MARTIN, Tenn. — CNN’s Crossfire co-host Van Jones made the most of his visit April 14 to the University of Tennessee at Martin. He was keynote speaker at noon for the Department of Communications Awards Banquet and participated in an investigative journalism panel discussion that afternoon. His day concluded as he received the department’s Distinguished Alumni Award following a dinner hosted by department faculty members in the Dunagan Alumni Center.
Jones, a Jackson, Tenn., native and a 1990 UT Martin graduate with a double major in communications and political science, is the first UT Martin journalism sequence graduate to receive the award. He later earned a law degree from Yale University and has become known internationally as both an environmental and a social activist. In 2007, Jones was named UT Martin’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award recipient.
“Well, it’s good to be home,” Jones told the awards banquet audience. “ … The emotions I felt coming up here today after 24 years, it’s just hard to put into words.” He referred to Dr. Jerald Ogg, UT Martin provost, as “coach” throughout his remarks in appreciation for Ogg’s personal advice and support during and after the time Jones attended the university.
In addition to having Ogg in several classes, Jones was editor of The Pacer student newspaper during the time that Ogg served as the paper’s adviser. In a 2002 story about Jones that appeared in UT Martin’s alumni magazine, Ogg said of this former student, “Van was certainly one of the most gifted students I have had the pleasure of teaching. What stood out even more than his intelligence, however, was his passion.
“I was a student here (at UT Martin) in the mid-70s, and Van had the same zeal to make a difference you associate with that era.”
Dr. Robert Nanney, communications department chair, has known Jones since his days as a UT Martin student.
“Our students were inspired by his passion, his journey and his heart,” Nanney said. “Van has countless awards from groups across the country and beyond, but it was especially gratifying that he was truly touched to receive our department’s Distinguished Alumni Award. It meant the world to him.”
Besides his association with CNN, the Los Angeles resident is president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, which VanJones.net says is “a platform for bottom-up, people-powered innovations to help fix the U.S. economy.” He has written two New York Times Best Sellers: The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream. In 2009, Jones was the green jobs adviser to the Obama administration.
Jones also co-founded two social justice organizations: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change. He has received many honors and recognitions, including the NAACP’s Image Award.
PHOTO CAPTION: CNN’s Crossfire co-host Van Jones speaks April 14 during the annual Communications Awards Banquet. He later received the Department of Communications Distinguished Alumni Award. Jones, a Jackson, Tenn., native and a 1990 UT Martin graduate with a double major in communications and political science, is the first UT Martin journalism sequence graduate to receive the award.