Chief Jones one of two Teachers of the Year for MHS
One of two Teachers of the Year for Mustang High School, Chief Omar Jones, didn’t say that he was “humbled by the honor” of being chosen. He said, “They made a mistake.” He reasoned that as one of two JROTC instructors of a nationally recognized program, there won’t be any questions on an ACT test from his class. JROTC is a leadership class. It teaches perseverance in the face of adversity, team work and good decision making. He asked his students to help him fill in the blank on one of his Teacher of the Year forms. He asked the kids, “What do I teach you?” They agreed; Jones teaches them life.
He has a lot of experience to draw from.
Jones, an African-American, was born in Los Angeles but grew up largely in Toledo, Ohio. Money was hard and the family moved a lot. School wasn’t difficult for him and after graduation, he went to college at Bowling Green on an athletic scholarship and was in the Army Reserves. Then he discovered girls.
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“Once I got to college, it kind of fell apart. I got kicked out of college with a .62 GPA,” he said. “I tried to hide it from my mom but she had already gotten the letter. And then she kicked me out of the house. Her motto was, ‘We work or we go to school in this house.’”
Since he didn’t work and he no longer went to school, she told him to figure out something else and it wouldn’t be at home. In retrospect, he can say it was one of the best things that happened to him, but at the time, his friends were getting killed on the rough streets of Toledo or going to prison. When Jones himself got in trouble with the law, it changed everything.
“The judge said, ‘If I see you here again, I’m going to lock you up.’ I knew I had to figure something out. So I walked down to the recruiter station. I figured I had to get out of there. I said, ‘I need to go full time active duty and I need to go on the first thing you’ve got smoking out of here.’”
He’s lived in seven countries and 13 states over a career of nearly three decades. He earned his way to Chief Warrant Officer four. The military may have saved his life, but he doesn’t credit it with all his success.
“It was a great decision,” he said, “but the best decision was my wife, and I give God all of the glory.”
He grew up with her family. Felecia was different. She had plans. She didn’t take anything off Jones and wasn’t afraid to put him in his place. They never really dated, but when he came back on his first visit home, he asked her to marry him.
“I said, “If I don’t get her now, I’ll never get her,” he said. “She said no. And then she stewed on it for a few days.”
She tracked down his phone number and called to ask if the offer was still good. Ninety-six hours later, they were married.
“It was the best decision I made in my life,” he said. “The reason I’m at Mustang is because of that lady, actually.”
His motto and the reason why he teaches is simple: “I owe.” He said he owes people who came before him like 2nd Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American graduate from West Point. He owes Bill Cremean, Jack Thompson and Brad Hathaway, coaches and teachers from Toledo. Jones wanted to do the same thing for other struggling teens.
“They didn’t give up on me when I tried to give up on me,” he said. “When I should have been a dropout, they wouldn’t let me quit. They weren’t always nice. Sometimes they were downright mean to me, but it was mission accomplished.”
His experience in an urban school district was shocking. One day while serving as a substitute, he called an administrator for help with an unruly classroom. The assistant principal said it wasn’t her job. In Jones’ world, you never let a new officer struggle. Saying “it’s not my job” was unconscionable. He followed her down the hall, telling her that in no uncertain terms. He decided to go ahead and “finish the thing” and headed for the principal’s office to express his feelings to him as well.
“I said, ‘You guys are killing these kids,’” he remembered. “‘They can’t read and they can’t write. You’re doing a secret genocide on them because they can’t get a decent job. They can’t save themselves. They’re going to have needs. They’re going to want to eat. So if they can’t get what they need, they’ll kill each other to get it.’”
The principal told him to leave. He applied for a different position but that school was in the same mess. Felecia said, "Mustang’s open. Are you going to apply?”
Jones grew up in an area that was, and is still, racially charged. In many places, prejudice is not dead, particularly in the inner cities of Toledo. His dream was to work in the inner cities, like places he grew up, to find the kids who were giving up and to show them they could make it. No, he did not intend to apply.
“None of those kids look like me,” he told her. “They’re not going to hire me. I figured I wouldn’t give them a chance to say no because it wasn’t going to happen anyway.’”
Felecia, a preschool teacher, was about to give Jones a lesson.
“She said, ‘Mr. Jones, I don’t believe you. I thought you were better than that. You’re doing the exact same thing you say they’re going to do to you. You’re not giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they’re smart enough to recognize a quality person. You’re saying they’re all dumb because of the color of their skin.’”
“That’s not what I …” he began.
“Yes you did,” she said. “If you can teach, and I know you can teach, the kids don’t care what color your skin is. All they want you to do is care about them. If you want to teach, then you’ll drive yourself to Mustang.”
He couldn’t argue. He drove to Mustang, resume in hand but without an appointment. A week later he got the call.
“Any success I enjoy is not because of me. It’s because of my wife,” he said.
He now teaches in one of the elite JROTC programs in the country. No, the students by and large don’t look like him, but they talk about race and dispel stereotypes together. They’re his kids now.
“I love my kids,” he said. “My heart hurt for them when they don’t do well. I cry both ways - I cry when they do something good and I cry when they’re not successful. They’re the ones who are going to be part of changing the way we do relations. For some of them, I reinforce their stereotypes but for some of them we are going to absolutely shatter the preconceived notions and not judge people on their skin. They’re my vanguard.”