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1619 Project, Tom Jones, Guest Speaker

By Blog Master
Posted: 12/06/2020
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With a good size group of interested participants and an excellent guest speaker, Tom Jones led the meeting with an engaging and enlightening presentation of his book describing his career. He gave us personal lessons he learned in his life as well as guidance for younger associates who are interested in the same objectives and in achieving success in their lives.

Following his presentation, the group held a lively and enriching discussion, which Sharon Jarrett has summarized below:

The meeting was held by Zoom on December 4, 2020.  There were 23 participants.  The meeting began with a presentation by Thomas W. Jones about his book " From Willard Straight to Wall Street" and then was opened to a discussion on a variety of topics.

Mr. Jones was introduced by Dick Myers.  Dick and Tom have known one another over 45 years.  Tom has been a leader in business and civic matters since his undergraduate days at Cornell.  He has a unique perspective on what it was like to enter the predominately white university and business worlds of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He has chronicled these experiences in his memoir.

Mr. Jones began his remarks by sharing how the 45 year relationship with Dick illustrates a central point in his book, the importance of friendships in work settings.  The two having met while working at the Arthur Young & Company, an accounting firm in Boston.  He then indicated he would divide his talk into two parts, beginning with his book and then opening up a general group conversation.

Tom began by indicating he views "From Willard Straight to Wall Street" as representing the experiences of an African American male in what he views as the transitional generation.  The generation that moved from harsh treatment based on race and systemic structures of racism to focus on personal ideals and beliefs. He feels this was a unique historical period frame by both the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

He then discussed his involvement in the armed occupation of the Student Union at Cornell.  His goal was to "raise the price of racial inequality".  Ultimately, the occupation resulted in the establishment of a Department of African American Studies and changes in admissions and curriculum.  Tom is currently a Board Member at Cornell.

He then focused on challenges that followed graduation and entry into the business world.  He discussed being in the Citicorp Offices on September 11, 2001 and a multi year legal journey with Citicorp for wrongful termination.  He shared what he referred to as "life lessons" from this period of time.

1.   When effort is compounded there is a possibility for positive outcomes and self actualization.

2.   Growth and good can come from adversity.   At this point, Tom discussed being terminated very publically from his position at Citicorp in October of 2004.  He believed and shared with his family that time would correct the underlying issues.  During this period he relied on meditation, thought and prayer. In 2012, Tom won a wrongful termination suit against Citicorp and resolved outstanding issues with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the end, Tom believes good came from these experiences.
His faith was deepened, his health improved and he was closer to his family. He advised the participants to use periods of trial to find spiritual strength

Tom then moved to discussing race in America.  He began by asking "Why more progress has not been made since the 1960s"?  He suggested the response lies in understanding both how the cup is half empty and half full.  On the side of an empty cup is "400 years of abuse, neglect and deprivation which cannot be overcome in 60 years."  He provided some examples from Reconstruction and the New Deal. On the side of the cup being half full he suggested that an African American born in the first half of the 20th century would not recognize the country in 2020.  He provided a comparison, in 1962, Pepsi appointed it's first African American Vice President, the Klu Klux Klan boycotted the company.  In 2020, The National Race and Justice Memorial focuses on lynchings and community reconciliation, multi racial groups participated in the protests after George Floyd was killed, multi racial concern is evident over the dangers experienced by Black and Brown essential workers during the pandemic. There is, he believes, hope in these conversations and concerns.  He concluded with "The work is unfinished, there is much to be done, we can be proud of how far we have come."

Tom then opened up to the group.  The first question related to a section in his memoir where he discusses his advise to his son, but, not his daughters.  He reviewed that he advised his son to have the highest aspirations tempered with spiritual discipline.  He felt his daughters did not need to have the same harsh self discipline.

The next question centered on conversations that needed to occur between Black and White people. He stressed the importance of being positive, having white allies.  Everyone has a part to play in moving progress along.  



Click here to view a recording of Tom Jones' presentation and our discussion.

The link to Tom's website is available in previous posts.

This book can be bought through Vroman's Bookstore


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