March 31, 2016
Mr. Jones thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today.
Thank you for coming in. And by the way let me correct something right now. My name is Julius, not Mr. Jones please don't do that to me.
I never have a person that I worked with or worked for me who call me anything but Julius and I prefer you do the same.
Fantastic ! so Julius.
First question for you is what was your first YMCA experience?
My first YMCA experience was as a program director at the Johnson branch of the Jacksonville Florida YMCA, and I ended up in that job sort of as result of stumbling into it. I was a senior in college, and I had a part time job with the Dean of Student Personnel. I was going to class one Saturday morning, and he stopped me on the campus and said, “When you finish your class stop by the office I got something I want you to do for me.” I did that he had received vote form that had about 6-8 questions on it, personnel information “I want you to fill this out, and I am going to mail it to this man down in Jacksonville who was looking for somebody to work for a YMCA down there.” I knew nothing about the Y. My only experience had been playing in a summer basketball league and getting mad and quitting when they told me I had to have a membership in order to play, because I didn't had the money to pay for a membership.
So I went down to Jacksonville, interviewed for job, took my wife, and had my baby. My son who is now 52 years old, was 6 months old. We drove all night from Atlanta to Jacksonville to interview for a job and without benefit of sleep, interviewed and two days later they called me back in, when I got back to Atlanta they called me in, and said “Hey we are ready to offer you a job, are you interested?” and I said yeah, I am interested. I have nothing else so, that was my first experience with the Y.
That's great, talk me about in general your Y career from that start, until you wrapped up.
I stayed in Jacksonville in that position for four years and then got a call from the CEO of the Nashville YMCA. And asked me, this is how the system was working at the time. You didn’t go to a computer and apply for jobs that were on the computer, people called you because somebody recommended that they want you to call somebody. Here's the guy I want you to call; a job opening might be good for you.
The man's name was Ralph Brunson, who became one of my favorite people in the world. I went to Nashville interviewed for a job they were building a new branch, in a new community, and they said “We need an executive for this branch," there was no building, no anything. I went to town. We rented a couple of rooms on the street about 5 miles from where the branch was going to be built and that became the office for that branch of the Y for about a year until we started construction.
I stayed in Nashville for 5 years, got a call from Washington DC, the guy who had been my first boss in the Y, who was then the number two, the senior vice president on the staff of the DC Y. He had moved from Jacksonville to California to DC and said, “Hey we got a job we would like you take a look at”' and I said, “well you know I am pretty set where I am. I need to talk to my wife about this.” I went to DC, and she went with me. We talked about the possibility they wanted me to look at job as Central Branch YMCA Executive.
This was 1972, and at the time it was a huge job, it's a huge job from what I had been doing. Going from an operating budget of probably $75,000 to 3 quarters of a million dollars for a branch, at least I knew how to count. I was being wooed, fed, wined and dined in the highest fashion with the number two guy and with the CEO. I went back to Nashville and said, ” this seems exciting to me, so I am going to call those guys and tell them I will take the job” which is what I did.
I went to DC, stayed in DC for 8 and a half years, and while there I did several jobs. I did Central Branch Executive, and then I became what we call a District Executive which means I supervised a cluster of branches because we were in 3 Governmental jurisdictions; Washington DC, Northern Virginia and South Eastern Maryland. We were in the county set around in DC, and I had the DC division, so I had all of what amounted to at that time all the inner city work and I did that for a couple of years and finally we decided we needed to take a different approach to things because we were getting into serious, serious, problems.
We were trying to serve the people we were serving, because we were not getting the maximum return from what we called resource branches. We needed to take a straight forward approach to supervising these branches and maximizing our effort in them. We sat and we discussed as a staff having one person supervise all of the units and I guess I was odd man out, because I got the job and for the last 3 years in DC, I was Director of Operations.
From there I moved to Pittsburgh in 1979, interviewed in June, was offered the job in June and went to work there the 1st of October 1979 and that's where I finished my career because I stayed in Pittsburgh as CEO for 23 years and had a 39-year, 9-month career in the YMCA.
That's great. Did you ever had any thoughts about sticking out to the 40 on the dot?
Afterwards, I didn't think about it until afterwards. I said, “You know, I left 3 months too early and I should have stayed the extra 3 months but I did not.” I was pretty happy to go because we had just been in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was a tough place to raise money. My last commitment to that YMCA was, to we needed to raise money to build some new buildings so we ran what was then a serious, serious, capital campaign for Pittsburgh, a 25 million dollar campaign. The Chairman of the board and I were the two people who were making all the calls to raise the money. Campaign fell, it flopped. It didn't make, and I said flopped because we only raised 22 and a half million. I was so mad, but anyway we got close enough that we put up all the buildings that we had wanted to put up and now the place is thriving and I am very, very happy about staying. By the way I stayed two extra years in my career I didn't retire at 65, I retired at 67 because of the campaign so, I enjoyed it was a good experience. I had what I liked to call “A great run in the Y.” I enjoyed every minute of it and along the way had a chance to do some very exciting things both affiliated and associated organizations like the Retirement Fund. I served on the board for 12 years, and on and on and on...
So during those and I round up 40 years what you believed was or several things were the most significant things that happened in the YMCA Movement during all that time?
First thing was, I never like to open up this area but it has to be said. The most significant thing was the Y getting or developing enough guts to say it's going to be one YMCA Movement we are going to integrate the Y, and if you can't do this you cannot be a part of the Y or pull the charter and you will not be called a YMCA.
Only one Y and this is in mid-1960s, the only one YMCA in the country and I won't name it because it is not important, said no we're not going to do that and, the interesting thing, the running thing about that is, that was said and to date, to date and it happened about a year ago, that YMCA now has a black CEO, that someone that was never going to allow people with color to come across the threshold to go into the building and the black CEO in running the Y.
That in my opinion, was one of the most significant things that happened during the time that I was in the Movement.
Second thing was in the 1970s, the National YMCA decided to play a role, a significant role, in trying to dismantle some of the gang culture across the USA and they started the urban action movement at the National level. A guy named Bob Darren ran the program he was on the staff, and Bob was one of the finest human beings I ever knew in my life, just a great guy, believed in what he was doing.
The staff people they went out and found and hired a lot out of the gangs of Chicago and other cities that had gangs still there going on and on and on and on they want on the pay roll of the YMCA and gangs like the Blackstone Rangers at Chicago which is a famous name. They were not totally put out of business but they diminish in size and all of a sudden being a member of the gang was not as important as it was before the urban action movement started in a Y, that's spread to local YMCA's because among the things that happen was we started to pattern some of the programs in Nashville after the same thing and we made a tremendous positive impact on the community, and it was not just the black community but the total, total community and because we cared, I think that Nashville was and still is today one of the most successful Y's in the country.
So, in mentioning kind of race relations and things that happened any other significant things you remember where were either a YMCA you worked helped partner, to make things better or struggled in another area?
We came all the way to, we did some things in Washington but, come all the way to Pittsburgh. The coroner, of the city of Detroit, reached out to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was having tremendous problem with thugs, hoodlums, gangs, what have you. The coroner called a meeting all of the nonprofit organizations the leadership group. Included in that where University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, the colleges from around town. They called a meeting in this office, and said we had last year in the black community, this is around 1990-1991, and we had a hundred and fifty six homicides in the black community.
Illegal killings, kids killing each other we got to do something, we should want to do something about that. Is anybody interested in doing anything or partnering and trying to put together some coalition that will work at that kind of thing? Not a hand went up, not one hand in the room went up, and there must have been 50 people in that room.
About ten minutes later I decided, they are not going to do anything, so I stood up and I said, Dr. Perphell, that was his name, I don't know what these people are going to do, but I tell you my office is 3 blocks from here I am going to get up and leave your meeting, I don't want to appear rude, I am going to my office, I am going to call my senior staff together, and within the next 3 or 4 weeks we will be doing something significant about these gang problems in this town under the banner of YMCA, and if there is anybody else in this town who wants to join us and be a part of what we are doing give me a call or come down to my office which is right down the street.
So, I called on the Director of Development who was right down the hallway from where I sat, I said, “Jim we need to find some money to hire some people and get out here and calm the stuff that was going on, with these killings and with all the stuff that's going on with these kids killing each other and had no chance in life.” “Where am I going to get some money from, he said?” well, “I have a friend in the Foundation Community that I could talk to and we will see what we could do.”
Within 30 days, we had a commitment for 3 and a half million dollars to go out and hire staff, and we hired people, would pulled right out of the gangs, right off the street. We hired 10 guys equipped them with a van, while they could ride around the community that they lived in and they solve problems or what have you and they could assist. We cut the homicide rate in 1 year from 156 to 49, and that's because the guys had credibility who were out there saying we don't need to do this. It took us a long time to do the training and what have you, because we had, we started off, saying we going to have dialogue between these kids from the war and gangs, that we brought them into the Y. Fight broke out in the Y they destroyed a room in the Y and everybody was saying, “Oh we don't want those kids in this building don't bring them here ever again.” I said no, no, we're going to continue to do this until we find out what the answer is to these kids hating each other in this fashion because it doesn't have to be this way. After we reduced the homicides, the Foundation Community and its ultimate wisdom as a group said, "You guys have got the job done and we don't need to give you this money anymore," so we have to reduce the size of the program, fortunately for the next two; three years things look quiet the stayed sort of quiet.
But now, now 10 years later it has flared up again and I think it's worse than ever and nobody is doing anything about it, and that is sad I feel so bad about that whole thing, but that was a very significant thing that we did.
You know when I first went to Jacksonville and this is not some wive's tale, the city of Jacksonville was in the process the same week I went, of integrating the public pools. The rumor was, on the street, it was later proven to be true. I hesitate to say it, but I am going to say it anyway, because it was out there, that the mayor's office, somebody on the mayor's staff, went to hardware stores and bought barrels of axe handles, found a lot of hoodlums, Caucasian hoodlums brought them to each of the public pools, put the barrels of axe handles down and said, “We don't want anybody of color coming into this pool, your job is to keep them away.” That happened, it did actually happen and that's the kind of stuff that you have deal within southern cities at that time. And when I got to Nashville it was not significantly different attitudinally, but they integrated schools 1968.
Nashville was integrated in 1968. When they integrated schools and the interesting thing about Nashville, that’s what I said, they guy who was my boss Brunson, all kinds of respect for him. The YMCA was already running integrated programs. Especially the sports leagues, black kids were playing white kids, and we had no problem and it was especially true in a large football program that we ran. So we were ahead of the game because of, someone’s desire to treat human beings as human beings. So all those things were significant and I am sure that if I sat down and thought about it they were all kinds of stuff that happened during my early years in the Y and throughout them all, and thrived on challenges that people said you can't do nothing about. That was my thing.
We introduced in the city of Nashville, dialogue groups, it was at the height of the riots, that were taking place across the country 1968, 69, 70. And we brought together integrated groups of adults, from all across the city and we had many of these groups. We had to depend on friends talking people in going into somebody's house and sitting down just to talk about issues, that stirred human beings, and I think that at that time that day it was one of the most positive impacts of anything. I've ever been a part of because, I can recall being in the city of Nashville and walking down the street me, a colleague of mine, and we were both black, and there was a husband and wife and teen Caucasian and they grabbed us to link arms to say we wanted the city to see that this there is some sane people in it. We walked several blocks arm in arm just down the streets so both to see, but that was the kind of thing that got produced from the dialogue groups.
I was in sitting in Pittsburgh, oh, I had retired, this was 4 - 5 years ago and I got a call from someone saying, “Are you near in the neighbor community” I said, yeah only right across the river from there. “Can we get together for lunch,” he said, “You don't know who this is? This is Don,” I said, Don who? He said, “Hey we used to spend a lot of time together talking to each other in Nashville.” Then it dawned on me on who it was. He was living in Florida, he was visiting his daughter who was living in Nashville, I mean in Pittsburgh, and wanted to get together for lunch and talk about old times.
So he and his wife and I, and a couple of other people who had been involved in stuff that we had done over the years, we got together and had the greatest time we've ever seen. Stuff like that happen. It just doesn't, I don't know I, can’t say that doesn't happen anymore, but the worst blight in my opinion on this country was segregation and southern states had been involved in that from three weeks after the civil war, I even can say three weeks I am going to give three weeks cool off a little bit if there is more.
It was something that was always just sort of hanging there, and you were trying to find solutions to why it is so and why can't we correct some of these stupid stuff that's going on, and a large part of my career was spent doing that kind of stuff, even getting to Pittsburgh. Attitudes were, to some extent, among people in that town that you had two different communities, one black and one white, and never the twain should meet. Over the years, I think while I worked at trying to ease some of that stupidity, and I think it made great progress in doing that. I could see 39 years and 9 months somewhere along the way, I always got myself involved in trying to do something about that human condition, which made no sense to anybody especially from my side. You know. So, those were the issues and the things that happened.
It was an interesting thing you do, it’s hard to explain if you are not there. When I went to Jacksonville, the school system, you had the black schools and you had white schools, my little branch, two man staff, a secretary and that was it. One part-time employee who was essentially the bus driver for day camp during the summer and other stuff we needed to do. We served no matter where it was located geographically all the schools that had black students, and so called majority wise served all the other kids. And in the city of Nashville you have one branch in Jacksonville you have one branch that did that for the black kids, and you had seven or eight branches that are there for the rest of kids in the community. That to me, I look back at that and I find that unforgivable even in me and I at this stage in my life, I think that was horrible, it was horrible. So that kind of stuff haunts you and stays with you it doesn't go anyplace.
So in all your years you mention approaching that you done something tell me about a mentor you had in Y or mentors you had and how that person or people influenced you?
I had a lot of them. One guy who is now dead, was a friend of mine, who did things and we spent a lot of times together either by telephone or in person. I was in Nashville primarily and in subsequently in DC. This guy was on staff in Chicago his name was Jim Gleason, he was very good and a great friend of mine. I learned a lot from Jim about human beings, about the organization and about you as a person. If you know something, and you know that you are right, you need to stick with that something and not be talked out of it , and make certain other people to understand that, that's what you believe and you believe it’s right because these conditions that you can support it with. Gleason was one of the biggest influencers who I had in my life.
Another guy who is no longer alive, a guy named Dunbar Reed. I don’t know if you know the name and I know a lot of people would, Dunbar died several years ago. The National YMCA at the time when I came into the YMCA, Dunbar was on the south east region staff. I hate to keep going back to this. His job was responsible as a consultant for relating to every black YMCA in the south east, and I am not talking about the independent black YMCA. I am talking about branches you know it will spread all over the entire south east region Dunbar Reed was a tremendous influence on me. He is the guy who got me to Nashville. Because, I went to Nashville the first time and was interviewed they offered me the job and I turned it down and I told him I turned it down because it didn't meet my expectation, he said, “Well it is a good opportunity for you and I won't talk to Ralph and I am going to ask him to call you again, and I want you to go back and talk to them again” and he did. I went back and took the job.
He played a great role in my going to Pittsburgh. He said to me, ”Listen you've been around long enough to know where some of the dogs are, I mean in the bad YMCAs” and I said, “Yeah I know where some of the dogs are”' so I am going to tell you this one is a greyhound this is one of the greatest and strongest Y's in the country’” I said, “But Dunbar, I keep hearing about how conservative this town is and how conservative the board is they never going to hire a black guy.” He said,” Go and interview and do your best and see what happens.”
So I went in the interview, the guy who was consulting the interview team from the board, was named Walter Whirl. Walter was a region executive in the east field and Walt was the consultant. So I got back to Pittsburgh after my interview I got home about 7-8 or 9 pm. I got this phone call at home in Washington saying, “Man Get yourself ready, you got to get back to Nashville tomorrow.” Those guys are going to call you if they want you to come, because I am telling you I think the way they are talking they are going to offer you that job and that would be the greatest breakthrough that could happen for anybody black in this country.
At the moment, because Bob Wilson was the first black guy to run YMCA as a CEO. A multi-unit YMCA, Bob died two years ago, good guy, great guy, former Harlem Globetrotter he played with the Globetrotters a number of years. Was a senior associate for the Dayton Ohio Y and was hired from there to go to Newark. My boss was Tom Hargrave in Washington DC. Well you know honestly Bob was one Tom was two, I would have been the third guy.
Unfortunately, everybody always said well Newark is a black town, and Washington is black and which is a bunch of bull, but that's beside the point. Pittsburgh wants to be a city so because of Dunbar Reed and Walt, well I ended up in Pittsburgh but I had many mentors along the way I learned a lot.
The guy that I learned the most from, about human beings, was Ralph Brunson in Nashville. One of the biggest criticisms that you heard in the city of Nashville, when I first went there was the most segregated hour in the city of Nashville is between 11:00 and 12:00 pm on Sunday morning when people go to church. Brunson called me into his office one day and said, “Look, I want you to go to church with me Sunday.” I said, “What?” he said, “Yeah I want you to go to church with me on Sunday.” He said, “Here's where we will meet, there is coffee shop and his wife's name Willie Belle and I will take you to church with us.” I went to Brunson's church. I was probably the first person of color to go to his church. That guy had guts like you would not believe, I learned a lot from that.
So much so that I had a guy tell me one time, when I went to Nashville, they have a private club there, that is almost nationally famous, and I got invited to a meeting and the guy said the meeting is going to be at Ducane club. One of my staff guys who lived there his whole life growing up, said, “You know, I am going in and out of Ducane club before many, many years, I have never seen a person of color in there.” He said, and he told me this after the event, he wanted to see how I would act when I go in there and you knew this I did know that? He said, “You went in there, hell you acted like you owned the place.” I said, “There was no body in there better than me, so what the hell am I supposed to do?”
I learned that from Brunson and he used to say all the time, “there is no other, better than you.” You look at them, the skin may be a different color but you know just as much as you do and I had an opportunity to use that the other day I laugh so much about it, It was so funny, I shared this with a guy I am coaching right now and I told him he needs to get out of his four walls and get out there. Let people know he is there.
I was in a Verizon store here. I went in there because I am having trouble with my iPad and I asked the guys they could probably correct the problem for me. The guy who was in charge apparently, a huge guy got to be 250 pound black guy came over to me and said, “What you need is new iPad, why don’t you go over there, and pick a color.” I said “What kind do you have over there.” I said mine is an Apple, he said, “No, no, no, we have Verizon iPads.” Listen to me, let me tell you something, and everybody in there heard me, and there were 15 people in there, I said, “I have an iPad, I just want to find what the problem is with it. But you’ve got to understand something, I understand you got to play the company line, but you have to understand something as do all the other employees in here. This comes down to smarts and I want you to know something right this minute I am the smartest guy in this store, I am not changing my iPad, if you can't fix it tell me and I will just get in my car and leave.” He just laughed and said, “Man I really appreciate that.”
Well that's the way I feel about most things you know, there is nobody smarter in my opinion, that's not bragging, but you can't run a game on me when we are that stupidity and I learned that from Nashville, I really, really, did.
Julius, what does the YMCA mean to you?
It provides the opportunity for people to be helpful to people who don't even know they need help, and you and the organization can remain anonymous you don't have to get in the spot light, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you made a difference and used the Y to do that, because the Y has the ability to do that, and that's what it meant to me all of the years I ever worked for it. And it still means that to this day.
So if I could gather up all the Y leadership and CEOs and board chairs, and gather them all you had a chance to say one thing to them, or talk about something what would you, what advice, what would you share with YMCA leaders across the country?
We have, we, I’m talking organizationally now. We have a history of from 1844 when George Williams founded this thing in London of being in the business of reaching out and assisting in positive ways, the less fortunate the downtrodden and we have done that better, than any other organization in this country, I don't care what organization you name we've done it better, and we've done more of it. We need to do one more thing, rededicate ourselves to doing that. We are not a spa, we spend years saying we got to go the fitness route because that's where the money is.
Funny thing happened, when we went that route and the money was supposed to be there we lost donors who had been giving money to the YMCA for years and years and years, because we were working with kids and young people in the families and that kind of a thing, not the muscle builder whose got to go down and clean and jerk 250 pounds, you it’s just not what this is all about. Think about the mission we’ve made the greatest impact internationally of any organization that's in existence to date. Over the last several years we haven't quit it, but we have backed off a little bit we need to get back to that in say we can influence positively the rest of the world. Because the funny thing is, when you go inside these countries and you stay away from these so called elected officials, who are running some of these countries and go to the people, they think that the American's are the greatest thing that ever came down the pike. That the Americans can make anything happen and trust me Americans can make anything happen and you got the proper vehicle to make it happen through, right here in the YMCA, that's what I would tell them, and let’s get about the business of doing that.
So, Julius is there anything I have not asked you today that you would like to share some final thoughts or?
No you know, except for the fact that I have had, I think some of the greatest opportunities in the world this is not in the Y opportunities and experience things, and so on and so forth. This in no way is aggrandizement or self-promotion or anything like that. But along the way in my career to I told you I served on the Retirement Fund board for 12 years.
I was Chairman at the time it was the thing to do for the urban group for several years, that was a marvelous organization. Put together by guys like John Danielson and Henry Labatte out of Canada and Helbart Niklos out of Germany, out of the world council meeting that took place. CEOs of YMCAs came together from the 100 largest YMCAs, and they put together an organization called, The World Urban Network. They recognized even though there were language barriers between some of them, that the problems that you have in cities are the same problems you have everywhere, no matter what the country, no matter what part of the world, it's the same problems. You got pollution, you got youth crime, you got prostitution, you got all of that kind of stuff. They came together and said, if we start the pool on mutual resources and share our thinking the positive thinking and say these things that are working here for us, you can apply this to some place in South America and use it in the same way. That to me was one of the best organization that ever formed, I chaired the World Urban Network for two terms which was for 6 years, and I enjoyed that I learned an awful lot about the world and about the human condition around the world.
So, I’ve had great opportunities in these movement I think, I probably grew more than I would have as a normal thing in life from the experiences I had of those are the kinds of things that happened and I was exposed to some great and marvelous people. Harold Smith, John Preis, different presidents and I say different because I knew different ones at Springfield College. One of the best experiences I had in my life was John Casey, who lives in Chicago now, from number of years. John is ill, and I’m so sad about that, but anyway, years ago the National YMCA, YMCA of the USA, decided to decentralize its international work and as local YMCA is to contract with them to serve internationally certain parts of the globe.
St Louis had Latin America; Cleveland had Europe and Eastern Europe, California, San Francisco had Asia and we had Africa. We being Pittsburgh, we opted to take on Africa. John Casey called me one day and he said, “Look, they had just had the famous drought of the 80s, when so many people died and so many crops failed and so many other kinds of stuff happened.”
Casey called me, we had just signed the agreement to do that. “Look we can do something together and we can help the problem in Africa.” I said, “Okay, what do you have in mind?” He said, “Why don't we challenge the Y, to raise 5 million dollars from within the Y, having each Y, big Ys commit 50 to 100 thousand or 200 thousand whatever the number was, we get it up to that amount, we raise that money” and we took that money and we throughout Africa spent that money to better the situation with people in Africa. We did that, in addition to that, we still had some of that money. African Leadership, CEOs of African YMCAs, unlike the US, the CEO for the Kenya Y, was the CEO for the YMCA in Kenya, not in Nairobi, in Kenya the whole country of Kenya, same thing with Uganda, same thing with all African Countries.
We have in this country in a state like Atlanta you got 4, 5 major YMCAs for 4, 5 CEOs. I went to Africa 3 times in the early 90s and I always ask the CEOs what was the biggest problem they had in their country as professionals and they would say to me without hesitation, the majority of the organizations in Africa have people who lead them as CEOs, who have college educations, and as a result they get paid better than we do. Civil servants who work for the government in high ranking positions have college degrees they get paid better than we do.
So, when I came back, I went to Springfield College and I asked the people at Springfield what could we do to educate 10 African CEOs, get them a college degree, which they earn, not give it to them as a gift, we brought ten guys over here and they did a 6 in 6, 6 months here on the campus at Springfield, and then go back and do it using computers to, take the classes and so on every one of them we got degrees here, every one of them, they went back and made a difference across the continent and how the Y was perceived in terms of its leadership. Those were the kinds of things that I got a chance to be a part of. I loved every second of it. It was great, I wouldn't have gotten it any place else.
Well Julius that's tremendous, tremendous career, tremendous insight and I just want to thank you for taking time out today to talk with me on the behalf of the YMCA archives.
Thank you for coming and I hope that is helpful, I hope it is.