Unlike many students who are eager to pursue their career ambitions after college, that is not the case for Jewell Jones. The full-time junior student, who is a political science and finance double-major at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, joined the Inkster City Council in Michigan this fall.
Gaining more than 60 percent of the vote in the November 3rd non-partisan general election, the 20-year-old made history. Jones, who is the first politician in his family, became the youngest person to ever sit on Inkster’s six-member City Council, after he was sworn into office in November. Inkster is a majority African American suburb in Detroit with a population of more than 25,000.
Aiming to change his hometown for the better, the life-long Inkster resident stressed that the eroding trust between the community and police, unemployment and lack of resources for youths were the main issues that prompted to launch a campaign bid.
NBCBLK recently spoke with Councilman Jones about his involvement in representational politics as a college student. He shared his thoughts about the importance of youth participation in civic causes and the plans he has for his constituency – the city’s 4th District.
NBCBLK: What made you decide on getting involved in politics?
Jones: My parents would drag me around to different events at my church and community when I was younger. But most recently, I was at the Congressional Black Caucus Conference last fall of 2014. The speakers talked about getting involved our community. I was already active. I was speaking with a Councilman about the upcoming election and he told me that he would not seek re-election. I joked around and told him that I’m going to run. I later took it more serious and started reaching out to people in my network and pastor. After we prayed about it, I threw my hat in the race. And We came out all right.
NBCBLK: Were you nervous about losing the race? What kept you going throughout the campaign?
Jones: No. I wasn’t. I didn’t focus on the other candidate. I was more focused on my plan to win. What kept me going was the support from my family and the community. They were all supportive, especially after I announced my candidacy. They all rallied around me and gave motivational words.
NBCBLK: You’re a college student and the youngest person ever to sit on the Inkster City Council, which is all-black. What is that feeling like?
Jones: It’s exciting. I feel like I could be a catalyst or an example to other young people — showing them that it is possible. All you have to do is to put in the work. We do have a spot at the table. But we have to go to the table, have a seat with grown people and start a true conversation to get our points across, because young people need to be represented. It’s a new day in Inkster. I feel excited about what I could do to get more youths involved in the political process.
NBCBLK: What was your campaign platform? Why did you focus on those issues?
Jones: I ran on public safety, parks and recreation, and economic and community development. I want us to ensure that we have programs in place that would positively influence our youths. Right now [the council] is also focused on changing the culture of our police department. We need better community policing, and we want to have our officers more engaged with residents.
NBCBLK: How do you balance your time as an elected official and a college student?
Jones: I try not letting it affect my schooling. I use time management. On a day-to-day basis, I decide on what is most important to work on at a particular time. Coming off the campaign, I’m now trying to catch up on school. The semester is almost over, and I’m ensuring I get good grades in my classes, because during the campaign I lose some focus.
NBCBLK: Do you see yourself as a lawmaker on the state level sometime in the future?
Jones: Definitely. I’m just laying the foundation right now. I’m looking forward to moving onward and upward for greater things. I’m 20 years old and have already achieved my first checkpoint to get there. I’m definitely looking to building the base and to pick up more young people on the way. I’ll be that welcoming hand, letting them know that we can do it together for our community.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]