Valiant Activists in the Classroom

BIANCA REYES

Manhattanville College’s very own Professor Jimmy Jones from the World Religions department has been involved in the fight for equal rights of African American communities for many, many years. “My involvement in this movement goes back a very long way,” Jones nods his head in reminiscence.

To give you a better idea of how long “a very long way” is, try and remember back to the 1970s, a time period in which African Americans finally gained civil rights after a long and hard fight. During this time period, history shows us that the Civil Rights movement has gained several victories.

During this time period of advancement for African Americans, Jones was the Executive Director of the Black Coalition of Greater New Haven, an umbrella organization in the New Haven, Connecticut area. Within, Jones advocated for social change for African American communities.

Nowadays, Professor Jones remains an active member of various organizations such as the Jewish-Muslim dialogue and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Jones was recently featured on Time Magazine’s website as the secretary on the board of CAIR. He spoke about how dangerous words can be, as well as the way people are affected by what the media produces.

“I’ve seen a lot and the article in Time was my take on where we have come thus far. The rhetoric in the media tends to sway individuals into demonizing one another and victimizing themselves. For example, African Americans are demonized by white people and vice versa,” said Jones.

Unfortunately, the media influences the majority of what public opinion is.

“Even people with good intentions are speaking in ways that do not help,” read Jones’s article that was published in July 2016.

The article offers suggestions of ways for social activists to combat police brutality in a non-violent way. One word of advice Jones stressed is to march on Washington and state capitols for policy changes. He also suggested working to improve race relations by having productive conversations in classrooms and in local communities. Additionally, truly diverse sit downs must be had with local police departments and their communities where everyone can have a candid conversation that will not end in violent and/or non-peaceful clashes.

In a course that Professor Jones teaches at Manhattanville titled, “Power of Prejudice,” he preaches one key aspect that we must be able to look past if we want to move forward as a people.

“You have to climb the mountain of stereotypes, in order to see humanity,” said Jones.

Prejudice prevents individuals from being seen as who they are—rather, they are judged for their race, gender, and/or sexuality. Preconceived ideas of what it means to be an African American “thug” or a “privileged” white male is what creates a culture of hate.

“Not everyone sees black and white, but no one is completely color blind in this day and age. It’s just impossible in our society,” said Jones.

In an additional two courses offered by Manhattanville College, “Terror and God,” and “Islam,” Jones relates that three seemingly different religions stem from the same roots.

“Jews, Muslim, and Christians are cousins,” believes Jones. And though this may raise eyebrows for some, Jones continues, “Islam has the same roots of Christianity and Judaism. This is actually evident in the similarity in languages among these religions.”

Take the language of Arabic and compare it to that of Hebrew, as it can be found that these patriarchal religions are more alike than different.
The long history of racism in our country has left a residual effect on our society today. “Racial dynamics of our history have created so much hate,” said Jones.

With current events of police brutality against African Americans, it can be very difficult for some to see that we have, in fact, come a long way. However, that is not to say that we still have a long way to go. Institutional racism that oppress African American and other minority groups must be tackled immediately.

Jones works with interfaith groups to fight for equal opportunities for African Americans to be able to obtain affordable housing and high education.

“I view myself as an American who cares about America. But, I also care about African Americans,” said Jones.

Look past the differences between one another. Jones recalls a quote, during his interview, in which he preaches to his students: “Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be,’ This is the interrelated structure of reality,” believes Jones.

Students learning about social issues may want to become more active in their own communities and see what social injustice is firsthand. It may be considered controversial; however, there are plenty of college professors that encourage their students to come out and actively protest and advocate for social change.

Professor Jones exclaims, “My primary function here is education.” And education is the best way to resolve social issues because the more people that are aware of a problem, then the easier it becomes to find a solution to that problem.

We, as humans need to achieve some sense of mutuality. But how?

“By becoming one human family,” said Jones.