Van Jones

L-R: Don Knebel, moderator; Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star Church; Van Jones, host of “The Van Jones Show” on CNN; and Betsy Delgado, vice president of mission and education initiatives at Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana particpated in a panel discussion about poverty at the Faith and Action Project Fall Event. (Photo/Jerome Brewster)

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.”

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.

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