As an African American male growing up in Brooklyn, Steven N. Jones '07 has always had a strong internal sense of justice, as well as the opportunity to see a lot of injustice. His desire to change things for the better led him to a BA in political science, a Master's of Divinity, and now a JD.
Mr. Jones' father is a cardiologist and his mother a director of quality care at a local clinic in Brooklyn. He has two brothers and a sister. "My sister and I are in the legal area, and my brothers in the medical area," says Mr. Jones. His sister works for Homeland Security; one brother is an occupational therapist and the other is in medical school. His parents separated when he was young, and, he continues, "My goal and that of my siblings was to make life easier for my mother. Growing up in Brooklyn there was a lot of temptation to engage in criminal activity, but I wanted to actively pursue an education. I got criticized for that because some of my friends couldn't really relate. I decided to follow my own path."
Without a male role model, Mr. Jones looked up to Malcolm X. "My sister gave me his autobiography, and the movie had just come out," he explains. "I didn't agree with his religious views, but he provided an alternative example of African American manhood. He was respected because he was intelligent and committed to securing Human Rights for African Americans."
Following his older brother and sister to Howard University, Mr. Jones majored in political science because he was interested in the law. At first, he wanted to be in the FBI, but, he says, "I completely lost interest when I found out some of the things they were part of. "They say you can change things from within, but I would rather be on the outside communicating with the inside."
Mr. Jones then attended Emory University because it has a joint JD and Master of Divinity program, and he wanted to, "combine the law of man and the law of God, in order to effectuate change." He received a scholarship to attend seminary first, however, and decided to take it.
At Emory, he became interested in the Coptic Church, a branch of Orthodox Christianity. "The Coptic Church is the Egyptian Christian Church that was started by St. Mark," Mr. Jones explains. "It is the ancient Christian church of Africa and was in existence before there was a formal Roman Catholic Church." It has been isolated because it is in a predominantly Muslim nation and as a result, it lacks the doctrinal changes wrought by 2,000 years of Christian politics. "The Coptic Church is a blessing, but it is a very different experience for me," he says. "I've begun to understand its liturgical practices, and I am in the process of becoming formally baptized in the Church."
After he took the LSAT in his last year at Emory, many law schools contacted him. "Even though I really liked Atlanta, I'd heard that the New York Bar was the hardest and I naively wanted to take it for that reason," Mr. Jones admits. "Then I saw a brochure for Cornell Law School. The people here were great; I felt like it was a good fit." As a Cornell law student, Mr. Jones was a Legal Writing Honors Fellow and the former Academic Chair of the Black Law Students Association. "Working as a teaching assistant for Joel Atlas was an excellent opportunity and I learned a lot about legal writing," Mr. Jones says."I have a lot of respect for Professor Barbara Holden-Smith; I would like to continue to develop my analytical skills
based on the example she set. And Professor Muna Ndulo has been the most influential professor in terms of my life and work."
That life work focuses on Repair Our World, a nonprofit organization created by Mr. Jones "to actively deconstruct the myth of separate and distinct human races as a societal norm and address the psychological, social, economic, educational, legal, political and moral consequences of this myth on the African and African Diasporan communities. The organization has four initiatives: first, to "repair ourselves" by deconstructing the myth of race. "Race is a social construct, and we have to realize that we have all been negatively affected by it," Mr. Jones explains. For example, he prefers the term "European American" and "African American" to "black" and white." "These terms force us to recognize our history," he says. "If we are going to categorize ourselves the terms should reflect our culture and history."
Repair Our World's primary method for combating racism is to teach children about the construct of race and racism, noting that all children are exposed to racial stereotypes at a very young age. "They won't understand it at the complex level, but we can begin the process by teaching them to acknowledge themselves in terms of their cultural-rather than racial-background. Children are not born racist. We can break the cycle of generational racism if we begin with our children."
The second initiative of Repair Our World is to Repair Our Communities: "the members of the African Diaspora must hold each other accountable for rebuilding our communities in the wake of the damage wrought by racist legislation and race-based policies." That includes addressing crime and poverty as part of affirmative action strategies.
The third initiative is to Repair Our Nation: under this prong, African and African Diasporan communities work together to rebuild the damage to their nations/communities as a result of racism and bring suit against any public or private entity for its participation in the transatlantic slave trade. All of this, Mr. Jones hopes, will lead to the final initiative: to Repair Our World.
Mr. Jones served as a summer associate at Nall &Miller LLP, and at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, both in Atlanta. He and his wife, Jovan - and their daughter, Glory who will be born in June - want to return to Atlanta. "I'll be clerking for a state court in Georgia, so I will have the opportunity to learn how to be a trial lawyer there," he says. "I have a lot of debt from both schools, so working at a firm was tempting but not something I want to do." Instead, he'd like to start his own practice. He also plans to write a book about Repair Our World, to articulate that philosophy in more depth; then become a public speaker to get the message out. "That will help the organization to stand on its own," he says.
He does admit that the issues addressed by Repair Our World are difficult, and that others have worked on similar concepts. "I don't think many of the ideas about race are unique to me, but the approach that Repair Our World takes in addressing the problem of race and racism is. Sometimes people need radical examples to shake them out of apathy; I plan on being one of them.
An video stream of Steven N. Jones speech at convocation is now online.
-- Judith Pratt