State Rep. Jewell Jones connects with his community as he represents District 11 in Michigan's House of Representatives. But now he's focused on passing the baton.
State Rep. Jewell Jones connects with his community as he represents District 11 in Michigan's House of Representatives. But now he's focused on passing the baton.

Jones is entering the last year of his final term focused on his district’s future.

INKSTER, Mich—While many Michiganders were still celebrating—or recovering—from President Donald Trump’s 2016 election win, Jewell Jones was making history.

The Inkster native represents Michigan’s 11th House District. At 25-years-old, he’s also the youngest official to be elected to the State House in its 184-year history.

“I’m an old man,” Jones joked in an interview with The ‘Gander, pointing out that he’d already lived a “quarter of a century.” 

He wore a black, long-sleeved tee and matching bucket hat, with his own signature embroidered on the fabric.

As he enters the final year of his third term as a state representative, Jones says he is keenly aware of the seat’s three-term limit.

“When I first got into the legislature, I think I was a bit naive,” he told The ‘Gander while he simultaneously answered calls from constituents.

“I didn’t realize all of the resources that are available to us and that Representatives can make available to the people. Succession and sustainability are huge for me right now.”

Jewell Jones

Before the Inkster resident won his seat in the Legislature, the district had been represented by politicians from neighboring cities for decades.

Jones says he wants to change that. To make sure Inkster always has a voice in the Michigan State House of Representatives, he is often working with youth who others may deem too young to be civically engaged.

He also says it’s his personal mission to ensure that no one ever scrambles to fill the House District 11 seat again, by helping to build a political pipeline so residents remain engaged beyond hyper-local races.

As he enters this term, Jones wants to ensure that his constituents have access to the resources his office can provide, like free food, COVID testing, and even a winter coat giveaway that outfitted Inkster residents with new, warm coats.

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Born and Built for Service

While his style is reminiscent of the early days of hip-hop fashion, his candor reflects that of someone who was born into a family of service. He smiled slightly as he recounted his choice to lean into his family’s influence on his life, rather than to run in the opposite direction, as many “church kids” do.

“My parents always had me involved, ever since I was young,” he told The ‘Gander, reflecting on his childhood exposure to the Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan through his parents’ political involvement, and the short speeches he’d deliver in church as a toddler before that.

“I was doing stuff with [my parents], getting dragged around as a child.”

Jones’ parents, Lyndon and Octavia, have been active members of the local community and their church, The Spiritual Israel Church and Its Army.

“I’ve just been working and hanging out with people since birth,” he said of his gregarious nature that often lands him in conversations with people of all walks of life—some strangers, some not. 

He credits both his biological and church families with his deep reverence for strong community ties, and for his natural charisma that helps him gravitate toward places where he can be of use.

As he began carving his own path of service to his home and country, Jones decided to join the Army in 2014 by way of an ROTC scholarship awarded through his studies at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

He was 18 years old.

“[I thought I’d] get out, get into intelligence work, and become a contractor,” he said of his boyhood aspirations to be a real-life spy. 

But when real life offered real chances at service to community and country, Jones took them.

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Dismissing Glass Ceilings

Thanks to Jones’ outspoken nature and a failed bid for a precinct delegate slot when he was 18, Jones said an aide to then-US Sen. Carl Levin invited him to attend the Congressional Black Caucus’s 2014 legislative conference in Washington, DC. 

He was 19 years old.

“I was in all these youth workshops with people talking about taking it to the next level,” Jones recalled, “and when I got back home, a seat opened up on the [Inkster] City Council.”

Winning his seat on the council cemented Jones as the body’s youngest member—ever.

A tragedy in the Michigan House preceded Jones’ ascension from local city councilman to state representative when Julie Plawecki, the incumbent member of the House representing District 11, died unexpectedly on a hiking trip with her daughters in Oregon in 2016.

“I was down in Kentucky at Ft. Knox, on the field, so I didn’t have my phone on me,” Jones said.

“When I got back to my room, I found out what happened and that my name was already being tossed around for consideration to fill the seat.”

Jones had already switched his commitment to the Army from active duty to the Reserves so he could fulfill his obligations to the Inkster City Council. Now, there was an opportunity to serve Inkster residents in a new way.

House District 11 is comprised of a section of Wayne County that includes Livonia, Westland, Dearborn Heights, and Inkster. In each city, Black residents make up only small portions of the local populations—except in Inkster, where Black residents make up more than 70% of the city’s population, according to US Census data.

In a campaign prior to today’s pandemic, Jones was able to host community events in addition to meeting his future constituents door-to-door.

“I was everywhere,” he reminisced, “I even missed class [at U-M Dearborn] sometimes to make sure I could make it to campaign events.”

In a short time, the Michigander has become known for his commitment to the people and engaging with and energizing a sector of the electorate that is often neglected: youth.

Young people from Michigan and beyond have looked to his leadership as a signal that they can do the same. In fact, earlier this year, a 17-year-old Kentucky resident broke Jones’ record as the youngest person to be elected in his state. 

Landin Stadnyk ran on a platform of soil and water conservation, adding his voice to those of older, career politicians—similarly to Jones’ earlier runs at political office.

READ: How Four Young Activists Pushed Through the Sh*tshow of 2020 Without Giving Up

In Service to Others

Jones’ time in office hasn’t been without critique. A July 2020 headline in BLAC Detroit Magazine called for the representative to “grow up.”

But Jones rarely addresses such criticism—and he doesn’t have to.

“I personally have worked with this young man,” Facebook user MzDee R Johnson wrote in response to the article published last summer.

“His office has been there for my family who owns property in Inkster… Of all the things you could or should say about him, you should’ve never published this.”

The response from the majority of readers was similar, with many recounting their own interactions with the legislator as proof of his intentions to provide for his district.

Jones says he’ll spend his final year working on the “legislation that makes sense,” although he’s unsure of what the future may hold for his career beyond the Michigan House.

“I would always like to call Inkster home,” he said. “I just love ‘The Town.’”

Jones says that he sees himself growing in service to others, regardless of what his political future may look like.

“People out here [are] hurting and they need help. They’re talented and skilled and I just want to be in a position where I can provide opportunities to them.”

Jewell Jones

Jones says that “anything is possible” in 2021.

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