February 1, 2004 - The Skanner: Turkey RPCV Elaine Jones steps doesn as head of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkey: Peace Corps Turkey : The Peace Corps in Turkey: February 1, 2004 - The Skanner: Turkey RPCV Elaine Jones steps doesn as head of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-42-145.balt.east.verizon.net - on Thursday, February 05, 2004 - 11:42 pm: Edit Post

Turkey RPCV Elaine Jones steps doesn as head of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Turkey RPCV Elaine Jones steps doesn as head of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Elaine Jones’ Career

a Model for

Passionate Activism

During my seven years as editor-in-chief of Emerge: Black America’s Newsmagazine, no story we published had a greater impact than Reginald Stuart’s “Kemba’s Nightmare.”

As you may remember, Kemba Smith is the young lady who was sentenced to 24 ½ years in prison for a peripheral role in a northern Virginia drug ring. Under federal mandatory sentencing guidelines, Kemba, who was 24 at the time of her sentencing, was ineligible for parole. President Clinton ended Kemba’s nightmare by granting her clemency shortly before leaving office in 2000.

Although we ran the first of three “Kemba’s Nightmare” stories nearly eight years ago, no matter where I go today, someone invariably will bring up Kemba and how that story had impacted their life.

I am always quick to remind people that while I am proud that Emerge was the first publication to tell Kemba’s story, Elaine R. Jones, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was the person most responsible for Kemba’s freedom.

After reading the first cover story, Jones placed the fund’s legal apparatus behind her fellow Virginian, representing Kemba in legal venues and ultimately making the formal request to Clinton for clemency.

Because of this and many other cases I have covered involving the fund since Jones took over the helm of the association in 1993 — the same year I became editor of Emerge — I was saddened to learn that Jones has decided to step down as head of the fund. I don’t use the word “retire” because I don’t know if this passionate activist will ever be capable of retiring from the fight for justice.

I have enormous respect and admiration for Elaine Jones, Ted Shaw — her likely successor — and the staff at the fund. Like Elaine, who had rejected an offer to join a prestigious law firm in New York in order to advocate full-time on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, many Legal Defense Fund lawyers could be partners in major law firms. Instead, they chose to work at Thurgood Marshall’s old organization, litigating some of the same issues that he addressed before joining the United States Supreme Court.

After graduating from Howard University with a degree in political science, Jones spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching English in Turkey. She then applied to the University of Virginia’s law school, though the state’s policy had been to pay for Blacks to study out of state rather admit them to all-White Virginia universities. The Norfolk, Va., native became the first African American woman to graduate from the university’s law school.

Just two years out of law school, Jones was the Legal Defense Fund lawyer that litigated “Furman v. Georgia,” the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abolished the death penalty in 37 states. She has since participated in thousands of other cases involving discrimination.

The beauty of Jones is that she chose this career path rather than one in corporate America that would have given her more creature comforts and fewer headaches.

There is also a lesson in the roles that the fund and Emerge magazine played in winning Smith’s freedom. In the case of Emerge, we told Kemba’s story, even after a couple of other Black magazines she had contacted refused to investigate her plight. Once we published “Kemba’s Nightmare,” Elaine Jones vigorously pursued every legal option open to Kemba, including seeking presidential clemency. It was the combination of a magazine and a legal advocacy group doing what they do best that led to Kemba’s release.

There’s no way to know when someone in another profession will follow up on a project we have initiated. That’s not important. What is important is that, regardless of profession, we should use our skills and talents to assist the most vulnerable in our community.

When you do that, the rest will take care of itself. If you have any doubt about that, just look at the life of Elaine Jones.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.

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Story Source: The Skanner

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkey; Justice; Black Studies; Civil Rights; Law; Advocacy; Speaking Out



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