“A few years ago, I never would have felt comfortable sharing these stories,” San Jose Vice Mayor Charles “Chappie” Jones, says.
In the interview below, Jones opens up about some of the times he, his family, and friends have faced discrimination and bias.
With an attitude that is clearly one of moving forward and not dwelling on the negative, Jones has done an amazing job of achieving personal and professional goals.
In the wide-ranging interview, the San Jose vice mayor speaks about growing up in Sacramento in the 1960s and ’70s, his impressions of some of the major events in those decades, and how, thanks to the younger generation, many of today’s issues may be at a tipping point towards a new direction. He stresses that it is up to all of us to assure that kids of all races have hope and opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Jones says he laid the foundation for his kids, and how one of his personal objectives was to “raise good honest, decent children who are going to contribute to society and to create a loving household.” He explains how he made his way to San Jose through his spouse, Kelli, and she encouraged him to pursue his dream of public service.
One of the things that makes Chappie unique is that he brings decades of experience from a corporate and small business/entrepreneurial perspective to his public service role.
His approach of assuming people have good intentions and giving them the benefit of the doubt has served him well in business and government. He also reflects on and appreciates the wisdom of this country’s founders, flawed just like the rest of us, and the roadmap they provided in the form of the Constitution.
Click on the timecodes in the summary below to jump directly to that part of the video to hear the vice mayor’s words.
Childhood, Redlining, Repression
01:54 — Jones recounts his “wonderful childhood” with lots of friends in a neighborhood and that was racially diverse. He says he feels fortunate to grow up with a diverse group of people as it taught him that, “by and large we are all the same.” He did not realize it at the time, but his street, which he describes as predominantly black, was the boundary of and part of a redlined area.
06:03 — Jones weighs in on the impacts of some of the larger events of the 1960s, such as the impact of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are discussed and the impression they left, particularly the despair and hopelessness in his house. As much as there has been incremental improvements since then, he hints that systemic issues have not gone away (he provides specific examples later in the conversation).
08:49 — The family stories of lynching and segregation he grew up with made an imprint. He explains that when his parents purchased their house in 1962, they were restricted as to where they could purchase their home.
A Diverse School, a Variety of Perspectives
12:35 — Jones describes a high school experience in which people were on a continuum, and where people were as likely to assemble based on shared interests as they were outward appearances.
14:50 — He recounts our common experience of the July 20, 1969 moon landing and the kernel of hope that provided. He says he remains hopeful, as the U.S. has been able to rebound through the low times, such as the 1920s when the KKK membership was estimated to be between 3 to 8 million people.
17:20 — He credits U.S. founders for the aspirational roadmap of the Constitution.
18:20 — He explains his decision to pick UC Davis for undergraduate studies.
Discretion, Detainment, Discrimination
20:23 — Jones talks about a situation on a military base when he was a teenager that could have changed his life in a negative way if the military police officer had made a different decision. His story touches upon the idea of police discretion, which is an underpinning of traffic enforcement. In an article in Cato Unbound, Sarah Seo of the University of Iowa’s College of Law argues that “discretion has often meant racially disparate treatment, as well as serious erosions of the Fourth Amendment.” A Vice article makes a pitch for speed cameras as a way to reduce the need for officer discretion by eliminating some of the more than 20 million annual police-motorist interactions.
23:58 — Jones describes a time in college when he and his friends were detained by the police based solely on the color of their skin. He explains that his experience is not unique, as evidenced by a recent text discussion with a group of 20 of his Black friends, a group that has achieved a high degree of professional success. Almost half of this group have had a gun drawn on them by a police officer at some point, he says.
27:20 — The issue goes beyond statistics and is about perception, Jones explains. He indicates that now is the first time he has felt comfortable sharing these stories and that, the assiduous bias “wears you down.”
28:50 — He discusses his brush with housing discrimination in 1984, and how he sought justice and won. His story echoes what this author’s late friend, Tom Olson, found in Rochester in the late 1950s.
Prejudices, Biases Still Persist
31:17 — Whether comments in a yearbook, or a lady unwilling to share a park bench or a daughter being confronted by a man who questioned why she was parking where she was, unfortunately, his kids are not free from the biases and prejudices that haunted him throughout his life. [Note: at 36:40, this interviewer lost his feed, so several seconds of non-essential video has been removed from the above recording]. Jones explains that subtle incidents like these have a subconscious and sometimes conscious impact that can eventually extinguish hope.
38:51 — Words are tough for some, such as for this interviewer. For instance, I meant to say, “it’s always my words that have been the most offensive,” instead of the “words are the most offensive things I said” (which taken literally makes no sense). It does lead to the bigger point of the next part of the discussion about context and common sense.
Who Brought Jones to San Jose?
40:20 — Jones’s journey continues as his first job was at the old GE plant on Monterey Highway in San Jose, although he lived in Oakland. After a four-year stint at GE, he returned to school, met his future spouse in the same MBA program and moved to San Jose. After graduating with his MBA, he worked for Pacific Bell/AT&T, before joining a small start-up that he grew from four to fifty employees that, in his words, scratched his entrepreneurial itch. He then returned to AT&T and then moved onto Apple.
45:49 — Jones’s wife, Kelli, tells Chappie to put up or shut up about his desire to serve the public. He puts it on the line by quitting his job at Apple. He talks about his public service experience and how his family and friendships keep him grounded. He starts with the premise that most people have the best intentions.
Systemic Issues, Hope
53:21 — The discussion shifts to the interstate freeway system as an example of decisions that were made that had a sometimes-disastrous impact on established Black neighborhoods in many cities (a 2018 study from Stanford suggests that the interstate system was a contributor to the decline of some census tracts with estimates of the destruction of up to 200,000 housing units and population losses of 375,000. As further reference, the SmartDrivingCars Episode 163 has an informative discussion with guest Henry Greenridge, a NYU McSilver Institute Fellow, on race, income and mobility and the potential for autonomy to close the gaps.)
57:10 — Jones talks about getting to the root of the problem. He stresses that most people will not seek a life of crime if they have hope, aspirations and opportunity to do something constructive for themselves and society. He emphasizes that it is going to take all of us to give kids what they need to succeed.
1:00:35 — The talk shifts to the untapped human potential in the Bay Area and touches upon the challenge of training our local populace to work at high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley. He closes out the discussion by suggesting we are at a tipping point, which is being driven by younger people, as far as changes in attitude and action on multiple issues including racial relations, climate change, and gun control.
Final Note: This interview was inspired by the work of the Maasai Jones (no relation to Chappie) and a poem he wrote before his passing,“A Diet Racist.” We will never know why Maasai left us, but he made a difference.
Ken Pyle is managing editor of the Viodi View, a member of the SJC Airport Commission and chair of the D1 Leadership Group. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches and letters to [email protected].