A Different Gear
Over the 20-plus-year history of Call Me MISTER, Roy Jones has given countless speeches to rooms full of young, aspiring educators from diverse backgrounds. He has talked about the importance of the program and how it is designed to more accurately mirror in the teaching population what exists in the state’s population of students.
With every speech, Jones knows he must inspire not only the MISTERs but also the MISTER leadership present. He has a gift for providing context for an auditorium full of people or a single person sitting across from him. In both cases, he puts the same amount of effort into getting his point across.
But during Jones’ first visit to the Cecil J. Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum, when he addressed a room full of MISTERs from Claflin University, something was different. The same off-the-cuff, conversational approach to the audience was there, but every statement was marked with a need — a desperation — for those in attendance to understand the importance of the subject at hand.
“I remember turning to the person next to me that day and saying ‘Look in his eyes. Something else is driving,’” Joseph says. “There’s no question in my mind that once Dr. Jones got started on this work, he found a different gear.”
Jones admits that the 2018 leadership seminar profoundly impacted him, but it was the loss of one of its speakers, Joseph C. Elliott Sr., mere months after he presented to MISTERs that truly helped him find that “gear.”
Elliott was a historian, teacher, writer and grandson to Roderick W. Elliott, who served as chairman of the Summerton school board named in the Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit. Elliott recognized that his grandfather was on the wrong side of history. In 2017, he petitioned for a statue honoring not his grandfather, but Joseph De Laine. No one forced him to push for that, just as no one forced him to appear on stage to talk about it; he laid it all bare in order to educate and help others learn from his experience, his perspective and his grandfather’s mistakes.
Just months later, that life and all that perspective were gone. After Elliott’s passing, Jones began to feel real pressure to move faster.
“When people go, history goes with them, and I know I’m not immune to that clock; it’s ticking above my head, too,” Jones says. “If I’m a gambler, I’m not going to leave the table until I’m totally spent; I’ll stay as long as I’m able, and that all by itself keeps me going.”
When Jones travels to certain parts of the state, he sees people still struggling with a lack of resources and often a lack of teachers in classrooms. The problems facing these communities are complex and multifaceted. A big part of the solution is education, and an integral piece of education is understanding a place, a people and all the history that is tied to them.
When Jones visits Summerton, he sees people who don’t realize they’ve been living their lives at ground zero. They don’t know they live at the site where something big started. When he says “De Laine” or “Briggs” in casual conversation with a fellow educator or even someone who calls South Carolina home, he wants them to be recognized, at least a little. For MISTERs, he wants those names to be known.
Jones remains on the journey to institutionalize this knowledge at Clemson so it can be a place where anyone, anywhere can access and learn from it.
“Take time to find out what you don’t know. And what you do know, take time to share,” Jones told the MISTERs on that first visit to the Cecil J. Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum. “That’s how you sustain yourself and bring the next generation forward.”