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Jesse Long-Bey Joins the Ancestors

Jesse Long-Bey, activist, teacher and longtime Michigan Citizen editor, passed away last week, leaving behind a powerful legacy.

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Jesse Long-Bey, 1948-2013

Jesse Long-Bey, longtime Michigan Citizen editor, was admitted to the hospital in early December after a month-long illness. He had suffered a stroke in December 2009 and was in a coma for 30 days but recovered. Jesse was in Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak when he died Jan. 21, 2013 the day of the first Black President Barack Obama’s second inauguration and of the national Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. He was 64.

Jesse was born on Dec. 1, 1948, in Bessemer, Ala., to the late Jesse Long and Elizabeth Lewis Long. He would talk about “coming-up” down south where he believed many of the men and women were role models and most were hardworking.

A son of the segregated south, as well as Detroit, he developed a strong sense of self-awareness, a belief in African pride and community service.

In his mid-teens, Jesse moved to Detroit, where he attended Pershing High School and graduated with honors. He attended Spring Arbor College, while in prison, and graduated with a bachelors of science.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Jesse moved through the criminal justice system, serving more than 12 years in six state correctional facilities.

His friend and fellow Michigan Citizen editor Kwasi Akwamu, who he met at Carson City Correctional Facility in 1994, said this about the time: “A human being, Jesse was not perfect and made mistakes in his younger years. He, of course, made every fall in the pit a gain in the wit, and always emerged a better person. He learned deeply from his mistakes and led a life of constant self-improvement and community service. … He studied himself and the heritage of his people, adopting the Afrikan name Omowale Diop Ankobia. As he learned, he dutifully shared his newfound knowledge with others around him. A leader among men, he was a mentor to many young men, not only deterring them from a life of self-destruction but guiding them down the path to redemption and freedom fight.”

In prison, Jesse was a tutor and worked with organizations like the NAACP to form study groups. He was focused on education and access to relevant ideas. He started a monthly newsletter and often submitted articles to the Michigan Citizen. He was also a proud Republic of New Afrika Citizen.

When released from prison, Jesse hoped to work at the Michigan Citizen as a writer. He interviewed with publisher emeritus Charles Kelly (1932-2006). After the meeting, Kelly saw him at the bus stop and gave him a ride. He later began a multi-year career at the newspaper.

In 1997, Jesse began editing and writing for the Michigan Citizen. He wrote a column, “Calling It Like It Is,” where he sought to make political news and issues accessible to the everyday person. He put politics in an everyday context and purposely wrote with a rhythm he hoped would make it easy for people to grasp. He deliberately made words such as “amerika” lower case or changed his grammar. He raised questions he believed vital to the Black community: How could there have been a slave trade without Black complicity? He also saw contradictions in society such as Black politicians toeing the line for a system that he never believed served Black people. Jesse believed people caught in a struggle for survival may not always be able to articulate what they know to be true. He believed in the fight for heat in the winter, water, access to healthy foods and believed it was critical to point out the contradictions that define the lives of people who live in an oppressive system.

Many might have a hard time understanding education policy but the column would link the goings on in a dysfunctional family to the politics of education policy in the city of Detroit. He put politics in an everyday context and wanted the issues to become easy for people to grasp.

As a reporter, Jesse did a series of stories in the late ‘90s on the state’s first takeover of the Detroit Public Schools. He gained entry to schools to uncover the shoddy work contractors were doing while benefitting from $1 billion in Detroit taxpayer bond money.

He valued the voice he had at the Michigan Citizen and, lacking other means of change, he was able to challenge a dominant perspective. He was proud of that ability.

Jesse believed good writers get read and found newspapers to be an important medium and later founded his own newspaper, The City Voice, which was published from 2006-08.

About this time, Jesse also formed J&J and Associates a grassroots campaign strategy firm. Through his work at J&J, Jesse helped elect Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and worked on his wife Wayne County Commissioner Jewel Ware’s campaign.

Jesse and Jewel married in 1999.

The couple invested in Idlewild, a historic Black resort that recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary, and hoped to play a part in Idlewild’s resurrection. They opened the Morton Motel and Restaurant to give people a place to stay when they returned to the Black vacation spot.

Jesse dedicated much of his life in service to Black people.

Ultimately, Jesse believed race and racism was the byproduct of a bigger problem. Racism was part of a bigger system that included sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination. He believed that people were channeled into smaller battles but shared a bigger, common enemy.

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