Meet Jewell Jones, the youngest ever Black elected official

Young people are a political force to be reckoned with

vocbanner

After a long-winded presidential election left most of the country feeling disappointed, many Americans have been looking for silver linings.

Chief among the triumphs of Election 2016 is the 21-year-old State Representative-elect from Michigan, Jewell Jones. After being the youngest member of the Inkster City Council (aged 20), he again made history on November 8th by becoming the youngest State Representative ever to be elected in Michigan.

State Representative-elect Jones ran as a Democrat to fill a vacant seat after the sudden passing of Rep. Julie Plawecki. Stepping up to the plate, Jones defeated his Republican opponent Robert Pope with 66 percent of the vote.

Jones’ historic victory is Black history, American history, and significant in breaking down misconceptions around our generation.

He will join a group of much older representatives, but that challenge isn’t daunting to him. Jones views it as an asset to be a young person speaking with others who are not like him.

12186839_466889903519092_6337289420292180538_o

All photos property of Representative Jones

“I think it gives me a different perspective,” he told The Tab. “I think just coming in with a fresh set of eyes and different ideas of how I’d like to see things as a young person helps with people who have been sitting around for a while. It’s just a perspective change. They’re looking at situations from a viewpoint that I’m not used to, I’m looking from a viewpoint that they’re not used to, and I think it’s good for the community.”

Like many young people, his view of politics is one informed by the necessity of advocating, maintaining an activist’s perspective around the issues he deals with. Representative-elect Jones views his multiple campaigns for city councilman and state representative as a movement—not politics as usual.

He told us: “Once I put out the word I was running for city council, young people wanted to get involved because I went ahead and stepped out there.”

There is a clear distinction once in office for Jones not to become a politician: “Once I’m actually in office, I’m more of a public servant than a politician.”

As he serves the public, he will keep the people who elected him on his mind, as well as the responsibility that comes with it. His position is one where many—specifically young men and women of color—will be looking toward him as a role model, but his understanding of this is profound.

“It’s important,” he explains. “Whenever I get the chance to post a picture of other young people like me, it shows them there are other successful people like them—being a brother or sister of color. You can make it, there’s a brighter day ahead.”

“The strength of the family has really been challenged over time. Whenever I can be a role model to someone who’s younger—that’s one of the most important things to me. We want to make sure that they are thoroughly prepared to grab the torch and keep it moving.”

Although the Representative-elect’s victory emits feelings of optimism, hope, and opportunity, the political landscape he is entering is fraught for him as a Democratic politician. Jones’ own state of Michigan was part of a rust-belt revolt—along with Ohio and Wisconsin—against the Democratic Party which propelled Donald Trump to the presidency. The House of Representatives and the Senate are all controlled by the Republican party, and the Supreme Court will most likely be conservatively bent for the next generation.

When asked about this political landscape he laughed: “I think what’s important is we as Democrats need to get more active, actually in our districts. Focus on grassroots activity.”

14192507_584148645126550_1989430743673851441_n

“I think a lot of Democrats need to be back in their districts getting people involved. We need to become more accessible to our constituents.” He went on to affirm his resolve: “What I’ll be doing is building our entire electorate—as many people as we possibly can.”

As for his view on Trump’s America, Jones has decided to stay positive.“I’ve heard a lot of negative things but I am an optimistic person. I’m just planning on waiting and seeing right now. Hopefully it’s not as bad as they say.”

Asked about the significance of his historic win, he said: “I think that it’s saying something. Especially with the election that just happened and all the rhetoric, to see myself and others still moving and still rising, it sheds light on a situation that many don’t see as favorable.”

As a double major in Political Science and Finance at UM-Dearborn, a member of both the Black Student Union and the Student Veterans Association, and part of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, he has shown the world that young people want to be involved in the country’s political conversation.

At a time when campus politics are largely dismissed, Jones has stepped up as a college student to bring about serious change in a position of prominence, all while in an era where that can feel seriously challenging.

Representative-elect Jones at the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Convening in Chicago, IL., earlier this year

Representative-elect Jones at the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Convening in Chicago, earlier this year

Jones is living proof that countless young people across the country are making their mark on a divided America in a positive way. He represents the new face of politics and the shape of progress to come. One can only feel hopeful about the future after witnessing young ground-breakers like Jones stepping into the room where it all happens and doing the hard work.

“I would say right now is the perfect time to get involved in whatever capacity,” he said.

Jones urged everyone, but especially his peers, to get educated: “Whoever’s coming up next should be better than the person who was there first.”

He added: “Whatever we’re doing, we have to make sure we’re learning. We have to push for unity. Those young people that are looking to get involved—do it right now.”

More
Temple University