By THOMAS G. JONES
The Dallas Examiner
After all these years, my journey continues. The continuing journey had its beginning Nov. 10, 1943, in Decatur, Texas, when I was birthed into this world to the parents of Mr. and Mrs. Eddie and Rozell Jones. There waiting on my arrival were my siblings, Eddie Jr. and Barbara Jean Jones. They were glad to finally see who mama had been carrying around with her all this time.
At some point, mama and our father parted ways. She returned with us to her hometown, Corsicana, Texas, for a new beginning. And that is where it all happened. She met and married daddy, Mr. Herman H. Ward, and right away things changed for the better. Although my family persevered through some challenging times, we relocated to our new home in Dallas, moving to an underserved community known as Roosevelt Heights.
The city of Dallas ignored the demands and pleas of Roosevelt Heights for sanitation services, paved streets, streetlights, city water and protection from the floods. For an extended period, we had no indoor plumbing. Our water came from a pump in the front yard. There were no bathroom facilities. Our bathroom, like many others in our community, was a little house behind the big house. The area had no paved streets or streetlights. Our family was taxed like everyone else, still we were denied these basic services. Our community was under privileged, but our home was filled with love, discipline, Jesus Christ and self-respect – not necessarily in this order. So were most of the homes of the families residing in Roosevelt Heights.
I am convinced that the approximate 1-mile daily walk – from 2558 Sunbeam to what we affectionately referred to as the “Front” – assisted in developing my having a determined attitude of don’t quit. That grueling trip was made in the rain, sleet and snow – whether it was hot or cold. In winter, the north wind would cut through you like a knife and you would walk backwards because it was too cold to face that north wind.
Oftentimes, my safety would be at risk because of the loose dogs roaming the neighborhood. I would hope not to have disturbed them as I walked by. As a general rule, I would walk lightly and carry a big stick just in case they considered me as part of the evening meal. I must admit I feared the dogs and their barking but not once was I bitten.
Some of the students at Joseph J. Rhoads didn’t mean any harm as I reflect back, but they were disrespectful. When we de-boarded that yellow school bus, they would greet us with laughter and unkind remarks. I must admit that at some point the teachers became aware, got involved, and all of that ceased and fell by the wayside. However, prior to Rhoads, there was J.P. Starks Elementary School. I had to prove myself at Starks and in my home community.
Things improved in my neighborhood after a victorious fight with one of the neighborhood bullies – Johnny King who later became my best friend. At Starks I still had to deal with David Shelby and [Rev.] Robert Jimerson. They made it their daily business to ridicule and make me the brunt of their jokes. We later became lifelong friends after we got to know each other.
My personal struggles at Rhoades centered on the fact I had a speech impediment. I stammered and stuttered when I spoke. Therefore, there were words I attempted to avoid because I knew the end results. Often it was embarrassing when I spoke, and some students mocked me and laughed. Therefore, I would be silent in classroom discussions. My teachers got the impression that I did not know the subject matter. I was a complete introvert.
At Rhoads, the grades were stratified, that is from A through E. Because of my lack of classroom participation, I was placed in 7-E. There was one instructor that believed in me, Mr. Clifford Jackson. He took it upon himself to approach the principal, Dr. Cesar Frances Toles, and expressed that I didn’t belong in 7-E, and I should be placed in 7-A with the high performing students. He said I could do the work, but I couldn’t talk; and I always did my best to succeed.
Here is a lesson I learned growing up in Roosevelt Heights: you don’t always have to be the best, but you always have to do your best. That is something my mom and dad instilled in the three of us. They did this with words of encouragement, strict rules and regulations, and when warranted seemingly the wrath of God. We couldn’t give up even if we wanted to, and of course we didn’t. I tell people I am the product of a blended family, not a broken family. Although our parents had less than a 12th grade education, they were some of the biggest supporters of high school and continuing education, as evidenced by my perfect attendance in school for 12 years. Our family and most of the families residing in Roosevelt believed in hard work and education as the way out of our underserved and neglected community and to a better way of life.
The students at James Madison High School were curious about us and how we lived in those conditions without many of the amenities most people take for granted because their tax dollars pay for them. However, they were denied to us. Additionally, from time to time we had to evacuate our homes due to the flood waters. All these adverse conditions and others played a role in the development of who I am today. All of this was undergirded by caring and loving parents.
The great James Madison was a plus for me, in that during my freshman year  while trying out for the football team, I met some great individuals: Stone Johnson, Buddy Gipson, Carl ‘Spider’ Lochart, David Stallworth, Wilbur Williams, Bobbie Cox, Billy Fred Murkledove, Harvey Staten and John H. Peace, just to name a few. There were countless others. In 1961, Murkledove and I were named captains of the football team. That same year, mid-season, coach Donald Grace cut every senior on the team except Cox, Murkledove and I because we played with a never give up attitude – even in the midst of a lost cause. Coach kept us to assist in the development of the juniors and sophomores. Believe me, it paid dividends. That following year, Madison had a successful winning season.
Athletics played a major part in my attitude of determination. Athletics taught me how to deal with adversity and the ups and downs of everyday life. Coach Vance Heard and coach Grace believed in me. To that extent, I would accept any challenge from any player they placed in front of me. At 165 pounds, I could run, tackle and block with the biggest and best players the Mighty Trojans had to offer.
The coaches would put me in the drill circle against the big guys, like Willie D. Mitchell, Albert Dabbs, Jesse Cox and Maurice Brown. Whether I would win or lose, those guys would know they had been in the fight of their football lives. I learned that in the community I loathed and loved, Roosevelt Heights. In my community you had to be tough, or you would be singled out and picked on.
Likewise, when the challenges and struggles of life confronted me, I faced them head on with that never give up tenacity, knowing that in the final analysis everything was going to be alright. Just like I was told earlier in life, as long as we held on to our faith and trust in God. Having grown up in the flood plains of Roosevelt, we learned how to rise with the waters. In life, we also learned how to rise to the occasion when faced with life’s challenges.
The above life experiences and many others not listed helped to develop my ‘never say never’ attitude, believing you can be whatever you want to be if you are willing to sacrifice and work for it. Who would ever think that a person from a poor blended family, who stuttered and stammered while speaking, didn’t a change of clothes every day, flunked out of college at least twice, would fall and get back up to one day complete college, earn an advanced degree as well, and serve on the Dallas school board. And later, be elected to a judgeship in the Justice of the Peace court system. I hope and pray that I am living proof that it can be done! Furthermore, you can do it if you set your mind to it. That is if in your mind you can conceive it, and in your heart you can believe it, if you apply yourself, you can achieve it. The journey continues. I am still striving.