On Saturday, March 11 during the opening weekend of SXSW, well-known CNN contributor Van Jones made a splash at Huston-Tillotson University, the historically Black college in East Austin.
Jones is most known for his series of CNN town halls entitled The Messy Truth, where he moderates discussions between Americans about Trump’s presidency. He also co-hosts the debate show Crossfire where he famously called Donald Trump’s victory a “white-lash” on election night.
Jones spent 20 years as a political activist, as well, receiving numerous awards for his work and at one point serving as president Obama’s Special Adviser for Green Jobs. He is due for a SXSW panel on March 10th, but made another stop in Austin first.
The New Philanthropists (TNP) coordinated Jones’ appearance. TNP is an organization that aims to create better pathways to leadership positions for minorities. Jones shared many refreshing ideas on this subject. He outlined to his audience what he considers essential for minority communities to succeed. What he called his “three-M conversion.”
I was never afraid to be in front of a camera or speak into a microphone – I’ve got something to say.”
First, Mobilization: Jones explained that people spend a large amount time complaining about problems in their communities, when taking even the smallest action would be more productive. “Just do something,” he said. “Vulnerable populations are the best therapists that white people never listen to.”
Second, Media: Jones went on to talk about how some minorities have a passive aggressive relationship with the idea of taking credit. “Own your need for acknowledgment and maintain visibility.” He advised. “I was never afraid to be in front of a camera or speak into a microphone – I’ve got something to say.”
Third, Money: “Take your media, get money, do something bigger,” he explained. During the Q&A that followed Jones’ talk, he agreed that more Black growth in tech is important, an issue raised by Marcus Carey, CEO of vThreat, an Austin-based software security company.
The other key part of Van Jones’ message was the idea that communities of color need to start focusing on economic power rather than political power.
What you really are is a spiritual being who got stuck on this dysfunctional social change truck.
“I’m tired of trying to get the rich groups to be diverse. Let’s get the diverse groups to be rich. If we’re going to fight, let’s fight for the money.” He said. “We have to be willing to go out in our own communities and build some value.” He continued, “What you really are is a spiritual being who got stuck on this dysfunctional social change truck.”
Although Jones’ ideas about how to strengthen minority communities were different from the norm, they elicited a very positive response from the crowd. His speech was littered with claps, head nods of approval, cheering, laughing, and the occasional “Um-hum” from the audience. Overall, the talk was very direct as well as insightful. People left in a good mood, as well as with some very hardy food for thought.