Terry Jones: still in the struggle

  • September 13, 2005

It would be hard to talk about the changing face of Cal State East Bay without considering the role of Terry Jones.

A faculty member since 1972, Jones is a recognized leader in bringing racial and ethnic diversity to the university's faculty, student body and curriculum. Without his persistent efforts, some say, Cal State East Bay would not have the multicultural richness it boasts of today.

"I would not have come to CSUEB without his encouragement and support nor would I have stayed without him," said Benjamin Bowser, a recent visiting professor at the University of Paris Sorbonne who chairs the sociology and social services department. "I have turned down several offers to go to other universities but have remained here partly to continue working with him. He's the spirit of CSUEB."

Most recently Jones started Cal State East Bay's master's program in social work and serves as its chair. He was also instrumental in creating the university's ethnic studies and criminal justice departments. He teaches courses in gender and racial inequality and has served on numerous university advisory boards, search committees and tasks forces. In 1990 he was named the George and Miriam Philips Outstanding Professor of the Year.

Community connections. Yet Jones' influence stretches far beyond the classroom. Through the Urban Institute at Cal State East Bay, he pursues research on juvenile justice, child welfare services and other social policy issues. The institute gained attention last year when Jones and Bowser investigated the disproportionate number of black youth in San Francisco foster care.

In May the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers awarded Jones the distinction of Social Worker of the Year.

Shaking things up. Through all his academic, research and community projects, Jones has one underlying goal: to raise people's awareness.

"I feel like I'm walking down the midway at the circus, and I get a chance to shake the lion's cage," Jones says of his work. "I get a chance to shake people's cages, to make them think."

Jones is the kind of man who can admit when he's wrong, Bowser said. But when he's right he doesn't back away from the lion's fangs.

"He will publicly take a principled stand even when it is inconvenient and generates ill-will and ill-feelings toward him," said Bowser. "He has been doing this for years, and we are a better and more humane university because of it."

Social work professor Diane Rush Woods praises Jones for taking on issues of race, diversity and oppression.

"He sets a high bar and he's an incredibly hard worker," she said. "He's collegial in his own way. He wants people to rise to meet the challenges. He reminds us we have to keep our eye on the prize."

Long journey. Jones started eyeing the prize at a young age. Born in Picayune, Miss., Jones moved to Vallejo at age 2, when his father caught the wave of black migration from the South to opportunities in the naval shipyards of WWII.

When the war ended, one of his uncles used the GI bill to go to college, the first in the family, and he became a role model for Jones and his siblings.

"After dinner my mother would clear the table and my uncle would study," Jones recalled. "I'd say 'I want to study too.' I didn't know what it meant."

That uncle became a teacher and principal and then a successful realtor. Thanks to that powerful role model, Jones, his brother, two sisters and all his uncle's children earned degrees despite, Jones said, the lack of encouragement for blacks to go to college.

"I was a mediocre basketball player, so I went on a basketball scholarship," he said.

Jones majored in education and history at Idaho State University. Then he went to Washington to work for a congressman from Idaho. That experience opened new worlds.

"I think I got baptized in terms of politics and social awareness," he said. He remembers shaking President Lyndon Johnson's hand and seeing Adam Clayton Powell and Martin Luther King.

Back home. After two years, he returned to Vallejo to put his new awareness to work in the community.

"I really wanted to be a teacher, but the system was so darn racist," he said. "I ended up working as a probation officer."

That was in 1968 and '69 when his involvement with youth prompted him to found the Black Society on Unity and Liberation in Vallejo. A short drive down I-80 in Oakland, the militant Black Panther Party was stirring its own stew of social justice and political power. Yet Jones, eager as he was for change, took a different approach.

"Our notion was 'we got a problem here and fixing it involves some cooperation between the institutions and us,' " We weren't into tearing it down. That type of oppositional orientation was not really there."

Jones said the group influenced the local school district to recruit teachers in the South and the police department to hire black officers.

"Basically people want to do what's right and have the consciousness to know what is right," he said. "And we have to assist them to understand what's right."

Around that time, basketball once again opened opportunities for Jones. He was playing in a semi-pro league in the Bay Area when he met his future wife, Sharon, at one of the games. They married in 1968 and had two children. Jones went on to earn a master's degree in social work and a doctorate from UC Berkeley. While a Cal student, he volunteered as a tutor, an experience that inspired him in 2002 to launch Project Yes.

Reaching out. With grants this year totaling $118,000, the program treats fourth-grade students from two Richmond schools to an up-close look at university life with a weeklong sleepover and academic lessons. Students from Cal State East Bay follow up with weekly tutoring and mentoring.

"You stand a chance to get these kids to see what is possible," he said of the 100 children who have been helped since the program's inception.

Because of that program walking through Richmond neighborhoods with Jones is like traveling with a rock star, his wife said. Parents constantly approach him with thanks for what he's doing for their children.

'He's passionate, he's driven and he's motivating," she said. "Mostly I think he's a wonderful role model for the children."

At age 63, Jones could retire but has no intention of doing that. There's still much work to be done at Cal State East Bay, especially in the affirmative action arena.

"You stay in the struggle because you have no choice," said Jones. "It's like being in the car with a drunk driver. You have a vested interest in helping that driver stop the car. That's how it is for people of color. The drunk drivers don't think they're drunk, so they won't give you the keys."

But, he said, that's no excuse to stop asking for them.

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