Dr. Roy Jones doesn't just create educators; he shapes leaders.
Dr. Roy Jones Southerner of the Year: The Champion
Credit: Courtesy Clemson University

For two decades, Dr. Roy Jones has diligently chipped away at the notion that more black men sit in South Carolina prisons than teach in the state’s schools. Approaching the issue one student at a time, his work with the Call Me MISTER program at Clemson University invests in individuals by fighting for the good others may not see.

“There’s more to a great teacher than being the best and brightest,” says Jones. “There’s disposition, mindset, and experience. There’s the fact that a teacher can relate to a student who comes from a similar background. It all counts.”   

His mother’s tenacity taught him how to foster the potential in others. Although she never set foot in a college classroom herself, she often reminded him that he would “never have to lift anything heavier than a pencil” if he got his education.

Now he instills that same sentiment in scholars of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Through a co-curriculum modeled after his own experience as an African American on campus in the 1960s and 1970s, Jones’ students live and learn together. The cohort-style approach emphasizes the importance of relationships in personal growth and builds a family among men of diverse upbringings.

“Family means different things to different people,” says Jones. “Some students come to us after being homeless. Others are from single-parent homes. We develop a universal sense of family because you can’t be an effective leader without understanding how to love and be loved.”

Jones’ methods have proven replicable. He has helped implement the program in nine other states. Graduates head to classrooms with a near 100% placement rate each year, but the need continues. Looking ahead, he hopes to turn two decades of graduates into peer instructors, equipping them with the tools to spread role model-based teaching to colleagues.

He signs his emails to teammates and students with a sentiment reminiscent of his mother’s support: “I’m in your corner.” He could say the same to the entirety of South Carolina.