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September 9, 2013
Freshman Facts: Reggie Jones-Sawyer, civil rights heir

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Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, carries some momentous family history into office.

His uncle, Jefferson Thomas, was one of the Little Rock 9, a group of African American students who honored the desegregation mandate of Brown v. Board of Education by attending Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, despite the jeers of a hostile white crowd. The weight of that legacy didn't sink in, Jones-Sawyer said, until he was a cocky young undergraduate at the University of Southern California.

"I wasn't doing so well in school, so as in most African American families I had to be sent to my grandmother so she could sit me down and talk to me," Jones-Sawyer said.

In addition to reminding him about the risks his uncle took, Jones-Sawyer said, his grandmother revealed something new: Years ago, she had received a threatening phone call to the tune of "get your son out of school or your grandson will never make it to school, and that grandson was you."

"That affected me profoundly," Jones-Sawyer said. "I was on the dean's list next year."

He kept working, and now that he's in office he says he is motivated in part by "boys and men of color and their status and where they will be." He sits on a select committee overseeing the issue.

"We need to start to put in place policies that will get young men into college instead of prison, into fraternities and sports groups instead of gangs," he said.

The 2013-2014 Legislature features the largest freshman class in decades. In this recurring series, Insider Edition helps get you acquainted with the influx of newcomers.

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