TheGrio's 100: Van Jones, social entrepreneur among most influential in the world

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Van Jones is an award-winning social entrepreneur. As an advisor to the Obama administration, Jones helped oversee the process of green economic recovery spending, and is an expert in promoting human rights and clean energy economics.

The Yale-educated attorney holds a joint appointment at Princeton University as a visiting fellow at the Center for African-American Studies and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Van Jones is making history as … an environmental and human rights advocate. Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world in 2009. The best-selling author is also the co-founder of three successful nonprofit organizations: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and Green For All.

What’s next for Van?

Jones launched a movement last year called Rebuild the Dream, which is seen as a liberal counter to the Tea Party movement. Through the group, Jones hopes to create jobs and fix the American economy.

For more information on Van Jones, THE”>click here GRIO’S Q & A WITH VAN JONES

Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

A: I want to make these Wall Street banks act right. They are making the American Dream impossible for all of us. They refuse to let homeowners renegotiate their underwater mortgages; they refuse to let college graduates renegotiate their oppressive loans. Parents and kids are both being screwed over by the same big banks. The financial sector caused the recession with its recklessness, and it is holding up the recovery with its greed. America bailed them out, and now they need to return the favor. Through Rebuild The Dream, I will be joining the fight to fix the financial sector.

Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: My dad was a cop in the military; my uncle is a cop in Memphis; my cousin was a prison guard at San Quentin. That’s why I was never afraid to challenge police abuse or stand up to the incarceration industry. I knew that law enforcement officers were neither devils nor angels, just public employees who need oversight and accountability like everyone else. Most people would not guess that “Van Jones” came from a law enforcement family, but I did.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?

A: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”- James A. Baldwin

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: My father. He was born in abject poverty in Memphis, Tennessee, during the days of segregation. He joined the military to create opportunity for himself. He got out, put himself through college and then helped several relatives go to school as well. As an educator, he took over a struggling middle school, turned it into a great center of learning, and retired as an award-winning principal. He was tough as nails, with the sharpest political mind of anybody I ever met. I have a lot to live up to, in Willie Jones.

Q: Who are/were your mentors?

A: California civil rights legend Eva Jefferson Paterson was the first attorney to give me a job after I graduated from Yale Law School. Diana Frappier and I started the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, and Eva went above and beyond the call of duty to support us. At the University of Tennessee at Martin, I had a professor named E. Jerald Ogg. He has stood beside me through thick and thin. On political issues, we are worlds apart, but we are still as close as family. My godmothers — Dinky Forman and Dottie Zelner — were both in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s. They have been my biggest mentors, as an adult.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who’s craving to achieve their

A: Get started. Do something. Do anything. Too many people sit around trying to write up the perfect master plan. Many times, those people get passed up by the person who is willing to get out there, take small steps and learn as she goes. Maybe you have a huge goal for your life. Maybe you hate what “fast food” is doing to our community, so you want to reform the entire food system of the United States. You actually can make a big difference, over the course of decades. But first, just go out and plant a community garden. Or maybe create and teach one nutrition class. By taking even a small step, you set yourself apart from vast majority of people who just talk. Once people see you can do something small with passion and skill, they will be more likely to help you do something big. It is so important to just get out of your head, stop talking about it and take one step. I promise: the Creator will then take two — or two dozen.