Former educator and Tennessee Education Association president Velma Lois Jones didn’t need another award to convince many who know her that she is a living legacy. Jones took her latest honor with familiar humility.
The Living Legacy Awards are co-sponsored by the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History and Farmer’s Insurance. Ten recipients, including Jones, were honored earlier this year at the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The Living Legacy Awards salute African-Americans across the country that work to improve communities, institutions, organizations and family life through education.
“Whatever I do, or have done, at whatever level I serve, I do because I have a passion for it,” Jones told The New Tri-State Defender. “I cherish the thought when there are those who take the time to honor me in such special ways.”
Jones said she is driven by the self-satisfaction of giving back. “My purpose here on earth is to be a servant, knowing that others in need have benefited because of the contribution I have made.”
The organizations through which Jones has served include the AARP. Andrea Neely, the group’s associate director for multicultural outreach, said she was thrilled to be “connected to this magnificent person,” who she also knows as a mentor and sorority sister.
“I feel honored not just to know her, but to learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience she brings to every endeavor,” Neely said. “This is one of many honors that she’s received, which speaks volumes of her character, integrity and her position as a respected voice not only in Memphis but throughout the country.”
Jones has been very active in the community and in the education field. A teacher for more than 40 years, she was the first African-American classroom teacher elected to serve as president of the Tennessee Education Association.
Before serving as president of TEA, Jones represented teachers through the Memphis Education Association. She Jones is a former president of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. In 2008, The New Tri-State Defender selected her as a Women of Excellence honoree.
Jones’ passion for education has also been an influential part of her motivation to serve.
“I chose (being an educator) as a profession because education is the key to (a) successful life, not just to make a living,” she said. “A teacher touches the life of every profession.”
President Obama invited Jones and five other senior citizens to the White House to be honored as unsung heroes in 2012
Jones said that the most important lesson she’s learned is what Maximilien de Robespierre, a leader and principal figure in the French Revolution, said, “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
So what does she want her legacy to be?
“Do what you can for as many as you can, for as long as you can,” she said.
“Life can be beautiful, but you must work at it. It doesn’t just happen, you must make it happen.”