After listening to Troy Delone discuss how he spent nearly 17 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola before being released early and granted a second chance, Sheryl Sandberg fought back tears.
“What he said was, ‘I have hope,’ ” said Sandberg, chief operating officer of the social media titan Facebook, after she dined and talked with Delone and others Tuesday at Café Reconcile on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. “And we need to give people hope, and hope means that we build resilience with them.”
Sandberg was in New Orleans to meet with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and graduates of the mayor’s StriveNOLA initiative, along with alumni of Café Reconcile’s job skills training program.
Sandberg, who in 2015 lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, the former CEO of online-questionnaire provider SurveyMonkey, to unexpected heart complications, has traveled around the country in recent weeks promoting a book she co-authored about her grief and recovery.
She was due to speak in detail about the book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” with political consultant Mary Matalin later Tuesday at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.
The book, which she wrote with Wharton School professor and psychologist Adam Grant, has also inspired a nonprofit organization, OptionB.org, where people who have endured trauma may swap stories and find solace with one another.
She launched a similar support platform for working women when she released her first book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” in 2013.
On Tuesday, however, she was all ears as a handful of graduates of the work readiness and restaurant training programs shared their stories over fried catfish and stuffed bell peppers at the Central City restaurant.
Delone, 38, was released from Angola in December after Gov. John Bel Edwards commuted his two life sentences. He said that if there had been a program like StriveNOLA when he was in his teens and getting into the kind of trouble that would ultimately lead to his conviction for armed robbery, things might have turned out differently.
“My reality was just, everyday, watching people deal drugs, use drugs and hurt each other,” Delone said. "That’s what I thought my life consisted of.”
Upon his release, Delone enrolled in a transitional program, the First 72+, which brought him to STRIVE, which helps provides soft-skills training to help people advance in their careers, focusing particularly on things like professionalism and resumé building.
Now, Delone is working with the Ekhaya Youth Project, a support organization for children with emotional issues, and the mayor’s CeaseFire initiative, which deploys outreach teams to try to resolve potentially violent situations before they escalate into retaliatory shootings and long-standing conflicts between street groups.
Others at the table spoke of being connected with their first professional jobs after years of feeling that such opportunities were out of their reach.
Seeing such transformations has been one of the most gratifying things about the program, said Landrieu, who added that the program’s efforts may be tied to a recent drop in the city’s unemployment rate for working-age African-American men.
That rate was 52 percent in 2011 but 44 percent in 2015, according to a City Hall analysis of census data.
“It’s really nice to see, you know what? Every person is really valuable, and if you give them a chance, they will do well,” the mayor said.
Sandberg, who a week ago marked the second anniversary of her husband’s death, echoed those sentiments and said that hearing stories like Delone’s puts things into perspective.
“I believe so deeply that everyone deserves that opportunity, and that we have a responsibility as individuals and as a society to help them build,” she said.