The Devil and Mr. Jones

Activist Leroy Jones battled personal demons and has emerged as a radical bent on black empowerment.

Jones pressed on. In June 1997 he and a half-dozen men in black "Brothers of the Same Mind" T-shirts carried placards outside the courthouse on NW Twelfth Street, denouncing Circuit Court Judge Barbara Levenson. Levenson had revoked the bond of one of the group's members, Worrine Terrel Sams, after he allegedly appeared at a hearing under the influence. Later the Brothers criticized Levenson for detaining several black construction workers on the suspicion they had threatened a juror.

The dispute trailed Levenson into her re-election campaign this past September. Jones bought radio ads on WMBM-AM (1490) denouncing her. Levenson then filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade Bar Association, alleging the ads were purchased by her opponent, Assistant Public Defender Rosa Figarola. "These ads were allegedly paid for by a group called BROTHERS OF THE SAME MIND," Levenson wrote. "It would be unlikely that such a group would pay for this expensive effort without the involvement of my opponent or her consultants." Figarola denied the charges and politely requested that Brothers discontinue the ads. Jones refused. The Bar scaldingly declared that the "ads are clearly designed to incite voters to select candidates based on improper ... racial grounds." Figarola lost the election.

Asked for a comment, Levenson said only: "I don't know enough about them to say anything. I understand they are a very small group." That's a common theme among the Brothers' targets. Remarks Patrick White: "Brothers of the Same Mind, as far as we can tell, is only a handful of folks, about three of them. So they don't speak for the community." Adds Miami-Dade Police Department's Frank Boni: "They appear to be a small group."

Jones laughs when told of the comments. Though he won't give membership numbers, he produces a picture of the first meeting in 1996; about 30 men are shown in matching T-shirts. "We don't like them to know how many we are. We like to keep 'em guessing."

In July Brothers of the Same Mind investigated the shooting of Liberty City resident Carl Williams by a Miami-Dade police officer. The results of their inquiry are scheduled for release this month. The group is also busy clearing a lot near NW 114th Street for a community garden. In his office one day recently, Jones shows pictures of other gardens where rows of collard greens and sweet potatoes were ready for harvesting. "We're going to pay young men to cut them and maintain the lots, and then we'll sell them through the stores," he declares.

Jones now owns seven homes in northwest Dade. He bought most of them at fire-sale prices, according to county land records. He acquired one of the properties in 1989 for $8000, another in 1990 for $18,000, another in 1992 for $15,000. He says he earns a living by cobbling together profits from renting the homes with his $25,000 yearly salary as head of NANA. Jones and Max Rameau, whose salary is $23,800, are NANA's only paid employees.

On a recent weekday afternoon, after monitoring a Miami City Commission meeting, Jones drives his clunky 1969 Lincoln to a house he owns on NW 112th Street. He plans to repair the bathroom before a new, female tenant moves in. The woman, who is fresh from drug rehab, will pay no rent, he says.

But minutes after he arrives, Jones is on the phone to Commissioner Carey's office nagging her aides about funding for the Martin Luther King Day parade. He wants to confirm that there's enough money this year.

One of the house's current tenants, Steve Kennedy, ambles out. Kennedy, who works nights at a Denny's restaurant, pays only $30 per week rent, which is less than the other two tenants pay. Jones gives Kennedy a break because he must make child support payments.

"Leroy is an all-right person," Kennedy says. "He's understanding, that's for sure. I owe him money now, and he ain't threatened to throw me out."

After hanging up, Jones explains that the house is the center of his activism. "Some positive people have come out of here," he recalls. "One guy, he was homeless and on drugs, and now he's a welder earning $20 an hour. Another guy became a pilot." To Jones, the home is solid reassurance that, after a life nearly derailed by mistakes, he is still a worthy person.

"I've apologized before the county commission and the city commission for growing up like I did and being a troubled kid," he says, leaning back in a vinyl chair. "Sometimes I think about what I would do if I could do it all over.... But if it was different, I wouldn't be doing the stuff I'm doing today." He pauses and looks around. "I've done pretty good for a brother who stood on the corner."

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