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Van Jones to keynote Wayne State MLK luncheon

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Van Jones, formerly President Barack Obama’s adviser on green jobs, will keynote Wayne State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute Luncheon on Jan. 15, the university announced on Wednesday.

Jones, a best-selling author and CNN correspondent, resigned from his post in 2009 after Jones’ signature was found on what Fox News described as “a 2004 statement calling on then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and others to launch an investigation into evidence that suggests ‘people within the current administration may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.’”

In addition to his books and his media appearances, Jones is founder of the nonprofit effort #YesWeCode, whose goal is to teach 100,000 economically disadvantaged youths to write computer code. Last month, the organization invited teenagers to participate in the Congressional App Challenge, whose goal is to encourage high school students to finish what may be their first application. Among the Michigan delegation to Washington, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, is the only participant. The first leg of the challenge ends on Jan. 21.

“Every time you see a black kid wearing a hoodie, you say: there’s a thug. If you see a white kid wearing hoodie, you say: there’s Mark Zuckerberg,” Jones said on the #YesWeCode website, relaying a conversation he had with the musician Prince after Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty of a second-degree murder charge related to Martin’s death. That conversation was a catalyst, Jones says.

“I said, ‘that’s because of racism,’” Jones recalled. “And Prince said, ‘maybe so, or maybe you civil rights guys haven’t created enough Mark Zuckerbergs.’”

Patrick Lindsey, Wayne State’s vice president of government and community affairs, said in a statement that Jones’ “commitment to social and environmental justice embodies Dr. King’s legacy of transformation” and hailed his career as proof of the difference one person can make.

Past keynote speakers include presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson (2010), basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2011) and astronaut Mae Jemison (2014).

Tickets to the luncheon range from $10, for the program only, to $65 for the luncheon and the program. Bundles of 10 tickets can be purchased for $500. The event will take place at the Max M. Fisher Music Center at 10 a.m. that Friday. DTE Energy, Pepsi and Mercedes Benz will sponsor the luncheon. Proceeds will benefit Adopt-A-Classroom.

Jones could not immediately be reached.