We’ve seen them before. They’re important images in the Black household: a portrait of Black Jesus, leading ladies in fabulous hats, droves of Black folk sharply dressed and dancing at small juke joints. These paintings still decorate the walls of Nana’s house and give us brief moments to experience and recall Black joy. More importantly, they’ve become an essential part of American history. They remind us of our voice and the importance of community engagement.
Real Dad Greg Jones has seen these images his entire life. Along the way, he’s had allies helping him illustrate his own life. To understand Greg as a real dad, you must first acknowledge his supporting cast. These vibrant characters are more than just affable supporters taking up space in family portraits—they are his story.
Greg was born in Long Island, N.Y., and he would move with his family to Oklahoma at the tender age of 4. His parents were in search of community.
“My mom was from Oklahoma and dad was from New York,” said Greg. “They met in the service. My dad always wanted to live in a community where he could have acreage and a small farm. Oklahoma was perfect for that.”
His father’s dream of acreage would take on a new meaning as Greg’s family settled in Spencer, Okla. The family would acquire more than just land. They would soon meet an entire community of Black folk who would become important figures in Greg’s life for years to come. After his mom, Ineze Jones, and dad, Amos Jones, retired, they began impactful community service jobs as pastor and first lady.
“What I learned from my mom and dad was all about getting information and helping your community with the information and knowledge that you have,” said Greg.
Greg recalls there were important male figures in his life growing up who consistently taught him the value of community.
“There were quite a few older men who shaped my direction,” said Greg. “Willie Bryson was always very resourceful. He always talked about community from the perspective of ‘what I have is what you have.’ A lot of growing up was watching him bartering, trading and sharing his resources.”
The value of community
Willie Bryson has been Greg’s neighbor for more than 40 years. Their friendship began in the community of Spencer and continues today in the JFK neighborhood of Northeast Oklahoma City. Their relationship remains themed around the concept of prioritizing community. They offer each other much more than a smile or neighborly hello. Their friendship has been a cathartic experience for Greg, providing him with valuable resources and affirming his belief in community.
When it came time for Greg to start his own family, he knew building his own community would be pivotal to his family’s success. He would use the lessons learned from his parents and Mr. Bryson to establish a set of core values.
Greg would find the perfect partner to help. During a college winter break from the University of Oklahoma, Greg traveled home with best friend Charles Henry. Charles invited Greg over to a childhood friend’s home. As Greg walked into the house, he immediately saw a young lady standing near her mom’s stove baking cookies.
“The smell and aroma of those chocolate cookies caught my attention,” remembered Greg.
That moment stuck with Greg for an entire year. He convinced Charles to take him back to his friend’s home and, finally, he was able to talk to Ericka. After dating for a few years, the happy couple married in 1998.
Greg and Ericka’s union welcomed the birth of three children: daughter, Jordan, and twin boys Erick and Elijah. When it came time to educate their kids, Greg and Ericka settled on homeschooling. They discovered early on in their journey that learning never really stops when you teach from kitchen table.
Passing on an entrepreneurial spirit
It was the summer of 2016 and Greg was returning home from a long workday. When he entered his house, he found his kids lounging on the couch, filling time before dinner. Greg saw the moment as a special opportunity. How could he keep his children engaged and busy by also teaching important concepts of community? After working as an insurance agent for years out of college, Greg started his own company working as a small business consultant. The same tactics and business strategies he was using to help build Oklahoma City’s workforce would serve as a catalyst to change his children and the entire community. That day before dinner, Greg grabbed all three of his kids and a lawnmower. The rest is history.
Greg walked his children to almost every home on his street and offered his neighbors an interesting proposition: “I will let my kids cut your grass for free!” Many neighbors accepted his offer while others insisted on payments. Greg graciously accepted the money but waited until the end of the summer to let his kids see the fruit of their labor. When it came time to decide what exactly to do with the $1,500 they raised that summer, Greg’s children made an interesting choice. They chose to invest their money back into their business.
Today, all three of Greg’s children run successful businesses. Jordan, 18, runs Skin by J. After completing cosmetology school, Jordan opted to use the entrepreneurial skills she developed from the lawn care business to develop her own skincare line. Erick, 16, is passionate about culinary arts. He works weekends at the Eastside Eatery. The blend of everyday people mixed with delectable cuisines inspired him to start his own business, True Joy Bakery. His twin brother, Elijah, also followed his passion. His interest in production and development led him to create his own t-shirt line, Big Cap Apparel.
“The entrepreneurial spirit, based upon them being able to have their own business, funded their dreams,” said Greg.
Vision for the future
Today, Greg and his family are making incredible strides to build community within vacant spaces that once thrived, much like the scenes from those paintings in an elder’s home. Through his service on the board of Northeast Renaissance, Inc., Greg is a catalyst for ethical, place-based community development in Northeast
“Northeast Renaissance is an attempt to remove or break down silos within our community so we can understand one another and leave a lasting impression on our next generation,” said Greg.
Through his career, volunteerism and family, Greg is bringing a vibrant community mural to life.
“It’s important that we do all that we can to be highly collaborative to find common ground with each other,” said Greg. “When one wins, we all win.”
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a year-long series celebrating local dads. Author Lance Evans and husband Chris are fathers of Chrystian. Lance is director of communications for Variety Care, and he and Chris were voted MetroFamily’s 2021 Cool Pops.