Student who wrote letter to ‘MLK Black Party’ fraternity saw best, worst of Internet

Ja'han Jones (Courtney Pedroza/DD)
Ja’han Jones wrote a letter Tuesday to the members of an ASU fraternity that held an “MLK Black Party” Monday. His post got more than 25,000 views and more than 100 comments. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

When Ja’han Jones first saw a photo of students at Tau Kappa Epsilon’s “MLK Black Party” on Facebook Monday evening, the first thing he felt was anger. But it wasn’t until he read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail the next morning that he decided to write on his blog the widely circulated open letter to the brothers of Tau Kappa Epsilon.

Jones’ letter questioned the actions of Tau Kappa Epsilon members who threw a party on Martin Luther King Jr. Day where party guests dressed in baggy clothing and drank out of watermelon cups. Jones and Phoenix African-American community leaders said on Tuesday that the party mocked African American culture.

Jones, the president of the African American Men of Arizona State University, did not expect his post to garner much attention. His posts usually get around 20 views.

As of midday Wednesday, the letter amassed more than 25,000 views from people across the country and had more than 100 comments.

“It’s a really tragic circumstance, so I’m not willing to call it a blessing,” Jones said of the letter’s popularity. “Any good that will arise from it, I’m thankful for that. I kind of witnessed the best and the worst of the Internet over the past couple of days.”

The comments on his blog post have been mostly positive and ranged from complete support of what Jones wrote to allegations of him playing the “race card.”

Jones, a journalism senior, said he hopes to use his journalism background to help draw attention to issues he thinks are important, though he doesn’t plan on having a career in civil rights.

Jones has been a member of the African American Men of Arizona State University since his freshman year and is also one of the founding members of ASU’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Jones said that some have called him a racist for what he wrote. Phoenix civil rights leaders have shown their support of Jones and how he responded to the party.

Reginald Bolding, the chair of the State of Black Arizona’s luminary committee and the executive director of Future Leaders of Arizona, said Jones’ response was a necessary one.

“I can say, from everything that I read, it was very thoughtful, very passionate and it needed to be said,” Bolding said. “I think he did a really great job of expressing his thoughts and his views and I support him.”

On Tuesday, the leadership of Tau Kappa Epsilon released a statement on the party that read, in part, “Tau Kappa Epsilon does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory, and/or offensive … It is with embarrassment and regret when a few individuals within our organization make decisions that do not align with the values and principles of Tau Kappa Epsilon.”

While Jones was offended by the actions of the party attendees, he said his organization is looking to move past this and stay focused on their goals of making sure African-American men and women are graduating and staying connected to their culture.

“We have a lot of obligations and we have people to lead, and while we’re mindful of what happened, we’re offended by what happened, we’re hurt by what happened, we’re going to continue business as usual, because our end goal is far from anything concerning Tau Kappa Epsilon,” Jones said.

ASU also released a statement regarding the party, saying that the University has suspended the chapter’s operations and “will take additional action against the individuals involved.

“It is unfortunate that a few misguided individuals held an offensive party at a time when ASU, the state and the nation are celebrating Dr. King’s achievements and legacy,” the statement continued.

Malcolm Brinkley, president of the ASU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, is a friend of Jones’ and also supports his decision to write the blog post.

“Ja’han’s open letter was, in my opinion, the most tasteful way to go about handling and speaking about the situation, and I was so relieved by the way he chose to speak about it,” Brinkley said.

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