Civil Rights Advocate of the Year

Jones has long been on path to help others

Darryl Jones has been advocating for others since his arrival in Tallahassee in 1988.
Outlook file photo

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

In an unforeseen twist of fate that eventually led Darryl Jones to his current position with the Office of Economic Vitality, while he was making up for “lost time” he was paving a path that would impact people’s lives.

The beneficiaries of Jones’ work have been the underserved, people living in poverty and those who just needed guidance to develop their entrepreneurial skills.

“Nothing gives me greater joy than to help people,” said Jones, who serves on several boards that include some that make policy decisions. He is currently chairman of the Leon County School Board and Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Vitality for Minority, Women and Small Business Programs.

Jones’ work has been so impactful that the Capital Outlook selected him as its Civil Rights Advocate of the Year for 2021.

As much as Jones likes giving back to the community, he values education and hard work. Transcending that to children has been his mission, becoming even more so since he heard philanthropist Bernard Kinsey spoke during a FAMU graduation.

“Rattlers, you’re going to be all over the world,” Jones recalled hearing Kinsey say. “Always remember to keep the window open and the ladder down.”

“I’ve lived by that since I heard it.”

He also counts Whitney Young, former national president of the Urban League, among his influencers.

As Jones told his story about coming to FAMU on a presidential merit scholarship, he admittedly found himself being “woefully undisciplined.” Without elaborating, Jones said he was captivated by the independent life he was living as a freshman in 1988.

“When I left the protection of my grandmother’s loving and strict household and began depending on my own,” he said, “I made up for lost time.”

Jones credits former FAMU president Frederick Humphries and professor Eva Wanton for getting him back on track to earn a degree in English, although he wasn’t getting into trouble. 

Attending Bethel AME Church and community activism were taking up most of his time, said Jones, 51.

“I was embraced in a way that I felt like I was a part of people’s families,” he said of the time he spent at Bethel during his early years in college. “All of that was a welcomed distraction for me. I loved it.”

Missing graduation with other students who started at FAMU the same year he came from Clearwater High School, helped him refocus, Jones said. His activism ramped up and he became a member of the Student Government Association when attorney Daryl Parks was president. 

As roommates, Parks and Jones took the SGA to new levels.

“We weren’t just content with our own accomplishments,” Jones said. “It wasn’t enough that you were elected; it had to be worth something.”

 One of their biggest accomplishments was to persuade Disney to host a SGA retreat in Orlando. Jones wrote the proposal, as Parks recalled. His writing skills were unmatched by most other students, Parks said.

He added that Jones’ capability then and now is “through the roof. When you take a guy who is as smart and sincere as Darryl, the possibility is limitless.”

 Humphries recognized that and when Jones graduated, the former president put him in-charge of the Self Employment Agency, a federally funded FAMU initiative to help Black entrepreneurs. The mission was to move participants from welfare to owning start-up businesses.

That experience and years of working with Bethel AME’s Community Development Corporation, a housing program, helped to prepare him for the OEV, he said.

Some of the businesses that got their start through the Self Employment Agency program are Heavenly Catering, Party Central Plus and Kingdom First Realty.

“We had great impact when (people) all across this community were creating home-based and store-front businesses,” Jones said.

He is still doing that in his role at OEV. He emphasizes a principle he calls the four E’s:  engage, educated, equip and empower.

Just as important are children in Leon County Schools district 3. For several years before he was elected to the board in 2018, Jones was involved with making life better for children who attended Title 1 schools in the district.

At school board meetings, he consistently questions the lack of discussion about fixing Title 1 schools. He’s questioned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ argument of critical race theory, while making a case that teachers’ pay should be a bigger concern for the governor.

“The state of education in the state of Florida demands that we have in our local communities’ strong voices for our children,” Jones said. “Our children deserve champions and as a member of the Leon County School Board and as its chair, I want families and parents to know that they’ve got a champion.”