Basheer Jones is a “Morehouse Man.” In the national black community that term carries a tremendous amount of honor, dignity, and responsibility. Long considered the “black man’s Harvard,” virtually all black intelligentsia concur that it’s the most prestigious college in America for the scions of the black upper classes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. matriculated from Morehouse, as did many other prominent blacks — like Julian Bond, Spike Lee and Samuel L. Jackson — since the Atlanta institution’s founding two years after the end of the Civil War.
But Jones’ road to Morehouse was markedly different from that of other students; he talks openly about living in a homeless shelter with his mother and siblings before they finally were able to move into the King-Kennedy housing projects. A precocious student, he beat the odds and was more than able to hold his own against classmates born into better circumstances.
After grad school he returned to Cleveland and hosted a morning talk show on Radio One for a spell, and eventually got interested in politics. He ran for Cleveland City Council in Ward 7 (where I reside) and, while I admired his platform, alas, I didn’t vote for him since he’d only moved into the ward about a month before the filing deadline; in other words, he was considered by many in the neighborhood to be a carpetbagger.
Although Jones lost the contest, he didn’t go off and sulk; he continued with his activities in the community, advocating for educational issues while maintaining a fairly full local and national speaking schedule.
Now he’s breaking new ground … currently planning a “Community Reconciliation March” on April 4 (the day Dr. King was killed in Memphis 37 years ago) from MLK High School on 71st and Hough down to the Free Stamp on 9th and Lakeside.
A natural born promoter, Jones is touting the weekend of events as a combination healing effort between the citizenry and the police, a voter registration drive, a cookout, and a day of service in a park in East Cleveland. Sprinkled in between are evening gatherings at a couple of downtown nightspots. “We’re going to have activists coming to Cleveland from around the country,” Jones said with his characteristic enthusiasm. “It’s going to be a groundbreaking event.”
For a young man somewhat given to occasional hyperbole, he wasn’t exaggerating; it is going to be a “groundbreaking event” for one main reason: It’s being totally financed by the Republican Party. Yep, you read that right, the National Republican Party.
As part of the Republican National Convention coming to town in 2016 they want to use Cleveland as a test market to develop an effective outreach strategy to minorities, knowing how critical Cuyahoga County and Ohio will be in the upcoming presidential contest. If the plan proves successful here it will be replicated in other cities around the country in the coming months and perhaps years.
“I’m a Democrat,” said Jones, “I’ve always been a Democrat and ran for office as one, but I’m open to talking to and working with anyone who’s interested in helping my community, and the Republican Party has finally woke up to the fact they’re going to have to expand their base if they ever want to win the White House again. I don’t have to agree with all of their national policies, say, on abortion, immigration and voting rights to do business with them. My goal is to bring them around to my point of view on those issues and get them to commit to solving some of the problems of the inner city.”
When I asked Jones if he felt he was running the risk of being used (and potentially abused) by Republicans to make inroads with the black community he responded, “Sure, just like the Democrats have used black voters for years, often without any payoff for our loyalty after the election.”
Indeed, a new national organization, Inclusiv has been formed in an attempt to assure that minorities receive their fair share of the huge political advertising pie. According to the organization’s press release, “A recent audit produced by Power PAC Plus revealed ‘less than 2 percent of the money the Democratic Party spent during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles went to firms owned by minorities — just $8.7 million of $514 million spent.’”
Another report produced by the New Organizing Institute found that “African American staffers on Democratic federal-level campaigns are paid 70 cents on the dollar compared to their white counterparts; Hispanics are paid 68 cents on the dollar.”
For years conservatives have posited that black voters are foolish for remaining so firmly entrenched in the Democratic camp when they are all but ignored until election time. But many blacks respond that the only party that would treat them worse is the Republicans.
However, there have always been a few black politicians skilled at adroitly playing both political parties like they were six-string guitars — former Call & Post publisher William O. Walker, businessman Fred C. Crosby, Don King, and George Forbes immediately spring to mind. Although they never called themselves by the title, they truly were Republicrats, and well-to-do ones at that.
“We’ve got to learn to broker our votes, get something in return for our support,” said Jones. “I’m going to listen to what Republicans have to offer … I’m going see if they put their money where their mouths are … and then I’m going to go back to the Democratic Party and see if they’re willing to top whatever the other guys are putting on the table.”
This actually could be the nascent rumbling of an entire new strategy in national politics. These are uncharted waters in a high-stakes game that could potentially be treacherous; the plan could blow up in Jones’ face, forever branding him as an outsider and interloper … blackballed by both parties. But if I had to put my money on one young brother skilled enough to pull it off, I’d have to bet on this “Morehouse Man.”
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.