Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

This story was originally published by Detour Detroit.

Every time I see Jamon Jordan when it’s cold and the wind is blowing, he’s geared in a hip-length black leather jacket, zip front and a skull cap emblazoned with the word “Detroit.” That’s my favorite thing about the city’s first official historian, an honor he received from Mayor Mike Duggan last month — he looks like he could be one of my cousins. He’s a child of hip hop without having to say so; and even in nameless jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of walking boots, his Detroit swagger is through the roof.

This story was originally published by Detour Detroit.

Every time I see Jamon Jordan when it’s cold and the wind is blowing, he’s geared in a hip-length black leather jacket, zip front and a skull cap emblazoned with the word “Detroit.” That’s my favorite thing about the city’s first official historian, an honor he received from Mayor Mike Duggan last month — he looks like he could be one of my cousins. He’s a child of hip hop without having to say so; and even in nameless jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of walking boots, his Detroit swagger is through the roof.

He’s familiar, unlike many prominent historians I’ve seen, and his scholarship feels designed for me.

Though a speaker in the upcoming Starz docuseries on Detroit drug trafficking organization Black Mafia Family, a consultant on the 2021 Steven Soderbergh film “No Sudden Move” starring Don Cheadle, and a professor of foundational Detroit history at the University of Michigan, he still makes time to provide tours to us — neighbors from his Detroit — before our cookouts and family reunions.

Through his company, Black Scroll Network, History and Tours, he shares the history of Black Detroit in a style that hits every beat, even for audiences who already know what’s coming, just like my uncles when they tell stories. Confident but unassuming, when he steps to the stage, it’s impossible to forget him.

Jordan, in his early 50s, grew up like my cousins and me on the westside of Detroit at the border of Highland Park, in a neighborhood filled with families, on a block where all the kids knew each other.

“Every house had a porch, a big porch, too,” he said. “And so there’s adults on porches. Everywhere you walk, people are looking at you, they see you. So you’re always being watched whether you know it or not, by the adults in the neighborhood. And all the adults know each other. We didn’t know it then, but they really knew each other because of us. It was the children that connected the adults.”

That’s a bit how this new role of city historian unfolded for Jordan; the children connected him to adults.

It makes sense: to scores of Detroiters, Jordan is Baba Jamon, the educator who lit up their love of learning, teaching students in elementary and middle school for 16 years. These days, rather than teach from the classroom, he uses his gift as a natural storyteller alongside his built expertise as an educator on the streets of Detroit, sharing a well-rounded narrative of the city with as many as will hear him.

He didn’t plan for this new role as official historian for the City of Detroit as much as he naturally prepared for the role nearly his entire life. He paid attention to the environment and world around him. When he entered the field of education, he reached back to what he knew mattered to him as a student, and what he learned from Mrs. Mims, his fifth-grade teacher.

“She bought us these books, some of them were fiction, some of them were nonfiction, but they were all about aspects of Black people, history and culture that are not always talked about,” he said “They were about Black people’s spiritual ideas when they were enslaved, about how they held onto their culture. She bought books that talked about African kings and queens. I didn’t know (she was going above and beyond)] then, I just thought this was normal school.”

Like Mrs. Mims, Jordan gave himself the responsibility of filling the African and African American history gap left untouched by school curriculums. As a social studies teacher at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility, that meant providing general African and African American history where it was always missing. But in the African-centered Nsoroma Institute, where the social studies curriculum covered Black people across the diaspora, he took a different turn.

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