Our October Man of the Month is Jerjuan Howard. A 23-year-old Detroit native, Howard proudly acknowledges his Puritan and Schaefer roots.
As a 2020 Western Michigan University graduate, Howard knew that upon obtaining his degree in Criminal Justice, he was coming back to Northwest Detroit to serve his community. Currently, Howard serves as an author, investor, mentor and educator in the city of Detroit, but acknowledges his journey to this point. While approaching his senior year at Renaissance High School, Howard enrolled in the Army National Guard where he served as a Information Technology Specialist for six years. As a serviceman, Howard knew that the military would fund his schooling, something he says his family didn't have the means to do.
At Western Michigan, Howard says he discovered “a whole new Jerjuan.” His eyes were opened to the systemic issues that Black people face and as an aspiring lawyer, Howard jumped at all opportunities to address these injustices. Serving as the president of WMU’s Black Student Union, Howard would host lectures on topics from having a seat at the table, to intersectionality; but lectures dwindled when COVID hit. “When school shut down, I had a bunch of content that I was just sitting on,” said Howard. “So I started writing essays. And the more essays I wrote, I looked up and I had a book.” Howard subsequently transitioned those letters into said book and released, A Message to Black College Students in December 2020. The book discusses the Black college student’s role in the progression of the Black community. “I feel that we have a lot of prestigious Black people: lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen and businesswomen. But our communities don’t reflect that same level of Black excellence,” said Howard. “Somewhere we lost the gap or lost the urge to fill that gap between us and the rest of the community; so I wrote a book about how we can change that.”
Currently, Howard serves as an Academic Interventionist in the Detroit Public Schools Community District and through his position, Howard yearned to not simply teach students but to evoke change among how students learned on a daily basis. As an avid reader, Howard began to notice Little Free Libraries in the suburbs, but none in the inner city. “I read often. Daily, almost. And I thought, ‘man if I would’ve hopped on this reading wave at a younger age, it would’ve made a big difference. And I know for a fact that if I would’ve seen one of those Little Free Libraries in my ‘hood, walking up Puritan from middle school, I probably would’ve went inside and picked up one of those books that changed my life later on,” Howard said.
Little Free Libraries are just that – tiny boxes, about twice the size of a mailbox – that houses books in communities that typically have little to no book access. The Little Free Library nonprofit was founded in 2012 and now has over 100,000 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes in 108 countries worldwide. Of those little libraries, three of them are located in Detroit: at Puritan and Strathmoor near John R. King, D-Town Farm, and Pingree Park, all thanks to Howard. He told his brother, Armonio, that he wanted to build these little libraries and Armonio was immediately on board. “We watched some do-it-yourself videos on YouTube, went to Home Depot, got our measurements done and started building,” said Howard.
The colors of the libraries, red, black and green are symbolic of the Pan-African Flag, and includes a quote by Malcolm X: “Education is the passport to the future.”
As he’s continuing his journey to educate youth and be a part of the changes that he wishes to see in Detroit, Howard is currently in the process of working on what he says he’ll be most proud of: starting a youth debate team; an ode to being on the debate team in high school.
When Howard graduated from Renaissance in 2016, and WMU in 2020, he acknowledges that he had many out-of-state opportunities along with in-state, but he had an obligation to stay close to home because the city invested in him. Reminiscing on his work that he’s done and is planning to do here, Howard says that one thought keeps him grounded, “I wouldn’t be doing a justice to Detroit if I just kind of up and left without returning that investment.”