Several weeks ago Rebuild a Dream brought together 60,000 fans for one mega concert in Chicago featuring Prince, Janelle Monae and more in hopes of inspiring and encouraging community members. With the help of 26 different community organizations, Rebuild a Dream brought much-needed resources to Chicago. ESSENCE.com caught up with Van Jones, the organization’s creator and founder, to discuss its mission, how we can get involved and more. In addition, we also chatted with Janelle Monae about her involvement and why this organization means so much to her.
ESSENCE.com: What is the Rebuild the Dream foundation?
VAN JONES: We are a new organization and we’re fighting to bring economic opportunity to America. We have 600,000 online members and we’re in every congressional district. Out big claim to fame has been us fighting Congress from doubling the interest rate on student loans last year. We’ve also been trying to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cut the principle on all these mortgages. We’ve been fighting these middle class, working class issues that have gotten worse since Bush took office. It’s also about raising people’s spirits—we don’t have to turn on each other, we can turn to each other. We were able to take our message to about 60,000 people in The Dream Chicago Concert. We teamed up with 26 local organizations. We filled up the concourse of the United Center with nothing but positivity. We had local groups who helped with community health, nutrition, saving money and saving energy. We hope to grow to other cities in the coming months.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the mission of your organization?
JONES: The mission is to change laws and policies so that people can work hard and get some where. They [the government] could easily help—they bailed out all this big things, they could have bailed out the homeowners too, but they didn’t. Instead of helping out Wall Street they could have been helping out all these students with debt. On one hand, our agenda in Washington, D.C. is about changing laws and policies. But when we go into the communities we want people to come together and be stronger together. We’re working to bring economic opportunity back to the country.
ESSENCE.com: How did you come up with the idea?
JONES: I’ve been an activist for almost 25 years. I’ve worked on everything from police brutality to juvenile justice to bringing green jobs to places like Oakland, CA. I worked for the president for a while. I’ve been in the game for a long time. The reason I thought doing something like Rebuild the Dream was important is because all of a sudden we have these new fights and no one was fighting back. We’re getting overcharged for our houses. You go to college to come out ahead and come out behind. Also, so many groups in the local level were working in isolation not getting the attention.
ESSENCE: Janelle, how did you get connected with the organization and why?
JANELLE MONAE: Prince and I are good friends. He’s been a mentor and a good friend to me for quite some time now. Music is a source of good energy that brings people together. The music has connected me with Prince. With Rebuild the Dream wanting to get people out and connect over something—and that’s the music. What really touched my heart and wanted me to be more involved was the community aspect of it. I grew up in a poor working class family and I understand the struggle. Whatever I can do to help the next generation not have to deal with the issues we’re dealing with now is something I love to do. I think Rebuild the Dream is not about politics, it’s about building sustainable communities and about bringing a solution and giving every day people a voice. I think that’s really important. It takes a community to cultivate an idea and rebuild a dream.
ESSENCE.com: Do you have plans to take the organization on the road with you?
MONAE: I am here if Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones or Prince ever need me. I’m here to support. I think it’s a great idea and the foundation is very solid and it’s something I’ve always been an advocate of—community service, how can we help those who can’t help themselves. How do we give options to those who don’t know the option.
ESSENCE.com: How can we get involved?
JONES: It’s easy! Go to RebuildtheDream.com. It’s free. You’ll get emails about the different activities about things that may be happening in your community or things that may be happening in Washington, D.C. We’re all about trying to connect people to positive activities.