By Monica Alonzo
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"In that respect," Sanford says, "he's even better than Al Sharpton. Absolutely better. Al Sharpton is an extremely intelligent and articulate person himself. But I think Jarrett has learned from him not only what to do, but what not to do."
It's King Day, 2005, and Jarrett Maupin Sr. is where he always is on this holiday, following the march: standing on the sidelines of the festivities at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix, holding a sign bearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s portrait and passing out leaflets for the National Action Network.
His son, with whom Maupin's just gotten off the cell phone, has finished speaking at Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem -- the last place Dr. King himself sermonized -- and reports he'll be featured on BET News tonight. (Hillary Clinton and Beyoncé were no-shows, but Jarrett did get some pictures taken with Jay-Z.)
Meanwhile, Marissa stops by her daddy's post to give him a hug -- and also to retrieve the cell phone. She's trailed by a white girl from school who, Maupin worries, may have eyes for Jarrett.
"She was at a little party we had and was tugging at Jarrett's shirttail, trying to get him to come with her," Maupin says after the two disappear back into the crowd. "Jarrett just dug his feet in the ground. He's too smart for that." From his own experience, he adds, "People still have a problem with the black man and the white woman."
Maupin knows that if his son has any hope of securing public office, he's got to watch out for any potentially controversial relationships. Sharpton himself has been dodging charges lately of an affair that a former office worker claims began four years before his recent divorce, and even Martin Luther King came under scrutiny after his death for his romantic dalliances.
"Jarrett's got girls that he goes out with. But nobody's changing his schedule, changing his mind. I tell him, 'They'll be there when you get where you're going.'"
Indeed, Maupin Sr. seems to have been grooming his son for a political career ever since a 5-year-old Jarrett sat on Jesse Jackson's lap at Tanner Chapel in south Phoenix and began speaking in public at age 6.
He's even, like his idol, a reverend. At 12, Jarrett Jr. came under the tutelage of Reverend Henry Barnwell of First New Life Missionary Baptist Church in Phoenix, and at 16 he was ordained as a practicing minister (he's not licensed to perform marriages, but can baptize and has preached in churches from New York to California). At St. Mary's, where he's preached morning services in the school chapel, classmates and teachers enjoy calling him "Rev."
"He's clean, man," says his devoted dad. "No booze, no drugs, no girls -- and he's not gay."
Maupin Jr. is also well-groomed on the issues, and on the state of black leadership, both locally and nationally. He admires Barack Obama, the privileged half-black senator from Illinois, but doesn't feel he's the Great Black Hope the community has been waiting for. "There are African Americans, and there are black Americans," the young Maupin explains. "And Barack Obama is not exactly 'from the 'hood.'"
On Condoleezza Rice: "She played hopscotch with the four little girls who were blown up in the famous church bombing in Birmingham in 1963," he says. "For her to be so silent on civil rights issues today, that's frightening."
He's also critical of the NAACP's Tillman, and of the man he'll be running against in the District 8 city council race, Mike Johnson.
"We're not like the National Association for the Roundabout Advancement of Colored People on Our Schedule," he quips. "We're the National Action Network. We get things done."
"And Mike Johnson is a great guy, but in the four years that he's been councilman, we haven't seen enough changes," Maupin continues. "He's always talking about what's great about the district. I grew up here. What about the continuing problems of drugs, teen pregnancy, neighborhood dumps, dirty alleys, playgrounds with lead paint? Mike Johnson was a cop for 27 years -- he's gotta know where the crack houses are down here."
Maupin has been winning grassroots support in District 8 by knocking on doors, attending student council meetings, and fighting for what he feels are the very real concerns of the neighborhoods. He's petitioned Mike Johnson to have a park closed on 20th Street and Broadway Road that's become a known hangout for drug dealers and to create a new one at a better location, and has met with administrators at Maxine O. Bush Elementary School to suggest ways of mending the racial tensions that have been going on there between black and Latino students since April, when a Hispanic girl was assaulted by some black students.
Mike Johnson is diplomatic in discussing the 17-year-old's chances (Maupin will turn 18, eligibility age, just five months before the election) in the upcoming contest. "Anyone who gets in this race, I take seriously," he says. "He's a young man who has aspirations to run for office, and that has to be admired."
Still, he wonders if Maupin, who'll attend Arizona State University next year if he wins the council position (or Howard or American in Washington, D.C., if he doesn't -- "to stay close to politics"), can seriously juggle schoolwork with the full calendar of meetings required of a city councilman.