By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
For Jarrell Jordan, age is only a number.
“Just because I’m 19, it doesn’t mean I can’t be just as successful as someone who is 40,” Jordan said.
And he has a track record to prove it.
Jordan is one of 73 ambassadors who serve as a liaison between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the White House and the Department of Education. The students bring grants, funding and ideas on how to improve structure and attract businesses and organizations to the schools.
Jordan, a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta, became an ambassador this spring and shortly after accepting the position brought Jeh Johnson, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, to Morehouse. He also registered to vote over 300 of his fellow classmates, and helped students find scholarships.
“I’m big on scholarships because many HBCU students can’t find funding to stay in school, so I send out scholarship lists every month, and students have told me that they have gotten scholarships from the lists I send out,” he said.
He was recently asked to participate with the FBI’s Citizen’s Academy and to work with the Department of Justice and Homeland Security to make sure HBCU students have access to government jobs after graduating.
“The goal is to get a pipeline between government organizations and HBCUs, so these jobs are available to us,” he said.
To cap off his ambassadorship under President Barack Obama, Jordan is in the midst of an 11-stop tour in Birmingham: The Importance of Education Tour. His visits include seven Birmingham City Schools and four local churches. He talks to the community about the importance of education for black students, and why education at HBCUs is important.
The tour began several weeks ago and will end on Jan. 15. Starting the tour at the church he grew up in – First Baptist Church- Kingston – was moving, Jordan said.
“To be able to stand there as a man now, and not just as that kid that used to sing there was great,” he said.
Education is an escape from anything, or to get out of a bad situation, said Jordan, who graduated from Woodlawn High School.
“The world can take a lot from us, but they can’t take what we know, so we just have to keep learning because that’s our only way out,” he said.
Jordan has learned to challenge himself. When he was in 9th grade, his mother died of a heart attack, leaving him to live with his grandmother.
“That made me grow up even more after she died; I really had to push myself,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone telling me I can do this, I just had to push myself past my limits.”
Now he sees his work coming full circle, he said.
“I was a troubled kid, and now I’m able to go back and be a role model to other students,” he said.
Having high school students see someone in their age group can be more effective, he explained.
Majoring in political science and religion, Jordan hopes to be a public servant or work with Homeland Security or the CIA. He counts Johnson and Birmingham Mayor William Bell as his mentors and strongest backers.
“I have so many people behind me,” he said. “This is the kind of backing African American students need and deserve.”
Jordan said he can see himself running for mayor of Birmingham at some point “and I would like to be the first African American governor of the state of Alabama.”
Before he achieves those goals, however, Jordan is hoping that his ambassadorship, which ends when he graduates, will be able to help more HBCU students.
“I think President-elect Trump will need all the help from the African American community and millennials that he can get,” said Jordan, who served as the Atlanta student director for the Bernie Sanders campaign. “So, having 73 ambassadors will assist him in furthering his vision to the African American community.”
He wants to ensure that HBCUs do not lose federal funding.
“It’s one of those things that could be taken away, and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “So, we need to make sure that education is a priority [for president-elect Trump], and we have to make sure that the black community is treated right; we’re not only being an ambassador for HBCUs but a voice for the African American community.”