Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

Ben Jealous

The youngest-ever leader of the civil rights organization, Jealous, 37, is steering the NAACP through an era marked by both the election of the first African-American President and rising racial tension, including a spat between the Tea Party movement and Jealous himself. He helped organize a Washington rally this month for a coalition of progressive groups he calls "the antidote" to the Tea Party.

Who is your political hero/inspiration?
My parents. They met as students and civil rights activists. Their marriage was illegal. The patriarch of my father's family disowned him for marrying my mother. They have been married for 44 years and never stopped loving each other and serving their communities. They taught me the value of courage and sacrifice in the pursuit of boundless love.

What's your go-to political blog? I am the former managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, Mississippi's oldest black newspaper and one of the most frequently fire-bombed newspapers in the US. Reading black and other independent local newspapers is vital to maintaining a healthy perspective on what matters most to American communities.

If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
I would be serving as a parish priest. I spent much of my early adulthood at St. Mary's Episcopal church in Harlem, working as a community organizer and running the church's program for boys. There is nothing more satisfying than living in the community you serve every day. A life of service through the church is where I was headed before taking an unexpected turn in to leading civil and human rights movement organizations.

What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
Poverty. Poverty is widespread and growing in America. It is fueled by a school to prison pipeline that must be crushed in our lifetimes. We simply cannot return America to being the world leader in student achievement, unless we make every school a great school, ensure every American who wants to work can find a good job, and stop using prisons to address problems for which better, less expensive solutions exist.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
Exactly, where I am right now.