As the background rhythm tape rolls, Chauncey Jones side-shuffles across the stage, rapping out a song for 75 new students attending Spokane Community College.
“Trying to be a good scholar so I can leave this school.
“Yes, I’m the Chauncey Jones you read about on the honor roll.”
The audience this night in the student cafeteria is a little stiff, and Jones looks lost without his regular team of five synchronized backup singers. But he faithfully pumps out the message, hoping it connects with a few.
“I learned my lesson, cuz nowhere waz where I was destined,” Jones sings into a remote microphone strapped across his black cap.
“But now I picked my profession, knowing all the answers on da test questions.”
Jones, a 20-year-old presidential scholar who will graduate this spring, is SCC’s secret weapon for recruiting minority students to the overwhelmingly white campus.
Exiting a deadly path in a ganginfested Los Angeles neighborhood, Jones has become an ambassador for SCC to street-wise kids who would tune out a traditional college recruiter.
Jones volunteers his time to sing to hundreds of high schoolers and prospective college students about the virtues of a getting a college education. His performance has been videotaped and broadcast at national conferences and he hopes to eventually become a professional rap singer or sports broadcaster.
“We should put him on the payroll,” says Denise Osei, multicultural specialist at SCC. “He’s recruited almost as many students as I have.”
Boosting enrollment of minority students, especially those in the 18-21 age range, has always been a challenge for the college, Osei says. But Jones’ influence may be helping.
SCC students of color, who numbered 634 in 1994, the year before Jones arrived, have grown to nearly 750. The number of African Americans has increased from 126 to 152.
“I talk to kids that no one else would, who everyone has given up on,” says Jones, who dances on lugsoled shoes and wears an earring in his left nostril. “Showing love, that’s all a lot of them need.”
Jones hasn’t always been a model student or citizen. In 1994, his mother shipped him to relatives in Spokane to get away from Monrovia, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb where Jones witnessed the murder of a neighbor.
At Lewis and Clark High School, Jones let his grades slip and was arrested for assaulting an officer.
“My ‘hood is no different than yours,” Jones says, echoing a rap line. “Spokane’s got the same things going on as they’re doing in L.A.”
But Jones found security at the Full Gospel Mission for All Nations, where he played the drums for his uncle, the Rev. Jerry “J.J.” Jones.
“I knew he had the skills to achieve his goals in school,” Rev. Jones said. “All he had to do is get it in his heart. I feel he’s going to make it now.”
As a child, Chauncey Jones used to practice songs and speeches in the bathroom mirror. That talent was suppressed over the years as he learned to conform to gang culture.
At 18, Jones fathered a boy, Josiah Malik Jones-Contreras. The newborn jarred Jones into the responsibilities of another ‘hood - adulthood.
“It took a baby boy to bring out the man,” says Jones, who uses that line in one of 20 rap songs he’s written. “I looked into his eyes, and said, ‘Wait a minute, what do you have to offer him?”’
With Osei’s encouragement, Jones enrolled at SCC. Although friends and counselors warned him he’d never succeed, Jones achieved a 3.3 grade point average. He has applied to attend Eastern Washington University in the fall.
Jones, the entertainer, emerged a year ago when he was cast as the innkeeper in the SCC comedy, “Bed Full of Foreigners.” Jones’ performance was one of the highlights.
“Oh, he’s real good,” says Ken Whitehall, president of the Associated Students of SCC. “In the halls, he’s quiet, but when he gets on stage, he comes alive.”
Jones, who has since fathered a second child, has formed his own rap group, B.A.D. (bonded and dedicated) by Association. The group, composed largely of students he has recruited to campus, plans to record a demo tape. They eventually want to take their act on the road.
“I gotta be on TV,” says Jones, who plans to study broadcasting at Eastern.
If he can’t make it as an entertainer, Jones said he’ll become a sports announcer. Imitating Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, Jones practices his play-by-play broadcast in front of the television.
“My career at community college, when I be making dollaz,” Jones raps to his student audience. “It all goez back to cents I made from acquiring powerful knowledge.”
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