Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ordinary Hero: Van Jones

Image copyright L. Kathryn Grace, 2009
All rights reserved

Seven months ago, when I first wrote about him, Van Jones was promoting green jobs and a green economy for the blue collar worker.
We need a green economy that honors the earth ... but not a green economy only for the eco-chic. ... The people who are struggling for bus fare--they have a place too.

Van Jones, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

That alone is enough to warrant the Ordinary Heroes award. There's so much more. If it's green, if it's the economy, if it's jobs, Jones is there, showing us how we can lift ourselves and help others lift themselves from poverty to prosperity, slow human-caused climate change and protect our environment in the bargain. In fact, he's shown up twice more here, on Realizing Ordinary, in I'm ready for the green economy--Are you? and in Pinning our hopes on youth.

Hear what he has to say.

We are just now at the beginning of this green wave of new technologies that are environmentally friendly, and that green wave now has to be designed to lift all boats.

Van Jones

A 1993 Yale graduate, "serially successful social entrepreneur", and author of the New York Times best seller The Green Collar Economy:Green Collar Economy book on Amazonto cite just a few of his accomplishments, Jones is now President Obama's green-jobs czar at the White House, a decision that marks the level of the president's commitment to building a greener economy.

That's exciting. Even more exciting, though, is the hand Jones gives to the most impoverished of our nation and how hard he is working especially to help youth of color to a piece of the American dream.

We can't just keep sending our children away to funeral homes and prisons.

A Tennessee native with keen entrepreneurial savvy, Jones could have done anything with his life. He chose to devote his incredible talent, energy, charisma and intelligence to stopping violence and near-rite-of-passage imprisonment for our nation's youth of color. Three years out of college, he co-founded, with Diana Frappier, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996. In direct disproportion to society, our overcrowded prisons are stuffed with blacks and Latinos. That fact alone makes crime and the prosecution of crime in this country a matter of human rights. Jones sought to change those statistics by changing the lives of the people behind them.

He is perhaps the first to articulate on the national level that more than schooling and jobs are required to change a community from one filled with drive-by shootings, funerals and revolving prison doors to one filled with picket fences, school books and cookies in the oven. Because the poorest of us grow up in the most marginalized communities, often built over landfills and toxic waste dumps, children develop asthma and other chemically-induced diseases in greater proportion than children of affluent neighborhoods. It's not enough to give people a hand up; we need to help clean up.

Jones is committed to cleaning up the toxic mess we made in the last two centuries, and preventing its occurrence in the future--a matter of life and death for poor children.
The next big play in the economy is going to be greening the economy, turning away from the suicide economy to a sustainable economy. Let's make sure those communities that were locked out of the last century's pollution-based economy are gonna be locked in to this new clean and green economy.
For his commitment to ending poverty and endemic racism through the development of environmentally safe industry and for using his passion, energy, intelligence and love to help the poorest of us build prosperous lives while reclaiming the fresh, wholesome beauty of our Earth and preserving our soil, water, air and natural world for generations to come, this week's Ordinary Heroes award is offered to Van Jones with deepest gratitude.


  1. Anonymous1:07 AM

    Wow, thanks for highlighting such an amazing man. Van Jones is showing all of us the way we should be living!

    Thank you!


  2. Wow. He sounds like a true hero. Great post!

  3. Wonderful post! I wish more people could think the way he does. Happy Monday to you! :D


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