Love List: Justin Jeffre

Justin Jeffre jettisoned his flashy music career to become a local social justice crusader who fights for those whose voices aren’t heard enough.

 Name: Justin Jeffre 

Age: 41

Title: Editor of Streetvibes, an advocacy newspaper on homelessness published through the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition; member of local Pop/R&B group 98 Degrees.

Hometown: Cincinnati, but he was born in Mount Clemens, Mich., a town so small “even people that I know in Michigan have never heard of it.”

Why we love him:

He jettisoned his flashy music career to become a local social justice crusader who fights for those whose voices aren’t heard enough.

I

n the late ’90s and early 2000s, 98 Degrees — don’t call them a boy band; singer Justin Jeffre doesn’t think that describes their style — sang and danced their way into Cincinnatians’ and worldwide hearts with hit songs like “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” and “Because of You” from multi-platinum selling albums. Whereas members and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey increased their star power with reality show appearances, Jeffre put his musical aspirations on hiatus (in 2013, the band did reconvene for a new album and tour) to become an activist for the homeless and the 99-percent.  

“A lot of people are fine with talking about politics at the bar, over dinner, after drinks and that’s it,” Jeffre says. “They never really do anything about it. I felt like at a certain point people who have the ability to do something about things kind of have a responsibility to do things about them.” 

In 2005 he ran for mayor of Cincinnati; in 2011 he was arrested at Cincinnati’s Occupy Wall Street protest; and two-and-a-half years ago he took the Streetvibes gig. 

“Part of what the [Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition] does is the coordination of services between our member organization, and the other part is education and advocacy, so Streetvibes really fits into education and advocacy,” he says. “And when we say education, we mean for the public, not for people experiencing the homelessness.” 

Even though Jeffre’s full-time job is educating the community, he’s working on a new music project with a friend that he says is “basically like a Soul-Funk kind of a thing.” 

What aspects do you love about your job?  

It’s cool to be doing something that’s creative. Every two weeks we put out a paper, so it’s nice when you finish something to be able to see a finished product. I get to interact with a lot of people in the community, and I get to help give voice to people who are underrepresented in the media and whose voices aren’t heard enough, whose perspectives aren’t heard. I think it’s also important to challenge some of the narratives that are out when it comes to what people think about, whether it’s homelessness or even redevelopment. We have a very different take on what’s happening in our city as far as the development than a lot of people do. We’re pro-development but we want development that includes everybody and not just benefits the wealthy few.

What are you most passionate about? 

I’m most passionate about social justice in general. I think we live in a country with so much wealth yet we have so much poverty and growing inequality. I’m just passionate about creating more justice. We wouldn’t have a need for charity if we had more justice in the world. I’m passionate about changing the attitudes and stereotypes about homeless people and what the causes are, and I’m passionate about challenging the narrative about gentrification or the so-called renaissance in Over-the-Rhine. 

What do you love about Cincinnati?

I love that Cincinnati has so much to offer. We have an incredible arts scene, we have a really interesting history and we have probably more to offer than any other city our size. I think there are just so many things you can do here if you’re interested in taking a look and finding them. 

Do you have a favorite place in Cincinnati? 

I guess I’d have to say Findlay Market, because it just has a lot of flavors. It feels like you could be in New York or in Boston. It’s got this great history, and you just get a great diversity of people down there so you never know who you’re going to see. 

Name someone that you love: role model, best friend, inspiration, etc., and tell us why.

I don’t know if I’d use the term “love,” but Ralph Nader is a great role model because he dedicated his life to social justice and he was not afraid to take tough stands and take on big, evil corporations. 

What’s the best lesson life has taught you about love?  

Love is tough, love is beautiful, love hurts and it never really dies. ©


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