Deon Jones is the youngest elected official (ANC) in the history of Washington, D.C. His passion to provide opportunities for young people, particularly young African American and Hispanic boys, regardless of their zip code, is contagious. That’s what led him to his new role at Be The Change, Inc. with former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Rob Gordon III, and the fact he loves that his boss (who Deon calls RG3) asked him when he first started, three weeks ago, “Are you ready to change the world?”
In addition to his role at Be The Change, Inc., he serves as Executive Director of the MANifest Leadership Institute, a leadership and academic development program for formerly incarcerated youth.
Before joining Be the Change, Inc., Deon served as the National Spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national advocacy organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Deon has held fellowship and internship positions with in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the White House, and Teach for America. In addition, Deon served as a DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from 2011-2013, becoming the youngest elected city official in Washington, DC’s history.
Deon has been a speaker at many national and international conferences and events, including the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the NEXUS Global Youth Summit in New York City and London, the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, and more.
In 2013, the D.C. City Council passed the “Deon T. Jones Recognition Resolution of 2013” honoring Deon’s service to the city. Also, Deon is the first African-American from American University to be appointed a Harry S. Truman Scholar by Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.
Deon has been a contributor to Politic365 and News One Now w/ Roland Martin. He serves on the board of directors at America’s Promise Alliance and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Alumni Association. He was recently appointed to the National Council of Young Leaders.
He is a graduate of American University where he was a member of the School of Public Affairs Leadership Program. In addition, Deon has studied abroad at King’s College London and was a Public Policy and International Affairs fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
INTERVIEW | Getting to Know Deon
Tell us about a typical day in the life of Deon what blogs/newspapers, websites do you read that shape the way you think?
A typical day, in my life, has changed a lot since I graduated from American University four weeks ago. When I wake up, the first thing I do is pray and declare that a great day, on purpose, is ahead of me. I add that if I make a mistake that day, that I am given the strength to get up and keep it moving and the wisdom to not do it again.
On the way to work, I go through my Facebook and Twitter feeds to see what people are talking about and reading. Most people always lead me to some of my favorite outlets such as The Atlantic, Policy Mic, the NY Times, BuzzFeed, etc.
There is no normal day at work. Be The Change, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that creates national issue-based campaigns by organizing coalitions of nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, policymakers, private sector and civic leaders, academics and citizens. Its combined grasstops and grassroots approach engages well-known voices in entertainment, retail, government and philanthropy and, through their megaphones, Americans of all ages and backgrounds. The three campaigns of Be the Change, Inc. are ServiceNation, Opportunity Nation, and Got Your 6. The CEO is City-Year Co-Founder Alan Khazei and the President is Rob Gordon, III, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.
In my role, I manage the President’s daily operations. In addition, I am responsible for managing and leading new projects associated with our three campaigns. Currently, I am assisting the President with our work to bring on additional senior military and business leaders to support Opportunity Nation, Service Nation, and Got Your 6 efforts. I also coordinate fundraising strategies with the campaigns and assist with strategic communications.
After work, I head over to the Sasha Bruce R.E.A.C.H. house and put on my Executive Director hat at the Manifest Leadership Institute, an academic and leadership program for formerly incarcerated boys in Washington, D.C.
My day ends with a good drink, a few friends, or my favorite – relaxing at home and reading. Currently, I am reading four things: Ta-nehisi Coates’ front page piece in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations”, Capitalism in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, Our Kind of People by Lawrence Graham, and America’s Promise Alliance’s new report. “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” These materials are helping me look at how we view and access opportunity in this country and how it is denied, particularly for those living in poverty and disadvantaged African-Americans and Hispanics.
What (or who) inspired you to become an elected official, Truman Scholar, and White House intern?
When I was little, I can remember watching my hero, Oprah, all the time and going to church with my great-grandmother Shug. I would hear things like, “Through God, all things are possible,” and “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed.” If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains and anything was possible. I heard this as a kid and really believed it. Despite growing up in poverty, witnessing countless acts of domestic violence, and having many odds against me, that little thing we all have called “instinct” told me that my life would be different. Because I sensed that instinct and was connected to it, my prayer has always been – “God use me. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know there is a vision for my life greater than my imagination can hold. Use me. Use me. What would you have me to do?” And, that dream, that instinct, that prayer led me to Washington to build a platform that could make a difference.
There is no one who has had more influence on my personal and professional life in this city than my mentor and brother David Johns. Many people in this town say that you can reach out to them, but they never respond. David has been my guide since I was a freshman in college and has never ignored me. His work, passion, honesty, and sincerity are worthy of imitation. Among the many things he has shared with me, what he always tells me is to walk by faith.
I think the privilege of being an elected official, a Truman Scholar, a White House intern, or anything other successes I have had are products of me holding on to that instinct from when I was younger and the lessons I have learned from David Johns and watching Oprah.
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic, and social commitments?
I do not know the answer to this question. However, I keep a written “to-do” list with me all the time. That way, I will not forget anything or at least try not to. I also know that the four walls in my office will never remember that I was there all night and did not go home. My friends and family will.
What is the biggest mistake young professionals make, especially when pursuing a career in politics?
What I have observed is that so many young people do not have patience. They are rushing to go to the top graduate school, get the “bad ass” title, and have great influence. They do all this, end up having no life experiences, and come to Washington and write bloodless policy. When I was at the White House, the President told the interns, “Focus on the change you want to make and put your all into it. The title and all that other stuff will come later.” I would echo the President and that has been true for me during my time here in Washington.
What advice or learned lesson would you give other young professionals who desire to become an elected official?
AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER! Never be afraid to do or say something because of your age, and never let someone intimidate you because it either. You can do anything you set your mind to. General Colin Powell once told me, “Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros — even in their own backyard.”
I could not be who I am by being afraid to sit at the table with someone who could be my parent or grandparent. I actually love it, and you should too.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
The most rewarding experience in my career has been the ten, formerly incarcerated young men who have completed the MANifest Leadership Institute and went on to four-year universities. Their life trajectory has changed and now, their family history will too. The most rewarding experiences are when you see REAL CHANGE take place in someone’s life because of your work.
What’s next for you in your career and what is your approach to reaching the next phase of your professional development?
Wherever the Creator places me where I am continuing in the fight to #SaveOurSons, #TeachTheBabies, and making sure that every young person has the opportunity and resources to reach the American dream is where I will be, regardless of the industry.
My approach to reaching that next phase is to be prepared for that moment when preparation meets opportunity. Then, continue on with the breath of the Creator behind my back.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Deon Jones.
Resilient, Servant, #HereToStay (Can a hashtag be one word?)
How can people reach you on social media?
Twitter and Instagram: @deontjones
Justin G. Tanner currently serves as a political appointee in the Obama Administration at the U.S. Small Business Administration, where he works to assist thousands of small businesses throughout the country with various government contracting and business development initiatives.
Prior to accepting his appointment, Mr. Tanner worked in external affairs for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, where he helped cultivate and maintain the City of Atlanta’s relationships at the state, local and federal levels of government. In the first two years of the mayor’s initial term, Mr. Tanner worked as a communications aide in the Mayor’s Office of Communications; and before joining City Hall, he served as Director of New Media on Mayor Reed’s 2009 citywide campaign and 2010 Inaugural Planning Committee. He has also gained experience in the private sector working with corporate law firms, Fortune 100 companies and small/medium-sized businesses.
Mr. Tanner is passionate about public service, mentoring young people and supporting the community. He is the recipient of the National Bar Association (NBA)’s Maynard Jackson Legacy Award, the NBA’s Trailblazer Under 40 Award and the Morehouse Alumni Association’s Dr. Joseph Draper Service Award. In addition, he has been profiled in the Atlanta Business Chronicle (40 Under 40), Atlanta Tastemaker Magazine (Top 20 Influencers of 2013), Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine (2013 Young Executive Issue), emPower magazine (2014 List of Rising Political Leaders) and Who’s Who in Black Atlanta (14th & 15th Editions). He a graduate of Leadership Buckhead, LEAD Atlanta, Outstanding Atlanta, New Leaders Council (NLC) Atlanta and the Truman National Security Project. He also serves as an ambassador on NLC’s National Strategic Advisory Council.
Mr. Tanner received his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, TN and his B.B.A. from Howard University in Washington, DC. While matriculating at Howard, he became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.– Alpha Chapter.
There are always a few things that come to mind when one thinks of the months August and September — the end of summer and back to school! All over the city, children and young college students gear up for the first days of school while mourning the ends of sleeping in and endless beach days. This back to school season, we want to make sure you are adequately prepared for those first days of school.
For college students the most important thing to remember is to get your schedule back on track! Whether you’re a freshman or a rising senior, time management and regulated sleep schedules are key to success throughout the early days of the fall semester. Gone are the days of sleeping until 4 p.m. and procrastinating on every little task because you have all the time in the world to complete them. At least two weeks before the first week of classes start students should be setting their class schedules and developing the habit of sleeping in the correct pattern. Mapping out a general study schedule for the week is also helpful, although it may not be possible until the first week of school or so when students are more familiar with their course load.
In addition make sure you’re stocking up on school supplies, whether it be ordering a new laptop and printer or going the more traditional route and binge buying notebooks, pencils and highlighter; Dorm supplies are essential as well—I mean what’s life without study snacks?—showing up with a full stash will eliminate last minute trips that only hinder studying productivity. Always remember, preparation is the key to being a successful student so plan ahead and be sure to include plenty of breaks. School is just around the corner! Check out these tips from Collegecandy.com for more back to school shopping must-haves!
On April 15, 2014, nearly 300 girls were abducted from their boarding school in Nigeria by militants of a terrorist organization known as Boko Haram, whose focus is the opposition on Western education; “Boko Haram” literally means “western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language. Since their attack on the Chibok Government Secondary School, this incident has become more than “Nigeria’s problem”; the United States has now taken it on as their problem. Currently, there is a website that has been created, www.bringbackourgirls.us, which provides news on the occurrences in Nigeria in response to the kidnapping as well as how we can help bring more attention to the issue.
Upon this tragedy, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, has been heavily criticized due to his lack of responsiveness to the situation, which is directly alluded to in the Washington Post article, “What Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan should have written”; it encompasses a speech that, in my opinion, insults, criticizes, and defames the Nigerian President for the speech that he did provide in response to the criticisms against him. However, despite being all of those things, it is also honest, and its intentions are clear and direct; it demanded accountability. This article spoke volumes about holding those in power accountable; the language clearly depicts the subliminal message that President Goodluck Jonathan is sending via his actions; that finding more than 200 missing girls is not one of his top priorities. He is, however, now concerned with recovering his image so that he does not also lose his credibility.
Although your leaders may not be neglectful to this magnitude, does this speech reflect any of their actions? I’m sure many of you can say that it does; since you know this, it is your responsibility to hold your own leaders to a higher standard of accountability as well as become an active part of #BringBackOurGirls; its website provides information on how to become a part of the movement by organizing, rallying,spreading the word on social media, and joining other events that are already in place. I encourage everyone to read this article; it will encourage you to not only become more supportive of this growing movement, but to also scrutinize the actions of your own leaders and representatives. Accountability, among other things, is the foundation of leadership.
Voting has always been the best way for constituents to get their voices heard in local, state, and national governments. As a democracy, we reserve the right to choose who we want to represent our needs, and voting directly impacts this process. While the youth voter turnout has always been important in elections, politically-involved youth tend to lean Democratic, which of course would mean more problems for Republican-controlled locations. The youth vote, and more importantly the minority vote, is what helped the nation’s first-elected African American President win two terms in office; this definitely has not gone unnoticed in Republican states.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) helped to eradicate several instances of voter discrimination aimed toward minorities. These practices would range from poll taxes, unfairly administered literacy tests, and a number of absurd methods aimed to dissuade and prevent the minority vote from making an impact. VRA, which helped to break down barriers minorities faced as well as a measure in the 1970’s that lowers the voting age to 18, further allowed both college aged youth and young minorities to become involved in the political process as well make serious differences in election results.
Due to the noted effect of both the youth and minority vote in the last two elections, states with Republican control have taken extreme measures to once again stifle their voice. In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed several measures and initiatives to either take voting precincts off of, or move them further away from, college campuses that tend to lean Democratic.
Several examples of voter suppression include: gerrymandering (the practice of redrawing precinct lines to favor a particular party), voter ID laws which may bar the use of a college ID as proper qualifications, requiring that out-of-state students use a mail-in ballot due to “not actually being a resident of their college state”, and a slew of other tactics up for consideration. This past year, North Carolina A&T’s Rock the Vote campaign focused on voter registration, awareness about the importance of voting, student turnout, and lackluster enthusiasm toward voting — all of which are major concerns to the university.
This reflects the trend of some HBCU’s in the south to experience lack of excitement on the issue due to the various efforts on behalf of their state to protect Republican interests. Even in Florida, voter disenfranchisement issues have affected their college campuses including their four HBCU’s (Florida A&M, Florida Memorial, Edward Waters, and Bethune-Cookman). Sketchy political processes, purging registered voters, and missing ballots have surfaced in the state’s news headlines and are being targeted as further tactics from Republicans to stifle the voice of many college and minorities.
Despite best efforts to undermine the minority and youth vote, several campaigns and organizations have organized to combat and raise awareness to these issues. North Carolina’s Student Engagement and Empowerment Network (SEEN) has been created by 10 HBCU’s in the state to develop ideas and strategies to empower and mobilize minority and young voters. Also, the American Civil Liberties Union has been effective in calling out these malice practices and posting information on current news relating to developments with voter suppression. Even the Washington, DC-based nonprofit IMPACT’s “#VoteReady” campaign was established to both raise awareness, as well as actively help to register and re-register voters under age 40. Another important aspect of the campaign has been its use of the growing platform of social media to reach the masses and mobilize youth on college campuses as well across the country.
As both minorities and youth, our voice is especially important. As seen before, we have more power and influence than ever before in elections, and it’s imperative that we continue to showcase our presence. We must stay alert and aware to legislation passed to silence our voices and continuously fighting for the preservation of our right to vote. While these practices as well as believing that our voice isn’t actually heard may discourage some, we must never give up in the grand scheme of things. Voting has been and will always be the best way for one to exercise power and influence in the political process.
Nearly two centuries after the United States gained its independence, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, granted African Americans their long awaited independence from the harsh brutality brought upon them by other Americans simply because of the color of their skin. The Civil Rights Act, not only protects citizens from racial persecution, but also deems it illegal to discriminate on the basis of color, sex, religion, or national origin. This law solemnly marked the beginning of a new and ever-changing era and catalyzed a glimpse of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened doors for many other laws that protected the rights and equality of all citizens to follow. Laws such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made it illegal to use literacy tests for voter registration (many of which made it impossible for African Americans to pass) and allowed federal prosecution to oversee minority voters and to scrutinize the use of poll taxes in state and local elections. The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission drafted the 1964 law that made it illegal for discrimination in the work place. These along with other laws, such as the Equal Housing Act of 1968 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, worked to continue the fight of American impartiality.
On July 15th, I had the pleasure of attending the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 celebration, which was hosted by the U.S Department of Justice and Howard University. This celebration sought to praise and recognize all of the leaders, activists, students, and civilians, who fought for and contributed to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These people held countless sit-ins, marched on Washington, encountered riots along with church and house bombings. Astounding leaders and activists of this movement, such as Ambassador Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and Helen Zia spoke of their experiences and roles in the fight for equality. Additionally, there were present-day leaders, such as the first African American U.S Attorney General, Eric H. Holder Jr., Secretary Thomas E. Perez, Secretary Arne Duncan along with many others, who had the chance to speak at the Tuesday celebration.
From the start of the celebration, I could tell that it would be a call for my generation to go out and fight for a cause. This resonated in me at the beginning of Attorney General, Eric H. Holder’s speech, when he stated, “It is a privilege to be among so many distinguished guests including… young people, who will carry on the work that we commemorate and build on the single achievement that we celebrate here today.” Following Attorney General Holder, Ambassador Andrew Young proceeded by giving testimony to only accomplishing two-thirds of Dr. King’s promise, which was to, “Redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty.”
He elucidated that we could not redeem the war on poverty because we do not understand economics. He continued his speech by explaining that our textbooks are outdated and what we are learning in school about economics has no relevance to the actual economics of our new technological world. To me, his message to the youth was to gain a sufficient understanding of global economics and to take on the war on poverty. The advice from the Impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Panel was remarkably motivational as well. One of the panelists, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland’s advice represented the overall message of the entire celebration, “Find your cause and do something. You don’t know where it’ll lead.”
Hearing Ambassador Young and Julian Bond speak about high school and college students playing a crucial role in the movement, hit home for me. I began to compare the amount of students who were active in fighting against the injustices in America in the 1960s to the amount of students active in fighting against present-day injustices. Being a student at a Historically Black University, that played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement, I expect to see more students dedicated to changing the America that we live in. What many of us fail to realize is that the Civil Rights Movement is still present today. We are living it.
There are countless injustices that Americans are still facing. I believe that a critical problem in my generation is the absence of action. We know about the Trayvon Martin case and the overwhelming amount of police brutality placed upon African Americans, but what are we doing to change such wrongdoings? It starts with exercising our right to vote. We vote to elect the people that we feel best represent our needs and wants into office, so that we can be equally represented in regards to governmental affairs and legislation. Assuring that we participate in both state and local elections can further ensure that minorities will move closer to attaining social agency in the United States.
The overall message to my generation from the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is that we, as the youth, must take on the war on poverty, get involved, and exercise our right to vote. Without action, we will not only lose sight on the importance of the Civil Rights Act, but will also renounce the rights that our ancestors fought so unremittingly for us to exercise.
The one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court Shelby County v. Holder decision was on June 25, 2014. The decision has caused uproar throughout the country considering that the Court ruled Section 4(b) unconstitutional. Section 4(b) contains the coverage formula for Section 5, which calls for “certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their laws and practices.”
Shelby County, Alabama, a county located in a state that played a major role in civil and social injustices during the Civil Rights movement, petitioned that the preclearance for Section 5 deemed unconstitutional and argued that America’s current conditions no longer legitimize the preclearance. Attorney General, Eric H. Holder argued that the restrictions in Section 4(b) are vital to protecting the voting rights of citizens in states that previously abused them. Since this court decision, sure enough, states such as Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and many others proceeded with actions that they were previously incapable of, such as the passing of voter ID laws, eliminating same-day voter registration, seizing early voting, and adding more than needed regulations to their voter ID laws. Many citizens, organizations, activists, and elected officials were appalled by this decision because of how it affects such a large number of citizens, who are now restricted by these newfound laws and are furthermore unable to cast in their votes for elections.
On the date of the one year anniversary, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA). The objective of the hearing was to provide awareness and solutions to the current challenges that citizens now face due to the Shelby County v. Holder decision. Postliminary to the hearing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted the VRAA rally on U.S Capitol Grounds.
I had the pleasure of attending this rally and was intrigued by the atmosphere and by the amount people in attendance. People of all races were united in fighting and advocating for the rights of all citizens. It was such an uplifting and insightful experience and I am honored to have had the opportunity to stand along with many other young activists to protest for equal voting opportunities for all Americans. The rally consisted of powerful and highly respected elected officials, who did the crowd and viewers a service by speaking and educating the public about an injustice in our country. Speakers consisted of members of Congress, members of regional NAACP officials, including the State President of the Georgia NAACP, Reverend Dr. Francys Johnson and the National Interim President and CEO of the NAACP, Lorraine C. Miller.
Reflecting on this experience and the Shelby County v. Holder decision, I find it ignominious that a critical section in the Voting Rights Amendment, which was created to ensure the equal rights of all American citizens, could so easily be declared unconstitutional because it is was created merely 40 years ago. This court decision should be a wake-up call to all Americans that the fight for equality is not quite over. Surely, because of this, I have decided to work interminably hard with the Howard University NAACP College Chapter and the surrounding NAACP College Chapters of Washington, DC to increase the number of voters and to implement the importance of understanding advocacy and how taking a stand for the equality of all American citizens is still vital in a country of presumed impartiality.