Former Obama Administration “Green” Advisor Speaks Prince, Green Jobs at LBCC
By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer
More than a month after his untimely death, tributes to Prince continue to rain on — in purple.
Think pieces by the reams on his importance to music, black culture and the music industry are being rehashed, reprinted and rethought of anew, but only after the coroner’s report conclusively reported that Prince didn’t die from an overdose on illegal substances and or complications from AIDS.
But perhaps the most interesting stories to come since Prince Rogers Nelson died are the revelations of the forward thinking and black conscious-filled philanthropy that he engaged in outside of the spotlight.
In April, CNN political correspondent Van Jones focused on climate change, green collar jobs and Prince’s unsung legacy at Long Beach City College.
To help his audience understand his relationship to the artist, who was formerly known as “The Artist,” Jones painted a picture of his own life, before he became a special advisor on green jobs during the Barack Obama administration’s first term.
A Tennessee native, Jones recounted his journey to California by way of Yale Law School. He moved to the Bay Area in the spring of 1992 after the San Francisco-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights hired him as legal observer during the trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King. Jones described his politics at that time as “far left of Pluto.”
About 10 years later, when he founded the human rights organization, the Ella Baker Center, Jones received an anonymous donation of $50,000. He sent the check back.
It was sent again and returned again. This continued until he got a call from a lawyer asking him to cash the check. Jones was worried about who the check might be from. No stranger to misdirected scandals, he didn’t want to be tricked into another one.
The lawyer told him he could not say who the check was from, but his favorite color is purple. This marked the beginning of Jones’ friendship with Prince.
Jones went on to describe Prince’s type of friendship. In other media reports, Jones noted that Prince didn’t call when things were well, but would check on you when he knew you were down. One of those down moments was when Jones resigned from his post in the White House following attacks from conservatives over his activism in his younger days.
Jones noted that he was distraught at the time. Prince reached out to him. They talked about continuing the great things that Jones wanted to do. The artist said he would support him in these ventures. Their partnership began.
Jones recounted a conversation he had with Prince following the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot by a neighborhood watch coordinator in 2012. Trayvon essentially was killed because he was wearing a hoodie. Prince asked Jones how he felt. Jones recalled replying that just because Trayvon was wearing a hoodie doesn’t make him dangerous.
Then Jones recounted Prince’s retort: “If a black kid wears a hoodie they are a thug and if a white kid wears one, they are a Mark Zuckerberg… There are not enough black and Latino Mark Zuckerbergs. We should help kids from the hood learn all technology.”
Out of this conversation, Prince helped finance initiatives launched by Jones’ nonprofit Dream Corps, which aims to lift people out of poverty through green job training and job creation; #YesWeCode, which aims to connect young people to careers in technology; and #cut50, which works to popularize bipartisan alternatives and practical solutions to help America safely and smartly reduce its jail and prison populations by 50 percent within the next 10 years.
Jones recalled Prince quipping, “so that kids in hoodies could be mistaken for kids in Silicon Valley.”
The heart of Jones’ lecture was to persuade students and especially minority students to embrace creating technology. He said this isn’t done by just downloading and making other people money. Rather, it’s done by teaching how to upload, how to make your own app and to make money that way, versus being a ball player or rapper.
He cited the fact that even Jay Z created Tidal, his own tech company and that Dr. Dre made more money with technology when he sold “Beats Electronics” to Apple. The self-described first billionaire of hip-hop, Dre made $620 million in 2014 according to Forbes magazine.
Jones said that this generation has tremendous opportunity.
“I was 24 when I graduated law school,” Jones said. “If I had the abilities (then) that we have now, I’d have been called a god. Everyone has a phone in their back pocket and they treat it like a toy.”
Jones has called Prince a major activist behind the scenes, noting that in response to the violent arrest of protesters in Baltimore following the police killing of Freddie Gray, Prince organized a concert and asked attendees to wear gray instead of purple.
When gun violence increased in Chicago, he threw another concert there. Jones has reported on CNN that while he threw these concerts, Prince utilized local vendors from the community to be involved putting them together.
Beyond the tributes to Prince’ musical legacy, beyond the gossip surrounding his rivalry with Michael Jackson, and beyond the legendary shade thrown from stages around the globe, Jones wanted the world to know the side of Prince they never got to see: an artist willing to put up his art, heart and wealth to make a difference.