UM-Flint alumnus Gary Jones earned his undergraduate degree in Africana Studies in 2004 and his master’s degree in Public Administration in 2007. In this interview, he talks about how his UM-Flint experience helped prepare him for success as a Constituency Services Representative for Congressman Dan Kildee.
Describe the work you are doing for Congressman Kildee.
I’m doing casework and outreach for Congressman Kildee’s office. The people who work in the office have different issue areas that we focus on, and mine involve the City of Flint, crime, guns, foreclosure, housing, youth, education, social security, and medicare and medicaid.
What did you do after earning your bachelor’s degree from UM-Flint?
After undergrad, I worked at Big Brothers and Big Sisters for almost two years. Then I went to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Flint, and was there for almost eight years, working in a number of different capacities.
Who at UM-Flint had the biggest impact on your education?
I would have to say two people. One is my cousin, James Anthony Jones. He also went to UM-Flint and was a year or two ahead of me. He was a returning student. He had been working at GM. So even though he was older, we were going through college at pretty much the same time. He really helped me get to the university and navigate that world. The other person was Tendaji Ganges in the Office of Educational Opportunity Initiatives (EOI). He was a huge, huge help. I actually got admitted through an EOI program because the last couple years of high school, I wasn’t really cutting it. I got like a 19 on my ACT. My GPA dipped under 3.0. So EOI’s Challenge Program [now the Promise Scholar Program], which put tough requirements on my performance in order to be accepted, really helped me. I’m so glad I had that experience because it connected me to so many people, additional resources, other students. I worry about all of those students who did not have the opportunities I did, and how they navigated the college experience. I had so much support from the beginning.
Does UM-Flint’s growing reputation as a leader in engaged learning ring true with your experience? How so?
UM-Flint connected me to so many like-minded people. As a student I was involved in an arts collective/community-oriented group call Neo Griot that did so many good things out in the neighborhoods all over the city. I remember we created a youth poetry group out at Beecher High School. We went out there to recruit poets, we talked about the connections between rap, hip hop, and gave impromptu performances on the school yard! I didn’t really think of any of that as service or community outreach. I just thought it was cool. It was Clara Blakely in the EOI office, around the time I was graduating, who explained to me that everything I was doing was service learning, it was community outreach. She’s the one who encouraged me to apply in order to receive my commitment to service chords for graduation. Her encouragement helped me see that I could carry all of those passions forward, in my chosen career.
What has been a particularly meaningful moment for you personally, or for the community, in your current position?
One of coolest things was during National Mentoring Month. My mentors have meant the world to me. More than once, they caught me at a stage in my life where I could have gone one way or the other, good or bad. Last year, the Congressman participated in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters national mentoring challenge, which was asking for something like 500 people to step up and be a mentor. I loved that he took the time to make that call, even with all of the things that are going on in Congress. That showed me a lot about his heart, that no matter what else is going on, we can never forget about the importance of being there for kids.
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