When ESSENCE spoke to Brenda Jones just days before Michigan’s primary election, she said she was “feeling really good.” Detroit’s current council president, now vying to regain her seat in the 13th congressional district, is in a tight race against the current incumbent. Yet Jones, whose served the city of Detroit in some capacity since 2005, feels confident that a victorious outcome for her campaign is on the horizon.
“I think that my chances are really great,” Jones says assuredly. “I plan to be the one to return back to the 13th congressional seat.”
Jones entered the halls of Capitol Hill in November of 2018 ready to serve out the seat formerly occupied by John Conyers. But her opportunity to represent the district was very much short-lived. On the same night Jones was catapulted through a special election to replace the longest-serving African American congressman in U.S. history, Rashida Tlaib won the regular Democratic Primary, taking over Conyer’s seat in January of 2019.
A firebrand competitor with name recognition in Congress, Tlaib has seen her political star rise during her short tenure in D.C. But Jones questions the benefit of popularity if the people of the district are still suffering for basic needs. “I’m not interested in being a rock band across the United States, across the globe,” Jones says, taking a slight jab at “The Squad” member. “I’m interested in the 13th congressional district.”
Among Jones’s most pressing concerns for her constituents include uniting the majority Black community that contains a large population of Arab, Caribbean and Hispanic Americans as well as whites. She also wants to focus attention on rebuilding the district’s economy, now the third poorest in the United States. “What we need in the 13th congressional district is opportunities, neighborhoods, education, and safety,” Jones argues.
Safety amid a pandemic comes in two forms. In recent weeks, gun violence in the Motor City has seen a surge, while the threat of the coronavirus remains a very real concern. Jones, herself, tested positive for COVID-19 and shares worry over the risk it poses to the district’s residents. “We have 60 percent African-Americans that are in the municipality in 2020 with no hospital,” Jones laments “and you have people like myself who have a problem breathing.”
In addition to a hospital, Jones says the district is lacking resources to help improve family, senior, and neighborhood services. That’s why she wants to “bring home the green, bring home the money” by doing the work in Congress needed to boost the community she serves back home.
Jones was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved to Detroit in 1967, the year of the Detroit riots, and a period of civil unrest in cities across the United States. What she sees going on now in the streets of Detroit, in the streets of our nation, reminds her of that “long, hot summer” more than 50 years ago. “It is something that needs to be addressed,” Jones says of the persistent violence among those in the community as well as the state-sanctioned violence happening in her backyard. “And that’s why I say I am the best person. I have been on council for 15 years. I legislate and I write laws.” During her partial term, Jones introduced two bills and is proud to note that she was able to work across the aisle to get those bills passed. “You have to be able to build coalitions,” Jones contends. “And that’s something that I have been doing.”
When it comes to being of service to her community, Jones’s track record cannot be denied. She’s been lambasted by her opponents for not living in the district she represents, but Jones insists the zip code of her home does not change the devotion in her heart. “I work my feet on the ground every day,” Jones proclaims. “So I am ready. And I think experience matters and I think leadership matters.”
Whether Jones gets the opportunity to do so will be determined soon enough. Right now she has the backing of elected officials, key endorsements from organizations, and has found support from previous competitors, faith-based leaders and city mayors. “I’m really hearing good things out in the community when I’m out there. People are calling me with good ravings,” Jones excitedly shares. Now it’s time for the residents of the district to have the final say.