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Local historian relaunches Detroit tour company after battling COVID-19, losing mom in 2020

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Posted at 8:37 PM, Jan 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 23:32:04-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Last year, Jamon Jordan was just coming off a busy February and diving into a full March of Detroit tours focused on African American history when concerns over the spread of COVID-19 started to heighten in Michigan.

“I was doing back-to-back tours because February is Black History Month and then the beginning of March is still spring break, so a lot of colleges and schools were off on break,” said Jamon. “Since there were no health warnings yet, I was still hugging people, I was still taking money from people, I was still filling up buses.”

RELATED: Test your knowledge: Detroit's Black History Month Quiz

By the time schools were locked down in the state, it was too late; the 49-year-old historian, longtime educator and founder of The Black Scroll Network was already sick with COVID-19.

Two weeks later, his mother, who had also contracted the virus, passed away. The reason he loved to read, a fierce supporter of his business, his mother, Jacquelynne Jordan, was gone.

Photos courtesy Jamon Jordan

“My mom read everything,” he said. “I grew up surrounded by books and, at some point, I started gravitating to the non-fiction . . . particularly Black history really stood out.”

His love for reading and learning about historical events and people would chart the course for his career. After teaching social studies for about 20 years, Jamon noticed his students knew very little about Detroit’s role in African American history. So, to help them understand what had essentially happened in their own backyards, Jamon began taking them on field trips to visit local landmarks, from Dr. Ossian Sweet’s house to Dunbar Hospital.

“As the schools got better about teaching African American history in general, what they didn’t get better about was teaching Detroit’s Black history,” he said.

And those field trips were the catalyst to the start of his tour company, The Black Scroll Network, which officially launched in 2012.

Photos courtesy Jamon Jordan

Some of the landmarks Jamon likes to highlight:

  • Detroit Association of Women’s Clubs – Founded by Dr. Rosa Gragg, originally the Association of Colored Women’s Club. When Dr. Gragg bought the home it had a racial covenant on it, forbidding African Americans from owning homes on Ferry Street between Brush and Woodward. To work around the covenant, she blocked in the front door, closed in the front porch, and built a new door on Brush Street to keep the home.
  • Lewis College of Business – When the college first opened its doors in 1941, there were few opportunities for women of color to obtain an education and career training. Violet Lewis saw a need in the community and opened the school in 1941. After 35 years the school eventually closed, but remains a historical landmark on Meyers Road in Detroit.
  • Dunbar Hospital – Located on Fredrick Street and St. Antoine, this was the first non-profit Black-owned hospital in the city of Detroit. During the great migration, African Americans were coming to Detroit for better opportunities. Most of the hospitals did not admit Black patients. This was the first hospital to see those patients.

Jamon said his mother was a fan of his tours, experiencing them at every stage — from the very beginning to his most recent season.

“She retired in October in 2019, and so this summer was the summer we were really going to do all of these things we haven’t done,” he said.

Jamon mentioned she was the one who prompted him to start a bus tour after one busy day.

“She said, ‘you gotta get a bus tour’ after we talked about 2 miles in the Underground Railroad tour in downtown Detroit,” Jamon recalled, a lightness in his voice.

After the turmoil of the year, Jamon said he didn't know what the future would bring.

“At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue — all the energy to continue was gone,” he said.

Photos courtesy Jamon Jordan

But it was his biggest supporters who lifted him up in his darkest hour.

“People supported me during that time, there were a lot of people who didn’t want to see my business go, they were trying to find ways to donate. They began to propose things, they began to come up with ideas, so gradually I began to do a couple of virtual things,” he said.

About six months after recovering from COVID-19 and losing his mother, Jamon began offering virtual options — recording himself in front of historic landmarks in Detroit and playing those clips for his audience while being available to answer any questions.

He recently launched a 10-part lecture series on African American history from the African continent all the way to the Black Power movement. Jordan also has a new lecture series focused on Detroit’s African American history that kicks off this month. You can purchase individual classes, or the whole series for $275.

While public in-person tours are still off the table, Jamon is offering private tours with the adherence to COVID-19 safety guidelines.

To learn more about The Black Scroll Network or book a tour, visit https://blackscrollnetwork.weebly.com/.