New trustee Joe Jones plans to listen, show empathy


Photo Courtesy of Oakland University

Joe Jones was nominated to the Board of Trustees for an eight-year term by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Jones is an Oakland Alum and a friend of his fellow nominee, Trina Scott.

Growing up as the youngest of nine in Detroit, Joe Jones saw success from people who looked like him.

Now, after being appointed to the Oakland University Board of Trustees, Jones can show his four children and five grandchildren the same success he saw.

“It speaks volumes to be able to walk something out in front of your children and your community so they can see that it is possible,” Jones said.

Jones is an ordained minister, CEO of Grand Rapids Urban League and Grand Rapids City Commissioner.

He has worked at Urban League since 2011 to promote economic empowerment and civil rights advancement for minority communities. His work with Urban League is something he “can’t just put in the desk drawer when he leaves.”

“I think it’s critically important to not just promote [advancement], but to actually try to walk it out,” Jones said. “That’s part of what I hope to bring to the table, is a certain level of consciousness and a greater appreciation of history.”

Jones said he is working “diligently” to become a historian as it pertains to the African American experience. A lover of history and reading, Jones acknowledged the struggle of being able to attend or work at a university as a person of color.

Jones and his fellow nominee, Trina Scott, both attended OU at the same time. They were connected through Jones’ wife, Jessie, and they have remained lifelong friends since graduating.

Their friendship occurred naturally with the three of them hitting it off like “cake and ice cream.” Both were appointed to the board by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday, Sept. 11.

“When I think back to where we’ve come to where we are now, being able to serve in this capacity — it really speaks to the power of not just friendship but a shared vision for wanting to be all that we can for our community,” Jones said.

The goal Jones has for his eight-year term as a trustee is to be an active listener. He wants to practice empathy with not just his fellow board members, but also the student body and faculty.

Another goal Jones has for his term is to increase the number of students attending OU who live on the west side of the state, where he currently calls home.

“I’m guessing the vast majority [of students] come from Southeastern Michigan,” he said. “I’d like to maybe impact that trend and look to have more students from West Michigan attend Oakland University.”

In addition to his work at Urban League, Jones’ faith and work at Hutcherson Ministries in Grand Rapids is something he also can’t “put in a drawer” when he leaves the church.

“It’s very much a part of who I am — it’s actually the thing that helps me remain sane for such a time like this,” he said.

Jones is involved in many different spaces in the community. During this unique time in history, he hopes to promote more productive dialogue as a leader.

“I think that we’re in a time right now where one of the best things that any and all of us can do is extend grace to one another,” he said. “We’re quick to engage in dialogue that is not the most productive. I think there is benefit in being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.”