Smile Politely

Doing the work and making a difference: An interview with Jobie Taylor

When it comes to addressing societal issues, there are a few types of people. Some shake their heads and wish that things were different, some are more than willing to make their voices heard, yet don’t become a part of the solution (I’m afraid I have been guilty of this), and some get out there and do the work. Jobie Taylor (second from left) embodies that third group. He grew up on the south side of Chicago, was raised by his aunt after losing his mom at a young age, then followed an older cousin into gang culture. He spent close to 20 years in Illinois correctional facilities. According to Taylor, “I had two choices. I could conform to the prison culture, or I could do something to better myself while I was here.”

Taylor was about to graduate from high school when he entered prison. During his incarceration he earned his G.E.D. and two associate degrees, which qualified him for the Education Justice Project, a University of Illinois college-in-prison program. Through the EJP he was able to take college courses, many in education policy. He was paroled in 2013 and settled in Champaign-Urbana. In the few years since his release, he’s become a force for positive change in the lives of those in the community who are in danger of succumbing to the pull of violence. He’s been down that road and doesn’t want others to have the same experience. His work with the EJP connected him with Director Rebecca Ginsburg, which led to him attending the local NAACP awards, where he met former Champaign County NAACP President and Director of the CU Area Project Patricia Avery, who was in the beginning stages of a program that would look at addressing gun violence in our community in a new way. Taylor spoke about his community involvement, and how his past led him to work he’s doing now.

Smile Politely: It sounds like you focused on the goal of bettering yourself during your incarceration. How did that lead into doing the work that you are doing in the community now?

Jobie Taylor: I knew since I was once part of the problem, I had to now be part of the solution. When I came down here to this community, I seen that it (gun violence) was a problem that could be solved but that it would take a little effort. But I didn’t know how to go about solving it. So when I met Patricia at the NAACP awards she was telling me a little bit about the program (Truce), I didn’t want to hinder her because I was still on parole. I got off parole in 2016 and called her immediately and said “let’s do it” and she said “come on.”

SP: What is Truce, and what are the goals of the program?

Taylor: Truce is an anti-violence initiative that is geared toward conflict resolution. So what we do is try to get on the front of violence before it even occurs. We know the police have been trained to respond to shootings after they occur, but we try to get on the front end. What we did was actually adapt the violence interrupters model (used by Tio Hardimon in Chicago). Tio came down and did a 40 hour intensive training to get us prepared to work in the field, because it’s not for the faint of heart. We did a lot of events in the community last year to show that we are out there and we support them and we are there for them.

SP: Have you seen an impact from Truce in the short amount of time you’ve been with the program?

Taylor: I have. In the instance where the young man was killed in Douglass Park, I actually knew the family very close. They were really wanting to retaliate. Tio came down and me and him met with that family and talked them down. To this day I’m in contact with them. I just saw the mother the other day, and his birthday just passed and she was telling me it was hard on her. And the individuals that was his friends still think about him, but they don’t think about retaliating. I tell my story whenever I talk to them. I’ll be like “look dude, you don’t want to go to no prison. That ain’t no place you want to be at.” You’ve got to think about the actions that you do because not only is it affecting you, it’s affecting everybody around you. Your family is affected by it because now they gotta pay for phone calls, writing letters, coming to visit you. If you have kids you’ve left the kids without you. What I try to do is get them to think instead of react.

SP: Tell me more about the Education Justice Project. You’ve continued to be involved with them after you were a student, correct?

Taylor: Yeah, I do. EJP is a college in prison program run through the University of Illinois. We get the same academics, and same course credit as the people who go to the U of I. Upon release, Rebecca would call me and I would do a lot of talks, sit on panels, do a lot of workshops. One is called FACE (Family and Community Engagement) where family members that have loved ones who are incarcerated can come and see what they are doing while they are incarcerated. It’s a beautiful program. We actually helped put together a reentry guide for individuals that’s coming out, because there was nothing on paper to show the steps of reentry. It’s actually been distributed throughout the country, not just the state of Illinois.

SP: Do you feel hopeful about gun violence in the community? I feel like over the past few months we’ve seen it ramp up again. But in the work that you’re doing, do you feel like progress is being made?

Taylor: I do. I think more people need to be educated. I don’t think there’s a lot of sympathy for individuals that’s been affected by gun violence. Especially from the top down. Those in the grassroots we get it, but they need to be educated more and be serious about passing real gun laws that’s going to help us as a nation.

With Patricia Avery in the midst of a campaign for Lieutenant Governor, Taylor has taken on some added responsibility with Truce. One of the next steps the group is working toward is forming hospital response teams to jump into action as soon as a shooting happens to support the family with emotional and physical needs in those traumatic moments.

The way that we move through the world is greatly influenced by our past experiences: mistakes and successes. Many who face the life circumstances that Taylor has don’t come out on the other side. But it seems those circumstances have uniquely prepared him for the work he’s doing now. May we all follow his example and work toward positive change.

TRUCE is part of the Champaign-Urbana Area Project. To join the discussion about recent gun violence and how it affects our community and schools, there is a town hall this evening, January 17th, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Illinois Terminal. 

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