Subject Reacts to Fabricated Memoir
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I am Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News.
Just ahead, only two women soldiers have received the Silver Star since World War II. The latest is a 19-year-old medic serving in Afghanistan, and I will speak with her in just a few minutes. But first, we want to talk about the war at home. Los Angeles has been beset by a recent surge in gang-related violence that has claimed a number of innocent victims, including children. Adding insult to injury for some, is that this is all taking place within a scandal, or a fake memoir, about gang life in Los Angeles' south central neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, I talked with the young woman, Margaret Jones, who wrote the book, "Love and Consequences." She told me that she grew up on the rough streets of L.A. Actually, she lived a comfortable life, literally, on the other side of town. When a New York Times reporter revealed the lie, the writer, whose real name is Margaret Seltzer, responded that she wanted to help kids who were actually in the gang life by telling their stories. That reminded me of something she said in my interview with her before we knew the story was fake.
Ms. MARGARET SELTZER (Author of "Love and Consequences): I think, and this comes from, you know, from how I was raised, I think God doesn't give you anything that you can't handle. And I had a point recently, where I had to call James Jones from Gangsters for Christ about something and the conversation broke me into tears, you know, and he said God gave you this because he knew that you would tell the truth and that you could get this story out there, and you could make people understand what we are going through.
MARTIN: We find that we are still intrigued by Seltzer, about why she did what she did and looking for clues, we decided try to find Reverend James Jones. Frankly, we wondered if he was real or was he also a figment of Seltzer's imagination? Well, he is real. I caught up with Reverend Jones, who was on his way to the funeral of Los Angeles high school football star, Jamiel Shaw Jr. The 17-year-old was allegedly shot to death by gang members. I talked with Reverend Jones about his efforts to curb gang violence, but I also wanted to know about his relationship with Margaret Seltzer. If he remembered giving her those words of encouragement, prior to her book's release?
Reverend JAMES JONES: Actually, we did have that conversation. I think she may, as far as the timing on it, I want to make something perfectly clear. I did not know Ms. Margaret Jones. She called me after I was under the impression that the book had already been finished and I did encourage her, as far as telling her, that the Lord saw using her as a vehicle to get that, the word out on those...
MARTIN: What name did she use?
Rev. JONES: Margaret Jones.
MARTIN: Margaret Jones. Because one of the things that we were wondering was perhaps whether, she had borrowed your name? But by the time you got to her, she called you, that she presented herself as Margaret Jones.
Rev. JONES: Yes.
MARTIN: What did she say when she called you? And obviously, I would argue that perhaps pastoral responsibility still sort of plays a role here, so to the degree you feel comfortable, why did she call you?
Rev. JONES: She left a message for me, telling me she had been referred to me by a reputable(ph) from the streets here in Los Angeles, and she told me that the overview was that she had been a product of the foster care system, and she had an interest in life and that God had blessed her to get out of that life and graduate college and become a writer.
MARTIN: Well, what did she want from you? Did she want you to bless the book, as it were?
Rev. JONES: Well, actually, it was more or less a thing where as when the book came out, that she would be coming to Los Angeles and she would like me to take her around and introduce her some - give her some outlets that she could actually present - promote the book. I guess.
MARTIN: Did you agree to do that?
Rev. JONES: Yeah, I did.
MARTIN: How come?
Rev. JONES: I saw her as, really a champion for the foster care system. I saw her as a rocket, so to speak, for foster care, because foster care children get such a bad rap. When I speak to the youth, as far as - a lot of time, they think that because I was dealt a bad hand, now there is no hope, no future there, for me. And where I saw her as a springboard for those foster care children to let them know that there was hope.
MARTIN: Did she sound like the real deal to you?
Rev. JONES: She absolutely did. She must have done an excellent job, as far as research. She actually knew reputables(ph). She could tell me about folks in the community, in different areas she had stayed in. So she did her homework.
MARTIN: Who was the person who put you two together? Do you know him?
Rev. JONES: Yeah, well, actually, he is incarcerated in Oregon. The story she gave me, I don't know how to - 'cause of course I haven't spoken with her, but the story that I heard - he was one of the so-called - played with her brothers, as she was coming up and he gave her my number, in an effort to, you know, hook her up with somebody who again, was reputable in the community.
MARTIN: But this is a name you knew? This is definitely somebody you knew?
Rev. JONES: Oh yeah, for sure.
MARTIN: Your, sort of, go between? How disappointed were you when you found out that Margaret Jones isn't who she said she was?
Rev. JONES: A lot of folks were mad with her and upset with her, but I'm more disappointed. I haven't talked to Margaret so I don't know what motivated her to do that. But I saw it. I was so disappointed because again I saw it as an opportunity to, you know, help these - the foster care system. I saw it, like I said, a springboard. I could see different programs coming out of there. Maybe you know some support groups coming out of there.
MARTIN: Some of the folks - you're right, a lot of people are very angry with her and they are angry about a couple things. They're angry number one because she's white, and they feel that she sort of appropriated an African-American story. Number two, they feel that they're worried that other people aren't going to believe people when they come forward with these stories.
Rev. JONES: Exactly.
MARTIN: And just, what's your take on that?
Rev. JONES: You know that's what I'm saying. The doubting, where you have folks that would be receptive to something like that. I had no idea - you said she's white? I had no idea.
MARTIN: You didn't know?
Rev. JONES: No idea. No idea.
MARTIN: What did you think her ethnicity was?
Rev. JONES: I thought she was a young African-American sister.
Rev. JONES: I didn't know she was white.
MARTIN: In talking to her on the phone.
Rev. JONES: And talking to her on the phone, exactly.
MARTIN: Did she tell you she was black?
Rev. JONES: No, she never did, but I just...
MARTIN: You assumed it?
Rev. JONES: I assumed it. I assumed it from the places that she said she lived and the culture. I'm telling you she did some real good research.
MARTIN: So there was nothing in her story that didn't add up for you? I mean she seemed to know what she was talking about, she knew the places she was talking about, she knew people that you knew, that kind of thing?
Rev. JONES: Absolutely, absolutely.
MARTIN: Just one more thing is that none of us has heard from Margaret since this whole situation emerged. I assume she hasn't called you either...
Rev. JONES: Of course not.
MARTIN: And her real name is Margaret Seltzer, by the way, and she's from Sherman Oaks.
Rev. JONES: Is that right?
MARTIN: Yeah, and so if you were to speak with her, just wondered what you might say?
Rev. JONES: You know, actually I'd listen first of all. I'd want to know, you know, just why, you know? Why? What motivated her, you know? And I'm sure wherever she is, you know now, I mean I'm sure she's having a lot of second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. She could have came a different way and this could have been a good documentary or what have you, because we did - this is a story that needs to be told.
MARTIN: Well tell me about Gangsters for Christ. And you grew up with the late Stanley Tookie Williams, one of the founders of the Crips.
Rev. JONES: Co-founder, yeah.
MARTIN: One of the co-founders of the Crips, right? He was one of your compatriots, right? Back in the day?
Rev. JONES: Yes, yes.
MARTIN: Tell me about Gangsters for Christ.
Rev. JONES: Gangsters for Christ has been in the community now 15 years. We're a full-fledged ministry. We work close with the LAPD, clergy. I'm a member of that. One of my proudest moments is where I helped establish the community called Action and Accountability here in Los Angeles, which is an organization that was founded after the death of a young man by the name of Devin Brown three years ago. And we have been meeting for the last three years consistently every Tuesday here in Los Angeles.
MARTIN: One other thing I wanted to talk to you about while I have you is that, you know, right now there seems to be, I don't know what you want to call it, maybe a surge in violence. There's just been a lot of violent incidents in the news lately.
Rev. JONES: Lord help us. Yeah, I'm on my way - when I leave here I'm actually going to little brother Sean's homecoming celebration down in Los Angeles. That's the young man from LA High. You know I know that you've heard about that.
MARTIN: A football star was shot because apparently, this is what they're saying, is that he was asked who he was affiliated with and when he didn't answer these two guys shot him.
Rev. JONES: Right, right.
MARTIN: Why do you think this is happening right now?
Rev. JONES: In a nutshell it's really coming down to the underground economics. There's a perceived power that we have - you know if your so called turf is making more money than somebody else's turf, then you're the one in power. That's a major part of it.
MARTIN: Some people think it's a racial thing. Kind of black on Latino?
Rev. JONES: I'm glad you brought that up because that was - if it was just racial than our streets would be full of blood constantly. Just because those that are involved may have been Latino and black, does not mean that it was racially motivated. You got to remember the question was asked here, what set was he from. So it's still gang related.
MARTIN: Where do you think this is all going? Do you see how this ends? Or do you see what I'm saying? Is there any sense that there's any progress being made here?
Rev. JONES: Well I think the progress that's being made, and I'm really optimistic about it because I can see - because it's so out of control now, we're now in dialogue with some of the powers that be, so to speak. Whereas before you had the law enforcement thinking that they could arrest their way out of this, they realize now that it has to be a bi-effort from the community and we have to be all-inclusive. This stuff didn't get out of control like this overnight and it's going to take time. But as far as it being totally being eradicated, I can't see that. But we can put a serious dent in it, at least to the point that we can, you know, live with something that we're comfortable in our communities once again.
MARTIN: Rev. James Jones, Jr., is founder of Gangsters for Christ. It's a community building organization in Los Angeles. Thank you so much, reverend, for speaking with us.
Rev. JONES: And thank you so much for having me.