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Howard Jones changed thousands of lives because he believed in the power of hope.
The OIC of Wilson’s founder and president also never gave up on those who had given up on themselves. Jones knew everyone he met was capable of living their full potential if they had an opportunity.
Hundreds gathered Saturday inside the L.N. Forbes Tabernacle to celebrate the life of a man whose selflessness was shown in all that he did for Wilson and beyond as well as family members he cherished.
While Jones is no longer here physically, national, state and local officials said Saturday that his legacy will live on in the lives he touched and the future lives of those who will be forever changed by the OIC’s programs.
Those who spoke Saturday included former Gov. Jim Hunt, who commissioned those in attendance to “commit ourselves to equal opportunity and full opportunity for all of our people.”
“I think we might consider honoring Howard today by really preparing all of our people to have the knowledge and skills needed for jobs and opportunities in Wilson County, both now and in the future,” Hunt said. “He wanted us to do more.”
Hunt said Jones also wanted poor children to have access to well-funded schools and have equal opportunity to succeed.
“As we celebrate his life, let us be thankful,” Hunt continued. “He worked every day to provide opportunities for all of our people to become all that they could be, all that they should be, all that God wants them to be.”
‘THE LABOR DROVE HIM FORWARD’
The OIC of Wilson was founded in 1972. It’s one of 38 affiliates in 22 states under the umbrella of OIC of America, which provides education, training and employment to those who are economically disadvantaged with a goal to enable them to become productive and fulfilled members of society. The late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, a civil rights leader and social activist, founded OIC of America in 1964.
Jones and Sullivan were extremely close.
And Sullivan would often talk about the power of the OIC in Wilson and the everyday miracles it enabled, officials said.
“Howard talked about the Rev. Leon Sullivan like they were one,” said Art Taylor, former president and CEO of OIC of America. He said what Jones did with the OIC of Wilson was comparable to the other OICs in larger cities like Los Angeles with far more people and a lot more resources.
He said the work was important because it was the image and the symbol of Sullivan who went from a poor man who grew up in a rundown West Virginia shack to standing before presidents, leaders and kings to speak for those who were voiceless.
“And standing up for people who had no way of letting the world know they were hurting,” Taylor said. “Then, making those people do the things that needed to be done to change the world.”
Taylor, now president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, said Jones embodied what the OIC was about. He said Jones labored, endured and persevered.
“The labor drove him forward in ways we will never understand,” he said.
When Jones would hear about someone getting a job through one of the programs at the OIC of Wilson, he loved it.
“You could see it because the tears would run down his cheek with joy every time something good would happen to this program,” Taylor said.
Taylor said people need to teach others what Jones taught so many.
“If there is going to be legacy, we have to be the teachers of this miracle of Wilson, so that these young people coming along who need to make a difference in this world understand that there is a path to it,” he said. “There are teenagers who are growing up lost not understanding the power they have if they work together for good. That legacy is on us to create.”
Taylor said if OIC is about anything, it’s about creating something that most people would never have imagined could be created.
‘HELP WHERE YOU ARE’
Bob Etheridge, former U.S. representative and North Carolina state school superintendent, said Jones enabled people to be better.
“He helped his family,” said Etheridge, who is the executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency’s North Carolina office. “He helped his community. But what he really did was that he changed lives.”
Etheridge said Jones truly believed that education was the key to opportunity and to the future.
“I think he would remind us today that his work is done,” he said. “Now it’s our work.”
And Etheridge said Jones’ words of wisdom are true for all.
“Remember, no matter what you do, he would say, you have to achieve something every day to make the world a better place,” he said. “You have to help where you are. You may not be able to lead OIC, you may not be able to be an elected official. But you can do something. You can help someone in some way. Help someone who is hurting. Visit someone who’s sick. Reach out to someone who needs a helping hand. Help a child. Say a good word. We can make a contribution.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, said Jones had a burning desire to make his community a better place to live and work.
“Howard’s footprint extended far beyond Wilson County,” said Butterfield, who has been Jones’ closest friend for decades. “The road he traveled for the 84 years of his life was a life of inspiration and service to those who needed a hand. Howard Jones was that hand. Howard loved life. He took care for his family.”
Butterfield said Jones worked tirelessly to improve the lives of others. And he volunteered for things throughout the community.
“He never said no to anyone,” he said. “Howard Jones’ unselfish dedication to uplifting humanity has made my community, your community and indeed the world a better place to live.”
Jones also had a burning desire for the OIC of Wilson to continue the mission.
“He wants this community to step in to help OIC to continue to serve this community,” Butterfield said.
‘GAVE HOPE TO THE HOPELESS’
Jones loved all his family dearly, including his wife of 49 years, Sylvia, and his children. He also loved his staff, volunteers and Wilson.
His niece, Kristi Jones, spoke on behalf of the family during Saturday’s service. She said her uncle was always their constant strength and that he was proud of what each of them had accomplished.
“Uncle Howard could see in us what we couldn’t see in ourselves,” she said.
She also said her uncle empowered people and “gave hope to the hopeless.”
Kristi Jones, Gov. Roy Cooper’s chief of staff, is the first African-American woman to serve in such a leadership role for a North Carolina governor.
‘OIC WILL CONTINUE HIS MEMORY’
Robert Farris, the OIC of Wilson’s board chairman and a longtime friend of Jones, said thousands of people became taxpayers and got off government assistance because of the programs Jones instilled at the OIC.
“OIC will continue his memory,” Farris said. “This week in the celebration of the life of Howard Jones, we were able to place 15 worthy people in productive jobs ... We are going to keep doing this in his memory.”
Frank E. Emory Sr., a longtime friend and OIC board member, said Jones showed selflessness every day. He also said the two had a lengthy conversation prior to his death including his hope for the agency to grow with new people and new programs.
“He wanted me to know that it didn’t end with him,” Emory said.