus, the shared emotions in this moment were indescribable. Marcus expressed feeling relieved to start over, however, it wasn’t as easy as he initially thought. Once released from prison, Marcus was also sentenced to 10 years of intensive probation. “After 41 job applications and college applications, and everyone slamming the door in my face after me having to check that box that said I had been convicted of a felony, I became kind of discouraged.”

Marcus shared that, finally, as he was filling out his 42nd job application, the question asked, “have you been convicted of a felon in the last seven years?” Since his conviction had taken place over eight years ago, Marcus was thrilled to be able to check “no” and accept the position of paint mixer at a neighborhood paint store, which, in his words, “was the beginning of something that began to change.” 

As time went on, Marcus expressed that he did his best to keep in touch with the friends he made in prison, but often lacked the bandwidth to keep up with sending notes and photos like his mother did for him.  “You know how important mail call is,” they would tell him. Feeling bad about not keeping in touch, Marcus told the audience that he turned to Google to find ways to easily connect with his friends in prison. “When I couldn’t find a solution that would allow me to send my photos to my friends electronically, we launched Flikshop,” he said. Through Flikshop, an app allows people to easily send pictures and messages to family, friends, and loved ones in prison, Marcus has helped to connect over 170,000 families, providing the same “small glimmers of hope” that his mother provided for him all those years ago. 

Since the launch of Flikshop, Marcus has provided mentoring and job opportunities for returning citizens, and has launched Flikshop Angels, which, through community contributions, provides children with incarcerated parents Flikshop credits. 

Marcus closed his talk by challenging the audience to “actually go do the work.” That work—as described by Marcus—includes changing the dinner table conversations in our homes. “I believe that this is how you drive policy decisions and contribute to the narratives that point towards the brilliance of the people like me, that don’t want to be judged by the worst decisions of their lives.”

Thank you, Marcus Bullock, for serving as the 2021 keynote speaker for Building a Better World Through Business. The Loyola community and all that joined in on this brief, but impactful lunchtime talk is inspired by your resilience and motivated by your charge to “do the work.”

A recording of this event is available to the Loyola community now through May 12, 2021 through the Loyola library archives.