Black History 365: Jonathan P. Jones
Describe your organization and your role.
I’m the Commissioner of Recreation, Youth & Workforce Services in Albany, NY – the Capital City of New York! My departments are the connecting links to get healthier and wealthier in our community.
Describe the most pressing challenges in your community, particularly for Black people, that your organization is addressing.
The Child Opportunity Index identified that over 50 percent of our Black boys are disconnected from opportunities in the areas of health & environment, education, and income. My departments have action plans and engagement strategies to help our residents routinely connect to opportunities in physical fitness, employment training, and career pathway exposure.
We know that within the Albany region, there are areas that have been historically disenfranchised. So, this is long-term work.
The investments in our youth programs aim to educate, expose, and explore opportunities in the work, business, and sports worlds. Because our programs serve people who are over 70 percent Black and half male, the goal is to educate these young men when they’re between 14 and 18 years old so this generation is not so disconnected from opportunity later. We want to ensure that all of our city’s youth get a chance to contribute in places where their voice or input may not be heard at all.
Describe three of your proudest achievements for your organization and you.
My proudest moments of all time were delivering my daughter and son recently. My family means the world to me, and I’m most proud to be Dad.
Secondly, earning the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Livability Award for our Summer Youth Employment Program model. We redesigned this program in the second year of a 4-year term to add a paid day for 1,200 youth that required them to expand their education by going to different postsecondary campuses on Fridays. This is not something that typically goes over well with a new administration, but we had faith that our youth would excel if we set a high bar. This recognition was validated when research concluded that participants were 66 percent more likely to graduate from high school than non-participants.
And my third proudest moment comes when we have ribbon cutting ceremonies for our parks. Working with the community to recreate a space that they have a hand in remaking brings the most joy. These parks are very special places. They’ve given me a lot of wonderful memories and feelings from my days as a child playing on playground, with all the stories I imagined and created with my friends. Working with the community, our department has been able to renovate equipment in 15 parks around the city since 2015. It’s a public servant’s dream to hear and see the community come together to work with each other and then see kids playing and enjoying our parks.
Why is this work so important in your community?
It’s a purpose I can’t run from. The work I’m doing was done for me. Sports changed my life and gave me networks that I’m still connected with and lessons that I continue to learn from. I’m also the product of grant-funded, government-supported enrichment programs, making me a direct example of how a government agency can foster growth and improve the life of a young person.
What is your vision for your community and your work?
My vision for my community is a place where our unity is commonplace and it’s cool to be educated and engaged fully in conversation with neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc. My vision and hope are that the abandoned properties in our community are renovated by the folks in those communities, and they get a tax credit for it. And finally, my vision as Commissioner of Recreation, Youth & Workforce Services for Albany is to turn around the Child Opportunity Index results so that we focus on creating opportunity for our youth, build on all the lessons, and inspire people.