SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — Candidate for SC House District 25 Wendell Jones (D) is the founder and senior pastor of Changing Your Mind Ministries. He’s hoping to leverage his years of leadership there to give back to the community that supported him by winning a house seat in the general election on November 8.

He will face Yvonne Julian (R) in the election.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Candidate

I’m Wendell Jones, and I am running for SC House District 25. I actually grew up over here in Spartanburg. I went to Spartanburg High School went to Wofford College and was employed by the former Wachovia Bank, which got me over to Greenville in 1995; serving in the community in various capacities and always looking for new ways to contribute back.

This year, I really felt a little push from my son who’s deeply in politics, but really felt a strong desire to get more involved. I was approached by a few people who said, “Well, you really should run for this office.” 

After praying about it and talking it over with the family, we decided to jump in. 

Did something happen that made you want to enter politics or have you been heading there gradually over the years? 

Probably all of the above. As I said, there’s always been just a part of my personality in terms of trying to figure out how I can help the community better served on various boards and things of that sort. 

But I’ve also told people I can’t unsee what I’ve seen and I can’t hear what I’ve heard. 

I see a need for leadership, but I’m kind of obsessive with the concept of leadership. I see some wonderful things happening in Greenville, some wonderful things happening in the state. But I also see some areas that need some improvement. I’m a little concerned about the indigenous people of Greenville and even the state being left behind with all this wonderful growth.

I think we need to have some thoughtful leadership to make sure that as we are being progressive, as we are moving forward and establishing South Carolina as one of the premier states in our union, we need to make sure that we take care of our people and bring them along with us. I see the struggle and I want to be a part of that and try to resolve that.

And where do you see your leadership coming to play in District 25? How would you lead the district? 

Well, when I think about District 25, I think about two approaches. There’s a legislative approach and then there’s a grassroots approach.

From the legislative standpoint, my aim is to bring a healthy mixture of logic and compassion.

On the logic side, I realize that as a state, as a county in Greenville, we have to be economically sound. We have to be economically progressive. I’m all for that. I was trained over here at Wofford and that was drilled inside of me. But I’m also concerned about the compassionate side to make sure that we resist the temptation of putting politics over people.

As a matter of fact, I believe as a representative, you’re representing the people. We should work diligently to create policy for the people, to make sure we’re using our state’s resources to empower our people to also participate in this growth.

That’s the legislative side. 

On the grassroots side, I want to bring my leadership talents to inspire other leaders. I don’t want to be the be-all, end-all. I believe our county, our district, has incredible people with incredible talent. And I’m hoping that my stepping into the fray is a source of inspiration. And I want to talk to people and let them know, “Hey, I know sometimes politics seems like something you want to avoid like the plague.”

But again, if we don’t get into it, then it’s hard for us to complain about the outcomes.

And so that is my goal. I’ve been talking with people there, some incredibly talented people in Greenville and I want to just kind of coalesce that group, pull us all together, and we will learn to lead ourselves. I’m not trying to be a savior. I’m not trying to be a one-man show. I’m just trying to be a catalyst; so we can get the district to live up to its greatest potential because we have tremendous potential. And I’m hoping that I can spark that. 

What is your vision for the district? 

My big vision is to help position the district as an economic power. And in order to do that, I have to say to you all, I absolutely believe in the potential of the people.

We’ve got to do some things economically. We’ve got some young entrepreneurs, we’ve got some seasoned entrepreneurs — and a lot of people don’t know they’re even there. We need to bring those folks together and begin to use them as examples, as role models, but also as employers.

That’s some of the grassroots efforts that we have in my Commitment 25.

Also, we want to tap into the resources of the churches and bring them together and let them also be the conduits for information, the conduits for financial literacy training, the conduits for bringing the people together; and keep them informed of what’s really going on down in the General Assembly.

I’ve had a chance to meet with some of our larger employers in the district, and they’re excited to have somebody running that is very business minded, business-friendly. But also, I’m convincing them that there’s a part they need to play. They need to be a little bit more heavily invested in the district. It makes sense for them to invest in the people who are within a mile or two of your facility.

We need to make sure that those folks are getting a shot of some of these wonderful jobs that you are promoting. So the people that are there in the district can have the opportunity for a livable wage. Everybody’s talking about minimum wage. I’m obsessed with a livable wage. Right now in Greenville, you need to make about $21 an hour, if you’re a single person, to really keep up with the cost of living. 

And so we’ve already got employers who provide that. But there’s a disconnect between employers and the people. I want to be that bridge And once we do that, I believe the whole district can prosper. The overarching goal is to make the district the envy not just of the county, but the state.

How has faith inspired your politics? 

My faith is my anchor. My faith is what drives my compassion. My faith makes sure that I don’t forget that this involves people. When we’re debating policy, I never lose sight that I’m standing in the gap between policy and my neighbor. My faith has encouraged me to always love my neighbor — to do right by my neighbor.

And that’s why I can say there should be policy for the people. That’s why I can say we can’t have a policy over the people or make the policy more important than people. We have to craft legislation that, yes, thinks about the future, but also the legislation that deals with our current issues in society to give our people a fighting chance to be able to participate in this unquestionable prosperity that’s coming to the South, to South Carolina, to Greenville today, that we want to make sure no one gets left behind. 

What are some of the political issues that are most important to you?

Well, in talking to the constituents, there are two particular issues, and we’ve touched on them a little bit in our conversation so far, that keep rising to the top. 

Number one is that we do all we possibly can to protect voters’ rights. There are countless tactics being employed throughout our nation.

Some of them are creeping into South Carolina. We’ve got to fight that because if we can’t vote, there goes our voice. And so I want to make sure that I continue to fight for those undergirding principles of our governing documents that say one man, one vote, that says no taxation without representation.

And so I want to make sure our people can still get to the polls, and there aren’t any hindrances stopping them. That’s number one to hold on to our voices. 

Secondly, what comes to the top is affordability. And that’s a big umbrella that has quite a few things underneath it.

Affordability in terms of a livable wage. Affordability in terms of utilizing our state’s resources to give our residents here a chance to participate in the growth, funding our technical schools and community colleges so that our kids that are graduating aren’t going to a four-year school can go into a program that qualifies them to be eligible for some of these jobs.

That same system of technical schools and community colleges for the reeducation of our older citizens, because times are changing. And right now, 60% to 70% of those jobs that will give you a livable wage require a certification. And so we want to make sure we’re providing adequate funding to those institutions to the point where education is affordable, and I think that is a noteworthy investment back into our future.

It is indeed an investment because there will be a return on it as the people are able to afford more, buy more homes, buy more cars, be able to support small businesses and increase our tax base. It’s an investment. And so I want to make sure that I do my part to make sure that that’s a priority in Columbia.

Were there certain things in your life that changed the trajectory of where you were headed?

Oh, yeah. I grew up with my mom. Single parent. What helped me is that I had a community. I had a community that believed in me. I had a community that insisted that I live up to my potential.

I had a community that was watchful, that made sure I didn’t get myself in trouble. We had a village, and it was wonderful in those formative years to hear adults tell you that they believe in you. We need more of that now. We need this village back again where we continue to just encourage each other to tap into our fullest potential.

It made me a dutiful person. It made me aware of my responsibility; not just for myself, but my responsibility to others. Which is a major part of why I’m getting into politics now. It’s so easy to be selfish and just focus on yourself and your own home, but I owe the village. Some of those folks have gone on, but the ideas they poured into me are still there. We have a responsibility to one another.

Before I leave here, I want to be able to, in my final days, know that I did my part.


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