Last year, at age 20, UM-Dearborn junior Jewell Jones became the youngest person ever elected to the city council of Inkster, Michigan. (The minimum age to hold an elected office in the city is 18.) This year, with an age requirement of at least 21 to serve in the state legislature, Councilman Jones succeeded in winning the 11th District seat left vacant in June by the sudden passing of Democratic Rep. Julie Plawecki (her daughter Lauren, ’15, fulfilled the remaining months of her mother’s term).
As state representative, Jones, a Democrat, will represent the cities of Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Livonia, and Westland, as well as Inkster (though he will resign from his Inkster city council seat upon being sworn into the house on Jan. 1, 2017).
Michigan Alumnus recently grabbed some time out of Jones’ busy schedule (the U-M senior is in ROTC, a member of the Black Student Union, the Student Veterans Association, and remains a city council member until his swearing in).
What motivated you to get so involved in public service and politics at such a young age?
I would say everyone. My parents planted the seed when I was young. They would take me everywhere to do things in the community, to Inkster and Detroit and to help out at church. Talking to people, seeing what peoples’ interests were, looking at the problems in the community and how resources were steadily on the decline, all motivated me as I grew older to get into office. So, it was not any one person in particular, but rather the entire community.
How do you think U-M has contributed to your career in public-service?
At U-M Dearborn they push a very inclusive and diverse experience. We have a diverse campus here and just having the mix of people and being able to network with them, you rub shoulders with a lot of people. I’ve also had the chance to take classes in Ann Arbor and network with the ROTC cadets of different branches. Just having conversations with people from across the world, or even just here at home that you never would have run into, changed my viewpoint, opened my eyes, and has given me a different perspective.
What has been your proudest moment of public service so far?
I think changing the [Inkster] city charter. With the new revised charter we are giving power back to the citizens in the community. We transformed the government from a city manager-form to a council/mayor-form of government. Now, the citizens can hold our elected officials accountable. I am proud of that, as well as restarting the Inkster Youth Coalition [a community service organization for local teens].
Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve as state representative?
I’m focused on some of the same things I was looking at on the Inkster City Council: public safety, and economic and community development. I know a lot of people are hurting in my community because I am from this district. Other key areas are education and empowering people through legislation, community activities, and things like business startups that will help strengthen individuals and families.
Given the political climate and issues facing us, what advice would you give to a young person who wants to become politically active?
Get involved right now. The time is definitely right for any young person that wants to get involved in politics. Someone’s always looking to take a young person under their wing. But right now—especially in this climate with so much divisiveness and so many people having disagreements with our new president—there’s a great opportunity to start building a team. If there’s an issue you’re passionate about, there is going to be a handful of others that are passionate about it right along with you. Anything is possible as long as you stay focused.
Gregory Lucas-Myers is assistant editor of Michigan Alumnus magazine.