Jitu Brown is a community organizer who serves as national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, a grassroots education advocacy group. Brown has been an education activist for the past twenty-six years. Beginning as a volunteer with youth programs on Chicago's South Side, he became a board member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization in 1993. We spoke by phone in early November.
Q: How did you become an activist?
Jitu Brown: I'm from the South Side of Chicago, educated in the Chicago public schools. I sort of flamed out playing college football and was in the music industry. I had the choice of either signing with MCA Records as a solo artist or doing what was pulling at my spirit, which was community work. And I made the best decision of my life. I left the music industry and I started volunteering with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, doing youth program work.
Doing that work, I got a real view of the inequity, so I began convening parents in the neighborhood around the conditions in our schools. The things I was seeing were far worse than when I was in school on the South Side. So I asked the question: Why is schooling for these children worse than it was for me? That began the process.
Q: How did that process play out?
Brown: In 2012, I helped form this new group called the Journey for Justice Alliance, which is thriving today in twenty-five cities across the country as well as five provinces in South Africa. We are fighting for education equity and against the school privatization movement.
Journey for Justice started after I received a phone call from an organizer in New York named Zakiyah Ansari, who at that time was with the Brooklyn Education Collaborative. She was just explaining to me, "I feel all alone out here." I said so do I. So we began to reach out to folks that we knew around the country and people felt the same way.
We decided to do a "freedom ride" to Washington, D.C., to confront [then Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan around the impact of "race to the top" in our communities. We had thirteen cities ready to go. We came up with the name, "Journey for Justice," and it wasn't even an organization at first. We mobilized about 2,500 people to travel to Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Department of Education, then we did a march of about 5,000 people from the U.S. Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Education, and after that we decided to become a network. Our first national action...