From campus racial equity activism to the Mayor’s Office

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Maya Jones calls young leaders to step up to Detroit city politics

(Detroit mayoral candidate Maya Jones’s story from an interview with Khary Frazier, June 30, 2021.  Riverwise ed.)

I was born and raised a Detroiter. I went to Cass Technical High School, graduated, and then went to Michigan State University.  I came back to Detroit to make sure that I was actively involved. Currently, I’m completing the last class for my MBA degree at Wayne State University’s Mike Illitch School of Business.  I’m doing a lot of activism work, making sure that people understand that people from Detroit can live out all of our dreams, that we have the opportunity to impact change, not only in Detroit but elsewhere.  I like to show, especially our youth and the people around my age, that it is possible to do so many things with our lives….  We don’t get the proper recognition that we deserve. We have made a lot of changes throughout history, but we don’t learn that history. And it’s important that we understand how impactful our people are. That’s why I make sure that I show and demonstrate to other young folks that you don’t have to wait to get involved. You don’t have to wait for someone to pass you a torch. You create your own impact right here, right now.

What led me to run for office? I honestly love telling the story.  It’s kind of crazy because I never wanted to run for office. We don’t really learn about government, especially local politics when we’re in high school; but I was always involved in community activism. I knew that I grew up poor, [and I thought that] when I get in a position to give back, I’m going to give back…. Whatever I could do to impact someone else’s life, that’s what I did when I was in high school, because I knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the stick.

When I went to Michigan State, my activism started from seeing the disproportionate resources for  Black students and White students, and how we Black students didn’t graduate at the same rate as they did. So for me, it was like, okay, can I help change that? Can we actually get the resources?  One of my mentors told me that I should go to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) for a summer internship. I was like, I don’t really do politics. I do my activism work and make sure we have resources, but politics is not really my thing. And she said, “No, all the work you do has to do with politics.” And I ended up being in Washington, DC in 2016.  It was Barack Obama’s last term in office.  All the Hillary and Trump stuff was going on. And we, my CBCF cohort, and I realized that these people have the power to implement so many policies, yet they sit here and bicker all day. Nothing gets changed. 

So we tried to figure out how we could take everything we learned from Congress and bring it back to our communities.  I tried to figure out how I could come back to Detroit to help somebody else [other than Duggan] get elected.  I did all this research, trying to find somebody who was going to run for mayor. Right. I couldn’t find that one person. 

I was like, well, since everybody’s afraid to run against this person, I would just do it myself. That’s how I got involved in running for office back then.  I believe I’m the only person on the ballot right now who ran in the last election too. I realized that our city needed real change. If nobody else wants to do it, I have to be the one who takes that leap of faith for my people. For me, it wasn’t a waiting game. We need this right now. 

The biggest thing for the mayor [is to] have the vision of what you want Detroit to look like, how you want the citizens to be impacted.   You create that team to surround you to be able to carry out that vision. How can we help us, is the question. That is the biggest thing for the mayor. Aside from the actual job, we have to inspire our children and show them that it’s possible for them to be in places of power, because if they don’t see us there, or someone like them who’s from the city — who was born, raised and educated here, they will not believe that they can impact change. 

My future vision for Detroit?  I want to see my people happy. Throughout history, we have been held back, pushed back. We have so many people who come here and want to run for office, but you have not gone through what I’ve gone through, you haven’t ever been homeless. You’ve never had your water shut off. You’ve never been evicted. You never had a person who’s been in jail. The person who runs our city now has never been through what we have been through. So that’s why they say he hasn’t done anything.  What did you really expect him to do?  My vision for Detroit is for every Detroiter to be progressing when it comes to mental health, housing, water affordability, every single aspect of our being. How can we prioritize the city and its citizens and not these corporations, not money?  

I would love for way more young people to be involved in the political process, to be in an office, so all of our senior citizens can retire, you know, live life, go on vacation, go to the beach, come back and enjoy the city.  It’s our time to really put that work in.  I did a lot of Black history studies in college [and learned that] it was, for the most part, the young people who were on the ground running, wanting to impact change, because we knew that we wanted something different.  

Maya Jones’s point of view on issues facing Detroiters:

* I believe that the Bill of Rights should be implemented because it makes sure the people keep their power and [protects against] a dictatorship here in the city.  The power should always be in the hands of the people.  Any person who is trying [to interfere with that] is against democracy.

*  For me, water is a human right. Water should be affordable, period, for every single person. If it was up to me, water would be free. That citizens can’t afford water or don’t have water in their homes is disgraceful to me.

*  There is no reason why we have homelessness and we have all of these properties that can be re-developed for people to live in. If I was to become mayor, one thing that I want to do is create programs that create jobs and also homeownership. 

* I am totally against facial recognition because we have seen studies that say that it disproportionately affects [may falsely incriminate] Black people. 

*  When it comes to police reform, I believe that the people who live in the community should police the community. What I mean is you should know the people in your neighborhood, you should be required to attend community events. You should be required to attend different activities, go to the schools, make sure the kids know you, make sure that families know you, and that way you can properly assess situations.  I feel that police officers are not trained to handle mental health cases. So they should properly work with other departments, whether it’s a hospital or a mental health counseling office to deescalate those types of situations. We need to restructure how policing is done, and remember that policing came from the days of slavery and not just think that things are going to change because we want them to, but we’re actually implementing different policies, procedures, and trainings.