Ben Jealous, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formally announced May 31 that he is a candidate for governor of Maryland. He made the announcement in Ashburton, the venerable West Baltimore community where his mother grew up and Jealous spent many of his summers as a young boy.
But, the former NAACP leader spent much of the day before his announcement making the case for why the state needs new leadership, while toeing the line on a definitive statement on his candidacy. However, his intentions did slip out during a conversation I had with Jealous on First Edition on May 30.
Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)
“I will be running for governor, because I am eager to see us get back to a place where we solve big problems,” Jealous said preempting his big announcement on Wednesday. Nevertheless, he laid out part of his vision for the state during that conversation.
“We’re in a place as a state…that many Marylanders find confusing. We are a very rich state, we are a state that is used to moving forward very quickly and yet we find ourselves stuck,” Jealous said.
“Our young people are stuck in this era of massive student debt…there younger brothers and sisters are in schools that we’ve been talking about getting more funding to for years, but we are somehow stuck not being able to get them the funds, even though we have seen massive increases in tax revenues coming from the casinos, that were supposed to accomplish that end,” he added.
Jealous went further, describing large swaths of our wealthy state that have struggled for decades with unemployment. “You listen to families across the state and folks want to get beyond this place. You know, we’ve been stuck in places like West Baltimore for decades. You go out to Hagerstown you see the same thing, you go out to Dundalk you see the same thing,” he said. “There are families who 40 or 50 years ago, people were working in factories that no longer exist and yet, our state has tolerated it, in these pockets across the state, across Baltimore, these pockets of persistently high unemployment. And we’re stuck there too,” Jealous added.
When I first met Jealous in the early 2000’s, he was in his late 20’s or barely 30 when he was tapped to be the executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the organization that represents over 200 Black newspapers, including the AFRO, across the country. He had cut his teeth as a journalist at the Jackson Advocate, in Jackson, Mississippi under the mentorship of the legendary Charles Tisdale, who was the owner and publisher of the newspaper until his death at 80, in 2007.
During the height of the civil rights movement and beyond, the Advocate was firebombed dozens of times, as the newspaper relentlessly reported on the often brutal and deadly oppression of Black people in one of the most perilous places on earth for people of color. So, Jealous was firmly entrenched in the work of the civil rights movement before he ascended to the presidency of the NAACP, just two months before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States. Jealous now seeks the Governor’s mansion in Annapolis with Donald Trump in the White House.
“What I know at this moment, we need to shift from being almost exclusively focused on defending ourselves from what will become Trump’s legacy to get back to extending and building on top of what was Obama’s legacy,” Jealous said.
“We have the opportunity in this moment to actually make use of all of the power that has been concentrated in our states, which may have started out 50 years ago for all the wrong reasons. But, at this moment when every branch of our federal government is controlled by right wing extremist conservatives, the reality is that this new era of state’s power and state’s rights gives us, sort of makes Maryland a very powerful place for us to come together as Marylanders and decide we’re going to move our families forward no matter who’s in the White House.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.