Kid Sharpton

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"No foolin', he got Jay-Z?" Jarrett Maupin II is hollering into his cell phone, pacing the hallway of the downtown office suite where the St. Mary's senior spends most of his time after school.

"Lord have mercy! That Rev is something else!"

It's the day before Maupin's big trip to the East Coast, where the 17-year-old national youth director for Reverend Al Sharpton's civil rights organization, the National Action Network, is set to speak at New York City's biggest MLK Day celebration and, later that same week, catch a train to Washington, D.C., to take part in an Inauguration Day protest organized by Sharpton and other black leaders.

And clearly, Maupin is stoked.

"On Monday, I'll be onstage at the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, and it's going to be remarkable," he says immediately after firming up his itinerary with Sharpton's secretary in New York, dropping into an office chair in the Phoenix chapter of the NAN, which Maupin runs along with his dad and a shoestring staff of employees and volunteers.

"The mayor's gonna be there, Foxy Brown's gonna be there, Jay-Z's gonna be there, Beyoncé's gonna be there. And I had a chance to talk with Rev today, and Hillary Clinton's gonna be there, too."

Maupin shakes his head and smiles broadly. "He's going to put me on 15 minutes after Clinton, and right before Jay-Z!"

With a time slot like that, he knows some classmates will be grilling him for backstage dirt on Jigga and Beyoncé when he gets back, and maybe even some anecdotes on the former first lady.

But Maupin, who divides his after-school hours among doing homework, fielding calls at the NAN offices, and gathering grassroots support for his own bid for a Phoenix City Council seat this coming November (if elected, he'll become the youngest councilman in state history), sees the opportunity differently.

"What that really means is I'll have all the cameras, all the news media there to hear what I have to say and what we're going to be doing with youth in terms of the movement," he says.

"The Rev is a very smart man."

Certainly Al Sharpton is smart enough to see the built-in media appeal of the young, charismatic Jarrett Maupin, who speaks with all the evangelical flair of his mentor and even bears a striking physical resemblance, around the eyes and particularly in the long, swept-back hair style he favors, to the iconic New York City politico renowned as either the civil rights movement's most tireless leader or a grandstanding racial agitator, depending on whom you talk to.

"Some people call me his 'Mini Me,'" Maupin says, laughing, standing in front of a series of photographs of himself with Sharpton framed in the NAN's Phoenix offices on 12th Street and Washington. "When we get our pictures taken together, people think I'm his son or nephew or something."

Actually, Maupin's permed 'do, which keeps him going twice a week to the barbershop to maintain, was inspired by vintage photos of his own dad, himself an old-school activist who styled his hair similar to Sharpton's before joining the military.

"People wonder, is he trying to be a Sharpton clone?" says Jarrett Sr., 42, who now keeps his own head clean-shaven. "And I say no, I had a perm and wore my hair like that before I got older and my hairline started to recede. And when Jarrett saw some of those old pictures, he was like, 'Wow, Dad, maybe I should grow my hair like that!'"

The younger Maupin came to the personal attention of Sharpton after organizing public protests against what Maupin believes were acts of racism at Valley schools. In an incident last March that made it to the Associated Press wire, Maupin, then 16, staged a march with 22 other students outside Scottsdale's Saguaro High School in support of a black student who was handcuffed by police in the school cafeteria for refusing to turn his sideways baseball cap around.

Administrators claimed that wearing a cap that way signaled gang affiliation, and was therefore a violation of district dress codes. Maupin, however, charged that the rule was selectively enforced on blacks, quoting several Saguaro students who said that a number of white kids were also seen wearing caps sideways the same day but weren't approached by security guards, who eventually called the cops on the black student when he refused to go to the principal.

Maupin's public protest helped prompt an investigation by the Scottsdale Unified School District that reduced the student's suspension from three days to one, and initiated a discussion over disciplinary practices between school administrators, the Scottsdale police chief and the Phoenix chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

"I met Reverend Sharpton, and he said, 'You never know what God's gonna put in front of you,'" Maupin says. "He said, 'I came down to Phoenix to meet this young man who's leading these marches, and goodness, Lord, if he doesn't look just like me!'"

Since then, the Rev has kept Maupin plenty busy, appointing the young activist president of the NAN's Phoenix chapter (Sharpton founded the nonprofit civil rights organization in 1991, which now has outposts in the capital cities of all 50 states) and naming him director of his National Youth Initiative, a program designed to bring conscious civil rights activism back to a blinged-out hip-hop generation. Maupin works without pay as chapter president, but pulls in $1,000 a month in his position as national youth director.

Maupin Sr., who collects disability pay as an Army veteran and works odd jobs at night, secured some affordable office space on Washington Street to serve as Sharpton's local campaign headquarters during his failed bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. (Sharpton won 8 percent of the Democratic primary vote in his home state of New York, but scored less than 1 percent on the Arizona ballot and fewer than 300,000 votes nationwide -- disappointing, compared to Jesse Jackson's capture of 7 million votes in 1988.)

Since then, the father-and-son team has been readying the offices for Sharpton's return to Phoenix, tentatively scheduled for late February, "when we'll have our grand opening," says the elder Jarrett, "and everyone will know the National Action Network is here."

In the meantime, Maupin says the office already has been getting "up to 9 or 10 calls a day" (at 888-462-0936), mostly from minorities citing incidences of police or workplace discrimination they feel the NAACP or the EEOC is too bogged down to take on. The NAN works with a handful of lawyers, most of whom take the cases on a pro bono basis, and provides a "court patrol," where a representative mainly sits in on a court hearing to make sure none of the plaintiff's civil rights are violated. The Maupins believe the organization's mere presence at the trials -- at which Sharpton's name is often invoked -- is often enough to keep judges wary of enacting rulings that may be construed as racially motivated.

"We hear from the black woman who goes to pay her bill at APS [Arizona Public Service] and hears, 'You people always pay your bills late,'" says Maupin Sr. "Or the Hispanic man who takes his family into the Cheesecake Factory and is told his table will be ready soon -- and then waits while a white party the same size gets seated before them."

Even among the black community, the value of the NAN is debated. Reverend Oscar Tillman, who's served as president of the Phoenix NAACP on and off since 1987, says he has no problem with another organization taking up the civil rights fight. "Any agency that steps out here and tries to help people is gonna get my 100 percent backing," he says.

Still, Tillman, an easily approachable man who answers his own phone and says he follows up each complaint personally, can't understand why anyone with a civil rights issue would take it to a small, little-known setup like the National Action Network instead of the NAACP, which has a local 24-member board and has handled some 600 documented cases since July alone.

"If we're not doing something or handling things in a way that would force people to go to another agency, I'd like to know why they're not coming to us," he says. "Because we don't even require people to be a member of NAACP for us to handle your case." (The NAN, on the other hand, charges a $20 yearly membership fee.)

The answer, says the NAN's 18-year-old secretary Tatum Turner, a fellow St. Mary's High senior whom Jarrett persuaded to take a paid position with the organization, may simply be Jarrett himself.

"A lot of the times, we don't even need to get a lawyer involved," says Turner. "Believe it or not, most of the time Jarrett is able to just sit down with the businesses or schools or whatever, talk to the administrators, and they actually see the light. I know it sounds hard to believe, but it's true."

Jarrett Maupin II inherited his fire for fighting the good fight from his grandmother, Opal Ellis, who led Phoenix's first civil rights sit-ins in the 1940s and was instrumental in persuading then-mayor Terry Goddard to declare an MLK holiday in 1984 -- pushing for it again in 1987 after newly elected governor Evan Mecham famously rescinded the state holiday.

Still lovely and quick-witted today at 75, Ellis remembers Jarrett Jr. as always having an outgoing personality and an exceptionally sharp mind -- although she says that mind was not always focused on the plights of minority people.

"When he was little, he was very interested in fish and birds," she says with a laugh. "But he would learn a lot about them. One time in school, the teacher said, 'Class, can you tell me what kind of bird can't fly?'" The teacher, Ellis says, was looking for a "No" so that he could deliver the punch line "a jailbird," illustrating a lesson about staying out of trouble. "Instead, Jarrett answered, 'The emu!'" she says, laughing. "And then he went on and on about it. The teacher finally had to stop him!"

Jarrett was clearly inspired by his grandma's history of getting things accomplished through peaceful protest, however. In 1945, at a coffee shop at Central Avenue and Adams Street that was designated by a sign as "Whites Only," Ellis and five friends from the Phoenix Union Colored High School went in and sat at the counter for six Sundays in a row, until they finally were served. When she became fed up with deplorable conditions at the Matthew Henson public housing project, where she lived, she persuaded tenants to join her in a rent strike. "They wouldn't pay rent until things got fixed," says her son, Jarrett Sr.

Young Jarrett Jr. staged his first protest in elementary school at age 7 -- to demand better milk containers in the lunchroom for all of the students.

"We went to Ocotillo Elementary School, and we had to have milk in these, like, bags," says Jarrett's 16-year-old sister, Marissa, who is also an honor student at St. Mary's and, her mom says, an accomplished singer and part-time model. "And he led this protest with all the little kids -- it was so funny -- where they kept chanting, 'No more bags! We want the cartons!' Next thing you knew, we had the milk cartons."

Jarrett's mother, Renee (his parents divorced in the mid-'90s but remain close friends), says she nurtured Jarrett's and Marissa's intellects by never treating them as babies. "I read the newspaper to them, and their dad and I always informed them of worldly things," she says. "By the time he finished fourth grade, they wanted to put him into seventh grade. His knowledge was that strong."

Renee, who is half black and half Hispanic, did her best to educate Jarrett on the struggles of the Hispanic people as well, while his father clued him in to black history. The combination of heritages, Renee feels, has made him the perfect champion for minorities in Arizona.

His grandmother has her own feelings about Hispanics joining in today on the civil rights battle she feels her people pioneered.

"When we were out there bleeding, the Hispanics were saying, 'Well, I'm white, because it says so on my driver's license,'" she says, while both Renee and Jarrett stand nearby in awkward silence. "They did nothing until we got it, with our blood and tears. And then they said, 'I'm a minority.'"

Jarrett speaks up. "We differ greatly on our opinions on that," he says. "I understand what she's saying, and there is truth to that. But to say that the Hispanics weren't on the forefront at all, I think is incorrect. We have to work together, and we'll have a brighter future if we can consolidate and learn to respect each other. We've lost the respect issue, on both sides."

Jarrett likens the strain between the black and Hispanic communities to two birds in a nest, always competing for the same worm dangled by the larger white mother. "What we should be asking is, 'Why is there only one worm?'"

"Obviously, there are some good, spirited debates in our family!" Jarrett says at last, breaking the tension, always the politician. "It's never dull around the Maupin home!"

A week before he leaves for New York City, Maupin is checking his messages at his other office -- a small conference room in the St. Mary's school library, which the administration has given him permission to use pretty much whenever he feels the need.

"This is his area, so whenever anybody wants Jarrett, they come here to look for him," says school librarian Cathy Clark. Maupin says he gets paged in his classrooms whenever Reverend Sharpton calls, and he'll often have to excuse himself from class to confer with the Rev on the library's phone.

He's also used the conference room to paint signs for protest marches -- slogans like "No Justice, No Peace" and "Stop Classroom Racism Today!" sprawled in red and blue paint on giant poster boards.

Around St. Mary's, a small (825 enrollment) parochial school in south central Phoenix with a nearly even split of whites and Hispanics but only 6.5 percent blacks, Maupin is clearly the big man on campus.

"He has something to do every minute of the day," says secretary Christine Gore, who keeps a calendar of Jarrett's extracurricular activities in her office datebook. "And his teachers let him out of class when he needs to do something -- 'cause I see him walking around a lot. But his grades are good, and the teachers know: He's got to do this work."

For a pricey ($7,980 a year) private school with what is -- given its urban location -- a top-heavy white enrollment of 44 percent, it's somewhat surprising how much leeway St. Mary's gives Maupin to pursue his work for minority causes. Maupin says he's even used the school bus to cart as many as 100 students to race-related protests around the city.

"His heritage and where he's headed are very well-defined," explains Clark. "And I don't think many of our other students have that. His grandmother is well-known within the community. And Jarrett's very clear on where he's going."

High school life hasn't always been this sweet for Maupin. For his first two and a half years of higher education, Maupin attended Brophy Prep, an even more expensive and exclusive Jesuit-run boys' school in central Phoenix notorious for its low representation of minorities. When Sharpton scheduled a stop in Phoenix along his presidential campaign trail in October of 2003, Maupin made sure his mentor arranged a detour at Brophy to speak to the students in the school chapel.

Brophy's vice president, Adria Renke, says Sharpton's appearance was arranged quickly but was very well attended. "At the time, we looked at it as, 'Well, this guy's running for the president of the United States. Let's hear what he has to say.'"

Nate Hightower II, a friend of Jarrett's who was at the appearance, recalls a few of the students played hardball in the Q&A portion, grilling Sharpton on past controversial alliances like the 1987 Tawana Brawley case, in which the black teenager from upstate New York accused six white men (including a county assistant DA) of brutally raping and torturing her. A grand jury concluded that Brawley made up the story, and Sharpton, who was one of Brawley's advisers (and still stands by her story), suffered a credibility beating that still dogs him today. "They were tough on him," Hightower says, "but he held his ground well."

Among students, Sharpton's appearance at Brophy on Maupin's behalf boosted the then-junior's profile around campus. But his newfound fame as a fledgling black activist also prompted a bit of hostile shoulder-bumping in the hallways from students eager to take him down a peg.

When, a week after the Sharpton visit, Maupin showed up at a dance held at neighboring private girls' high school Xavier, he says the janitor there began taunting him with outwardly racist remarks, claiming Maupin looked like a "nigger criminal" who was rumored to be robbing homes in the area. Maupin says the school employee then followed him up to the ticket booth, where Maupin produced a $50 bill to pay for his admission into the dance. At that point, he says the janitor questioned where the cash came from, adding, "You people don't have that kind of money." (Renke, citing student confidentiality protocol, declined to comment on the incident.)

Soon after, Maupin withdrew from Brophy -- followed by nine other black students, many of whom transferred to St. Mary's. When two of the students, who'd previously played basketball for Brophy, attempted to join St. Mary's team, Maupin says Brophy brought in the Arizona Interscholastic Association to block them on the AIA's de rigueur rule that students who transfer from one school to another in the same attendance zone are not eligible to join that school's team for 12 months.

Maupin went to bat for the two students and won them a hardship waiver granting them the opportunity to try out for St. Mary's team, based on the "extenuating circumstances" that they had transferred not by choice, but because of a pattern of racial harassment at Brophy. Devon Whyte, father of Thaddeus Whyte, one of the players, concurs his son complained of "repeated unfair treatment" at the school. (Mark Mignella, attorney for the AIA, also declined comment because of student confidentiality.)

As evidence of Brophy's not-quite-zero tolerance regarding hate-crime issues, Maupin brought up a cartoon he'd seen on one of the restroom walls.

"The first year I got there, somebody drew something called 'The Niggler,' which was a machine that had black people going in on one side and coming out all chopped up on the other," Maupin says. "And they caught the kid who did it. [Assistant principal] Mr. Kopis caught him.

"But because the kid was a championship swimmer" -- Maupin names a student who was one of the school's top sprinters in 2003 -- "nothing happened to him. He was told to pray about it and take a few days to 'cleanse himself' of those kinds of racist thoughts. But he came back and -- guess what? He was the same guy." Hightower, who temporarily transferred to St. Mary's but recently returned to Brophy, says he still sees and hears the occasional derogatory racial comments around the school. "I just try to forget about it and keep going," he says.

By all accounts, Maupin was welcomed without reservation by St. Mary's, where every one of his teachers praises his rare ability to balance academics (his grade point average is in the low A's) with student-inspiring activism.

Of course, the school -- Brophy's archrival since the late 1950s -- was also thrilled by the addition of the two star athletes Maupin was able to win for its basketball team. In its first game against Brophy with the addition of transferees Whyte and Rodney Brown, St. Mary's was able to roundly defeat the players' former school -- quickly silencing the cheers of "We don't want 'em, you can have 'em!" that students say made for a particularly high-powered game.

But St. Mary's athletic director Jim Sanford, who attended the eligibility appeal session before the AIA, was even more impressed by the performance of Jarrett, whom he'd previously never heard speak, before the AIA executive board.

"They did the hearings separately for the two players," Sanford says. "First it was Thaddeus, his parents, myself, and then Jarrett spoke last. And he was by far the most dynamic and articulate -- more than the rest of us put together. It clearly was the turning point, and made the difference in the board's decision to grant Thaddeus his eligibility."

Jarrett was also there for Brown's hearing, but this time, Sanford says, Maupin didn't even have to say a word. "They knew by his presence that he was supporting Rodney. So they granted Rodney eligibility as well. His testimony was absolutely key to the whole thing.

"He's an extremely intelligent and articulate kid," Sanford says. "He puts things in such a way that you listen, and you respect what he's saying. You can't help but listen."

There are days when Jarrett Maupin would surely prefer to just take out his frustration over racial indignities by going home to the PlayStation and blasting a few bad guys in GTA: San Andreas.

But then, he's always got his dad to contend with.

Jarrett admits that after his run-in with the janitor at the Brophy-Xavier dance, he initially went back to the parking lot to tell his dad, who had driven him to the school, that he'd just been called the N-word, but was too tired to go back in there.

Jarrett Maupin Sr., at the tail end of his own trying day, was in no mood for confrontation, either. "I was starting to tell him, 'Son, you know how it is. It'll be your word against his. Sometimes, you just gotta blow 'em off.'"

But then Jarrett told him the rest of the story -- how the man had continued to harass him at the ticket booth with the "you people" comments.

"Then I had to turn the car around," says Maupin Sr., his voice rising with a familiar agitation, "and go up in the parking lot, and go find out what the haail is going on here!"

If Jarrett Jr. speaks with the stirring articulation of a young Sharpton or even occasionally a Martin Luther King Jr., his dad tends to go for the incendiary directness of a wizened Chris Rock.

"Whenever a black person pulls out a $50 bill at the register, it always goes right up in the air," he says, miming a clerk holding a note to the light to check for watermarks. "Ask for change for a $100 bill. She just might not be able to get it for you!"

Maupin Sr., who served 10 years in the Army's airborne ranger unit as the only black in his platoon ("They didn't think I knew how to swim!" he quips), says the posttraumatic stress he suffered after a horrific tour of duty in Grenada (bad enough to qualify him for a disability, for which he remains on medication) is nothing compared to the recurring stress black people deal with every time racism rears its ugly head.

"When you get disrespected like that, all kinds of stuff that you've had to deal with your whole life crops up," he says. "It crops up, and it stays there. Sometimes you don't wanna eat, because somebody brought that crap up."

On a Thursday in early January, with young Jarrett in tow, Maupin Sr. is meeting with lawyer Mohammd Riyad to discuss taking action against the Phoenix Police Department for an incident that occurred one afternoon last September, when an officer followed Maupin Sr. to his house and shouted, "Hey, you looked at me back there like you got something you want to say to me!", which Maupin (who'd been wearing sunglasses) felt was meant to provoke a reaction the cop could turn into a call and smacked of racial profiling.

When he demanded the officer apologize for the unwarranted questioning in front of his own house, and in full view of his family and neighbors, Officer J.T. Ring, a Hispanic, dug an even deeper hole by trying to address Maupin in black slang.

"First he turned to my wife [Rita -- who is half white and very light-skinned] and says, 'Ma'am, I'm sorry for any inconvenience I might have caused,'" Maupin says. "Then he turned to me and said, 'And to you, bro: Mah bad!'"

In the lawyer's office, Maupin Sr. becomes hyped up when recounting the case -- at one point even exclaiming, "Next time they come to my house disrespecting me like that, there's gonna be a man down!" The older Maupin says he's aware that kind of talk usually only makes things worse for blacks -- "Showing your emotions is a strike against you," he says -- but is often at a loss when trying to find another way to get non-blacks to really "feel it" when those familiar tensions are brought to the surface.

His son, however, is gifted with a much cooler head. He proposes the lawyer pursue a constitutional law case to push for policy changes in the Phoenix Police Department's "diversity training" program, which police spokesman Randy Force says is currently in discussion.

"Do they not understand that by talking down to us that way, they're intimidating individuals and getting them to break their conduct, in an effort to control the situation?" he says, eloquently. "By treating people on a separate level, by setting a lower standard for those who are different than you. It's the everyday things that happen to a person of color that can really bring your spirits down, and break your hope, and make you feel like a second-class American citizen."

Jim Sanford, still reeling from Jarrett's testimony before the AIA executive board, best describes what he feels is the younger Maupin's unique gift.

"His manner of presentation is totally understandable and powerful, but not confrontational," he says. "I don't think he hurts people's feelings in saying what he has to say. He puts things in terms that you sympathize with, and that are really not offensive to anybody.

"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.

"I do know it would be a very difficult task to be a student and be a city councilperson at the same time," Johnson says. "But I don't know him well enough to know what he's capable of."

Maupin's dad believes the significance of his son's becoming what would be, he claims, the youngest African American ever appointed to an elected office in the history of the U.S. is enough of a reason to vote in a young leader with no special interests other than those of the community where he was raised.

"Mike Johnson ought to be getting out of the way just so he can get that!" he says, with typical candor. "Honestly! Why don't you groom yourself to take [Democratic Representative] Leah Landrum Taylor's place, Mike? Because she can't run for another term. It's called progress. Move out the way!"

Landrum Taylor, who'll run for the Senate after her term is up, says she'll be endorsing Johnson for his final term, but says, "I'd be happy to support Jarrett in the election after that, absolutely."

Landrum Taylor says she first met Jarrett three years ago, when he participated in her first Arizona African-American Legislative Days event to encourage young black leaders, and was "blown away" by his focus and determination.

"He truly is one of our future leaders," she says. "I see him as having some future role in our government, I really do. We can't have young people like Jarrett get away from us. It's up to us to make sure they have a good place here."

St. Mary's coach Sanford is even more optimistic in his predictions.

"I think you'll hear lots about him in the coming years -- and I'm talking the coming decades," he says. "I can see him hooking up with Barack Obama, running with him as vice president if and when Obama runs for president. Or vice versa. He is that dynamic."

For several weeks, Maupin Jr. has been promising to get the busy Reverend Sharpton on the phone for an interview. On the Sunday following the week of MLK Day and the presidential inauguration, while Jarrett is still stranded in New York by the East Coast's record-setting blizzard, the call finally comes through.

"This is Reverend Sharpton," rings the familiar, booming voice. "What can I tell you about Jarrett?"

Sharpton is ebullient in his praise for Maupin, who he says reminds him of himself at that age, only even more disciplined and focused.

"When you've been out in the trenches as long as I have, you can recognize the character of people," he says. "It's one thing to have command of the stage -- and when Jarrett spoke in front of all the important people who showed up in New York for King Day, he had a command that was awe-inspiring, even for the political leaders who are far more advanced than him in age and experience.

"But I've met a lot of gifted people who couldn't get past themselves," he continues, sounding for a moment like he's reciting a criticism often thrown his way. "At the end of the day, you are who you are, and sometimes your true character can undermine your gift. But Jarrett is one of those rare people who has balanced out his character with his gift. He doesn't even have to think about it. And that's the makings of a great leader."

A few moments after Sharpton's call, Maupin is on the phone again, this time calling to address the disturbances he viewed on the New York news channels that occurred after the King Day celebration in Phoenix.

"People all over the country took notice of what happened there," he says, referring to the fights that broke out as the crowd of nearly 25,000 people was dispersing, prompting a curiously well-prepared force of 75 police officers to use pepper spray on the offenders and a good number of innocent bystanders.

"It looked like Birmingham to me," Maupin fumes. "The Mace cans were spraying like water hoses, stores had to shut down, people were falling out into the street. And they used the excuse that they always have to be ready on King Day -- which just tells me they already plan on horrible things happening when black people get together."

While Maupin is infuriated at the Phoenix police for their extreme actions (police spokesman Randy Force maintains, "Good preparation is key to good response in large crowd situations"), he's equally outraged by the actions of the handfuls of black teenagers who started the fights.

"When we leave our homes and go into the streets on that day to publicly celebrate the teachings of our hero, our champion, it's important for us to embody those characteristics that set him apart from every other American of his time," he says. "We are the living representations of Dr. King on that day -- and should be on all days."

Maupin agrees with Bill Cosby that there are a lot of ills in the black community that need to be fixed from within. "I think the word for today in civil rights is accountability," he says. "Bill Cosby didn't tell us we should stop holding white America accountable for what happened to us. But he did say that we have to start holding ourselves accountable for the things we do to ourselves."

Nevertheless, Maupin understands where black rage comes from, and why sometimes young minorities feel it's unfair to have to live by the credo "What would MLK do?" when many of the changes King fought for still have not come about.

"When you live in a society where you know that when you wake up, and you go outside, that you may not be seen by everyone as equal; when you live under the emotional distress caused by situations that you're put up against every day -- these are all things that can frustrate a people, and subconsciously the buildup of all these things can lead to inner turmoil."

The young Rev pauses to catch his breath. It's Sunday, after all, and he had been preparing to address the King Day melee in a Phoenix church before his flight got snowed in.

"As you can see, we've still got a long road ahead," he says. "But I'm ready for it. I'm not that tired."

He catches himself again. "Well, maybe after this week, I may come home and -- just maybe -- I might sleep in for a day.

"But I've got school as soon as I come back," he remembers, laughing. "So I guess I'll be sleeping on the plane."

E-mail jimmy.magahern@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8478.

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