The incoming president of the Minneapolis NAACP points to his grim past as a former drug dealer, gang member and felon as an example for young people looking to turn their lives around.

Jason Sole, 38, is now a professor working on a Ph.D. He’s succeeding Nekima Levy-Pounds, who stepped down from the NAACP leadership post to run for mayor of Minneapolis.

“Sometimes I wonder why I was the one who got a second chance at life,” he wrote in a 2014 autobiography.

Levy-Pounds nominated Sole to replace her as NAACP president and he was elected without opposition last month.

“Jason Sole has been a tireless advocate for racial and social justice,” Levy-Pounds said. “He was one of the first on the scene in the hours after Jamar Clark was killed, helping the Minneapolis NAACP to interview witnesses.”

Clark, 24, was shot by a police officer during a scuffle on the North Side on Nov. 15, 2015, and died the next day, setting off a series of demonstrations in the city that lasted for months.

Sole was born and raised in Chicago, where he joined the Blackstones gang.

He later lived in Waterloo, Iowa, where he graduated from high school. He came to the Twin Cities in 1997 and was a gang member until 2003.

He eventually made his way out of the morass, getting a bachelor’s degree from Metro State University, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Capella University.

He is working on his Ph.D. at Capella, studying public safety leadership with a specialization in criminal justice.

Sole is a criminal justice professor who teaches at Hamline University and trains people across the country who work with juveniles in the criminal justice system.

“I had people who loved me enough to not give up on me,” Sole said of his turnaround.

Sole’s book, “From Prison to Ph.D.: a Memoir of Hope, Resilience and Second Chances,” is available through Amazon. He became the Minneapolis NAACP’s criminal justice reform chairman last year, and in his new position, he said, he continues to be committed to youth.

“I definitely want to make sure black kids and kids of color are graduating at the same rate as whites,” he said. “I want to make sure that economic opportunities are equal for black people and other people of color as well.”

Sole could frequently be found at protests during the past year and he said that will continue.

“When things arise I will definitely be involved,” Sole said. “I think you will see us at the forefront. I think we’ll take leadership positions as necessary and we will follow and support other groups as well.”

He calls Minneapolis “Jim Crow north” and says racism is a problem in the city and across the country.

On Tuesday, at a news conference where Levy-Pounds announced her mayoral bid, Sole endorsed her, praising her skills and dedication.


Twitter: @randyfurst