There are certain people who are just one of a kind. There are no pat phrases to describe them. They are beyond platitudess. They possess commanding confidence that defines them wherever they go. Jiovanni Christian Jones is just such a young man. Besides his imposing stature, he is blessed with a bigger than life personality. Perhaps his characteristics are simply part of his DNA. His mother, whom he loves dearly, is a beautiful and brilliant woman who draws all eyes as soon as she enters a room. Together Jiovanni and his mom seem capable of conquering anything the world throws at them.
I never had the privilege of teaching Jiovanni but I inherited the honor of being the grade level chairperson for the Class of 2010 at KIPP Houston High School and he was a member of that gloriously interesting group. We all called him “Jio” and it became quickly apparent to me that he was not only extremely bright but also that he would never be content with merely standing quietly on the sidelines of life. In fact, he was and still is one of those quick-witted individuals who analyzes and questions virtually everything.
Some educators are annoyed by such students but I have always had a special place in my heart for such freedom fighters. Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed his challenges and noted with pride that he is a very reflective person. Jiovanni has the mindset and skills of an advocate for justice. He is a community organizer, one who sees the problems with society and is never content to simply allow injustices to thrive. He is not just the kid who asserts that the emperor has no clothes when nobody else is willing to do so, but the activist courageous enough to suggest plans for changing the status quo. His eagerness to freely speak his mind has not always found a receptive audience but to me he is a hero. I have always admired fearlessly principled individuals and Jiovanni Jones is definitely willing to take a stand.
I have gathered over the years that he comes by his advocacy quite naturally, for both his mother and his grandmother taught him to do what is right, not what is easy. In fact, Jiovanni often applauds his mother whom he sees as the quintessential role model. She is a lawyer and has served on the Houston City Council and as a member of the Houston Independent School District Board. Recently she was tapped to star in the reality television program, Sisters In Law. She is a stunningly beautiful woman but her real grace comes from her daring. Jio has inherited both his striking good looks and his boldness from his mother and I fully expect him to make as profound a mark on society as she has.
This past weekend Jiovanni graduated from Texas State University with a degree in Management. In typical fashion his walk across the stage was uncommonly exciting and I suspect that those who witnessed his gleeful dance will not soon forget him. He is a joyful person and his obvious euphoria at the moment of well-earned achievement is so in keeping with the essence of his personality. Jiovanni can be a barrel of fun or as serious as he needs to be. I’ve enjoyed some conversations with him that challenged me to really think about current issues in brand new ways. Whenever I was willing to listen to his point of view, I always learned something. He is as devoted to fairness as anyone that I have ever known and his heart is far more kind and generous than his comical antics sometimes demonstrate. There is a real seriousness of purpose behind all of the laughter.
I remember a day when Jiovanni volunteered to accompany me in delivering toys and clothing items to a charitable organization that provides refuge for young children. Jio and his fellow members of the National Honor Society had worked hard to fill huge boxes with wonderful items and he was excited as I was to be able to do something to make those kids happy. As we drove to our destination we had a long time to converse and I enjoyed having the time to get to know him better. When we finally found the place we attempted to procure someone to take our donations. Things did not go as well as we had planned. It would be an understatement to say that we were treated rather brusquely. The people in charge hardly had time to speak with us. They took our carload of contributions as though we were somehow bothering them rather than being generous.
Jio was visibly bothered by the lukewarm reception that we received but he ever so politely maintained his composure. I felt compelled to debrief about what we had just witnessed and ultimately we decided that there was really no excuse for lack of appreciation that we had received. Nonetheless, We agreed that it still felt good to know that our boxes were filled with wonderful surprises for the children and somehow that was all that really mattered. We would later receive a thank you note from the organization in which they seemed to have finally realized what a profound mistake they had made.
I don’t know exactly where Jiovanni’s path will lead him. I have no doubt that he’ll be a good manager because he loves people and they love him back. He has a quiet faith and a big heart that will make him someone for whom people want to work. He is ready to rock the world and says it best in his own words, “That time has come! It’s time for me to write the next chapter of my life. It’s time for me to change the world. Thank you momma Jolanda Jones. You have helped me understand this life and understand what it takes to be a black man in America. I’m getting this degree for you as much as me. I love you. Thank you to all my friends and family who have also helped me make it through. It takes a village! World, I hope you’re ready for me! Here I come!”
I recommend that all of you keep your eyes on this young man. He does exactly what he says he is going to do and he is on his way. Congratulations, Jiovanni Christian Jones. We are all waiting for your impact and those of us who know you expect that it will be grand.