Activist Van Jones Celebrates 50th Birthday


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SAN FRANCISCO — During an evening of celebratory splendor last week, nearly 600 of Van Jones supporters, fans and family gathered at Fort Mason in San Francisco to honor him for not only his accomplishments, raising billions of dollars for social justice initiatives all over America, raising awareness of the perils of climate change or helping to close youth prisons.

But to also wish him a happy 50th Birthday.

It’s been a grand year for him. The Van Jones Show on CNN started this year and he announced to this writer, a second show to start soon titled, “Redemption.”

“I’m determined to change hearts and minds and feature people who have done bad things, yet now spend their time making amends,” Jones passionately declared.

In 2008, Van Jones released his groundbreaking book “The Green Collar Economy.” It was a transformative text about solving some of America’s biggest problems. The book essentially encouraged readers to become conscious of how we treat both people and the planet.

That same year he helped launch a program called, “The Dream Reborn,” an event that brought 1,250 people together in Memphis, Tennessee to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and exposed people to opportunities in the new green economy.

The very next year he was selected to be the ‘Green Jobs Czar’ in President Barack Obama’s cabinet of advisors. Van Jones was a part of many firsts that year. He was the first person ever with that title for the first African American president of the United States. His CNN colleague and political analyst, Angela Rye praised his accomplishments and provided perspective on his 50 years of life and his commitment to helping people.

“As toxic as these times might be, it is so important that we stand together and figure out how we can love one another because that is truly what changes the world,” Rye said. “And of course it is no surprise that Van is spending his birthday to raise money for causes that he loves dearly and to share the room with sucha diverse group of people.”

Speakers included, a reformed felon, a fiery community activist against human trafficking and a Republican pundit. However, Anthony ‘Van’ Jones’ twin sister Angela Jones put some deep perspective on who the honoree really was and how he came to be a giver of good will.

“Until the third grade, our grandfather thought he was developmentally disabled,” said Ms. Jones, also celebrating her 50th birthday. “He would only talk to me. He had a lisp and I would fight for him.” She went on to say, “He had to fight to find his voice.”

During the birthday party a common theme resonated. He told the audience, “I don’t believe in throwing any people away.”

His supporters noted his skills as a problem solver and a connector as evidence of leading efforts to creating many organizations including, “Green For All,” “Dream Corps,” “#yeswecode,” “#Cut50,” and bringing more than $2 Billion to the city of Oakland to fight against racial injustice.

Highlighting the help of many of his contemporaries Jones said, “Nobody does anything by themselves.”

He’s a self-proclaimed social entrepreneur whose mission is rooted in opening doors of opportunity, ending mass incarceration and developing new leadership.

“I’ve been a part of lots of initiatives,” he explained, when asked why he’s started so many organizations. “We continue to innovate and experiment to find better solutions. We closed youth prisons in California as ‘Books Not Bars’ and then ‘Ella Baker Center for Human Rights,’ then we looked around to see how we could create good jobs plus good jobs to protect the earth as ‘Green For All.’ Then we learned they (formerly incarcerated men and women) couldn’t have the high-tech jobs, so we started ‘Yes We Code.’”

Thirty years of changing laws and 50 years of life has only encouraged Jones to stay the course. He is adamant about using his media platform to fight against injustices everywhere. But most specifically against race, for equality and reversing the damage humans have incurred on our precious environment.

“I’ll never leave the battlefield until it (mass incarceration) is replaced,” Jones declared.
By Simeon Gant
Special To the OBSERVER

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