Basheer Jones Gives Black History Month Keynote

February 10, 2014

While door-to-door canvassing last fall for a Cleveland Ward 7 council seat, Basheer Jones still remembers how stunned he was when a constituent asked why he came back after escaping the inner city for success.

The motivational speaker provided the keynote address Thursday during the University of Mount Union's Black History Month kickoff.

He detailed that it was because he believed people are shaped by the Four E's -- environment, exposure, education and experiences.

Growing up, his mother moved him and his siblings from Brooklyn to Cleveland, where the little family lived in a Salvation Army shelter for women and children.

Despite their own hurdles, he explained, "Mom would take us to go feed homeless people, teaching us that no matter how bad we think we have it, someone is going through something worse than you."

For example, an environment helps shape its residents.

Say you have a shih tzu named Smoochie from Solon, he explained. Smoochie has the cute little sweaters, the best dog food and can easily be walked at the dog park.

However, compare that to Killer from the St. Clair area.

"They feed him hot sauce. You can see his ribs and he is angry all the time," Jones explained, adding no dog park for him.

"Certain environments breed anger. Imagine that on people. Those young people (in St. Clair) live in a box, and we cannot understand why they cannot think outside of it."

Jones explained that people become used to seeing things as their community, and it becomes their normal.

"The body doesn't ask any questions of the mind. The body follows the mind. If things in our environment impact us and give an illusion (of how things are), we don't meet the reality of life," he added.

He asked attendees: "What are you doing to make change for your community?" Because, after all, the most successful movements for human rights were led by students.

Jones reminded, "Black history isn't just about black people. There are all sorts of people (impacted). There wasn't just black men hanging on trees, but also white women because they stood up for human rights."

Revisiting the comment made by a woman while canvassing for that council seat, which he ultimately lost by 100 votes. The woman had told him that he shouldn't have come back because his presence wasn't needed.

However, his opinion differed.

He remembers the words of Mufasa to young Simba in the Disney film "The Lion King." "If you want to make history and be a leader, you need to be a servant first."

"The greatest opposition will come from your own past and look just like you," Jones explained to the audience.

Although leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are now celebrated since their deaths, Jones remembers Harriet Tubman as one of the most inspirational leaders.

She successfully escaped slavery in 1849, but she returned many times to rescue both family members and non-relatives from the plantation system on the Underground Railroad.

"What tree are you planting for tomorrow? We all go back to our community and don't want to go back empty-handed," Jones concluded.

In addition to serving as a guest correspondent on CNN, MSNBC and CSPAN, he held one of the largest youth voter registration drives together with Cornel West, LeBron James, Hill Harper and Russell Simmons during the 2008 presidential election. During the 2012 presidential campaign, he became the regional field director for Organizing for America.

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