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Van Jones makes the case for fighting poverty through cooperation

Van Jones has carved out a special place in the political discourse of 2019. Conservatives definitely don't like the former special advisor to President Barack Obama and the guy who cried on CNN on election night in 2016. But plenty of liberals take issue with Jones, too, because he likes to say he's never seen a bird fly with only a left wing and has praised President Donald Trump for his criminal justice reform.

Jones, who hosts "The Van Jones Show" every other Saturday on CNN, didn't deviate from that message Oct. 1 at the Faith and Action Project Fall Event — titled "Uncomfortable Truths, Healing Impact" — at Butler University, where he talked about poverty and how to eradicate it.

"You need liberal social values when it comes to having the programs, creating the opportunities, the tax credits, all of those things," he said in an interview with the Recorder before the event. "... But at the same time, you have to have individual traditional conservative values if you're actually poor to take advantage of all those programs."

Go to indianapolisrecorder.com to read a full transcript of the


Jones leans toward that activist government role. He's in favor of reparations, though he doesn't see how it would be politically feasible, and said he likes the ideas coming from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the most left-leaning Democratic candidates for president. Jones even hinted that he likes Andrew Yang's idea of a universal basic income.

Jones can't endorse anyone for president since he works for CNN but said he's "looking forward to seeing who the voters like."

In a moderated discussion with Don Knebel, founding board chair of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, Jones said one of the most important things society can do to combat poverty is get children from poor families out in front for jobs that are just now coming along. Get them to the front of the line, he told the audience.

Jones opened up a little bit about his close friendship with Prince, who was passionate about teaching children of color how to code. He joked that there's the possibility of a level playing field when it comes to augmented reality because not even the white kids know how to do that yet.

Jones was talking about jobs — jobs that will likely pay a living wage, too. And for however much agreement he finds with Sanders, one area where Jones isn't ready to get on board is a federal jobs guarantee, something the 78-year-old senator advocates for.

"Listen, I don't know if a federal jobs guarantee is a practical solution," he said in the interview before the event.

Instead, Jones wants public-private partnerships so the government can offer tax breaks to employers that hire people with a criminal record, for example.

If there's a sector that needs workers, Jones said, it's in clean and renewable energy: limiting and maybe one day eliminating carbon emissions, building solar panels, things like that.

"The big tragedy of poverty is we have all these people who need work, and we have this work that needs to be done," he said, "and yet we don't focus enough on connecting the people who most need work to the work that most needs to be done."

As recalled in the Gospels, Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you." One way to interpret that: Poverty is fixed. It may go up and down, but it will never leave.

Jones brought up that verse in the interview and said he believes it "represents a moral challenge to society as much as an economic challenge." In other words, he said, what is society doing to help anyone who's left behind?

During the panel session, Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, mentioned the same Bible verse and offered a similar examination.

"If you want to deal with the poverty issue," he said, "then you have to be just as worried about the head and heart issue."

The crowd nodded along, eager for an analysis of poverty that isn't just about dollars and cents. They were sitting in chairs on a college campus in Indianapolis, a city at the center of a metropolitan area that an IUPUI Polis Center study revealed would have 93,000 fewer people living in poverty today if the poverty rate was the same as in 1970.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

HIV conversation moves forward, but stigma remains

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed yet another medical disparity Black Americans are taking on but few want to talk about. Black Americans accounted for 13% of the U.S. population in 2017 but made up 43% of new HIV diagnoses.

Advocates say the stigma surrounding HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) has lessened over time, but it remains a significant barrier for people who get that diagnosis. "If we were where we need to be, we wouldn't be having this interview right now," said Hannah Kistler, director of client services at Step-Up, a nonprofit working on HIV and STD prevention with a focus on underserved populations.

Kistler has been in this kind of work for about eight years and said one of the most important factors in loosening the stigma was the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, or U=U, movement, which began in 2016. The movement stems from recent studies that show people living with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load — the amount of HIV in the blood — cannot sexually transmit the virus to others. Getting to undetectable status means adhering to antiretroviral therapy.

Along with understanding stigmas, any organization attempting to help African Ameri

cans with their HIV diagnosis has to reckon with a history of medical malpractice that has led to a distrust of the medical community.

Perhaps the most famous of these examples is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972, where physicians gave placebos to African American sharecroppers in order to observe the long-term effects of syphilis, while participants were told they were actually being treated.

Bo Dawson, director of outreach and prevention at Step-Up, said the organization tries to address this by giving patients a chance to figure out what's most important to them at the time of their diagnosis. For some, it's a future relationship. For others, though, it could be skepticism of a profession they're about to rely on.

"Me being a white, straight male," Dawson said. "there's a lot of things I have to be cognizant of when working with minority populations."

A general stigma that may be amplified for African Americans is negative feelings toward gay and bisexual men. The CDC report found 80% of new HIV diagnoses in 2017 were from male-to-male sexual contact.

African Americans are more likely to support LGBT civil rights legislation and say people in the LGBT community face discrimination, but they are less likely to support gay marriage and agree that homosexuality is acceptable, experts say.

The national conversation when it comes to HIV and other STDs is not where it needs to be, Kistler said, but she's hopeful society will take strides in the right direction over the next few years. There's still "tons of work to do," she said.

Step-Up, which started in 2003 as an organization primarily concerned with prevention, has since expanded its mission to include more wraparound services and recently applied for a grant to help with its education initiatives. Like many other advocacy organizations, one of Step-Up's goals is for as many people as possible to know their HIV status.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


If you have HIV or want to be tested for HIV, here are some resources to consider.

Step-Up, stepupin.org


850 N. Meridian St., first floor

Damien Center, damien.org


26 N. Arsenal Ave.

Bell Flower Clinic, bellflowerclinic.org


640 Eskenazi Ave.

Ryan White Indy, ryanwhiteindytga.org

317-221-4623 | 2951 E. 38th St.

Health department mows over personal garden

A resident on the city's northwest side believes an inspector for the Marion County Public Health Department got revenge on him by citing him for property violations and having his personal garden mowed down.

Keith Paschall, 38, was at a meeting Sept. 26 at Cleo's Bodega Grocery and Cafe when someone mowed over his personal garden in the front yard of his house on West 33rd Street. He was gone for close to three hours in the afternoon and noticed when he got back to his house that someone edged the walkway to his porch. He then looked up at his sloped front yard and saw his garden, with two patches on either side of the walkway, was destroyed.

"We live in a food desert over here," Paschall said. "There's no place that I can get all of the fresh vegetables and herbs I had here in the garden."

The health department inspected Paschall's property Aug. 9 and issued a notice of violation. After a second inspection Sept. 4, Paschall was cited for scattered rubbish, high weeds or grass and overgrowth of vegetation. The citation says the location was a "vacant structure," but Paschall owns his home and has lived there since 2013. He said he didn't pay the $100 fine, which was due by Oct. 1, and plans to fight the citation in court.

According to department policy posted online, Paschall had at least 10 days, but no more than 60, to bring the property within compliance. But since he wasn't sure what exactly he was being cited for, Paschall said he called the inspector, Norm Hobson, to complain and didn't make any changes to his property.

The fine is separate from the department cleaning the property, according to department spokesperson Curt Brantingham, so Paschall's garden would have been mowed even if he paid the fine.

As for mowing over the garden, Brantingham said in an email the department "works to respect areas such as a garden, whenever possible, if it is visible prior to the clean ... or if it is discovered

while doing the clean."

It's unclear why the crew mowed over the garden, even if they didn't see it at first. Paschall didn't have any photos of just his garden but shared one with the Recorder showing people in his front yard and the garden visible on the sides.

"They did a number on me," Paschall said. "I just don't understand. You know, the health department is supposed to be there. They're supposed to be helping us out."

Paschall's argument is that vacant houses in the area, along with neglected alleyways where trash gets dumped, are real problems that the health department ignores.

It was a similar argument Paschall made in court before when he was found not guilty in March for a similar citation for long grass, stemming from a two-week period Paschall said he was out of the country for a wedding.

Paschall said he mowed his yard, but the department still fined him. He won his court case and believes the most recent citation, along with destroying his garden, are retaliation. Hobson, the inspector, signed both citations.

Brantingham said the department is in the process of enforcing other trash orders in the area.

The only food left in the garden after it was mowed over were some peppers, but Paschall said the largest pepper was picked off the plant. His strawberry patch was cut so thoroughly that it was difficult to tell that plot of land was anything other than grass.

Paschall said he isn't sure how much money he lost in the garden — which also included lettuce, beans and tomatoes — but said he knows he "lost a lot of time."

Tyrique Waith, a neighbor across the street, said he saw two trucks pull up and about seven people with green vests and orange shirts in the yard. He didn't realize what they were doing until it was too late.

"They ain't even clean the yard up or nothing," said Waith, 20. "They just got straight to it." The area where Paschall lives is part of the largest food desert in Indianapolis. Cleo's Bodega, where Paschall was for his meeting, opened recently and could help the community deal with a lack of access to healthy and affordable food, but the issue is systemic.

Paschall said he would like the health department to "actually take care of our health instead of terrorizing the people who live here." He would also like a water hookup to the fire hydrant so other urban farmers in the neighborhood can have access to it.

If he gets anything out of it for himself, Paschall said he would like a tiller.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.