|The National Institute for Restorative Justice
"Educating for Advocacy"
|1464 East 105 Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
|Mittie's Musings: A Message From The Chair
|"Every great dream begins with a dreamer.
Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience,
and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
Harriett Ross Tubman
|Renewing Inalienable Rights, Rebuilding Communal Confidence, Re-energizing Sustainable Economy, Reviving Unbridled Spirit
| The story of Laurence Jones, his wife Grace Allen Jones, and the brave youth, men
and women who succeeded against all odds - including threat of life and limb - is one
that must be told again and again. It is the story of a young man who recognized that the privilege of his education could not be
for his sake alone. For Jones, this realization became crystal clear during the commencement services for the University of
Iowa Class of 1907, a class of which he was the only African American. He later wrote that during the speaker's address, the
significance and challenge of "Noblesse Oblige” was raised. The notion resonated in Jones heart.
Nobility Obliges. The French origin of the term refers to the obligation of the wealthy and privileged nobility to help those of
less fortune. A Noble Obligation. Or, in the words of one of my favorite sermons by Reverend William B. McClain, "Much
Obliged." Our children may not hear that saying these days, but at sixty I can assure you that I heard it echoed often by the
elders of my youth. When much has been given, you "ought to be grateful," surely enough to feel obligated to give in return.
"Much Obliged." "Noblesse Oblige."
So, with his noble obligation, his $1.65, his diploma, his Bible, and a clean white shirt, he began his school with one student; a
sixteen year old boy who could neither read nor write. For his desk, a tree stump, his bench, a fallen log - both granted on the
land of a former slave in the back woods of Mississippi. Ed Taylor, the freed black owner of that land, would later deed Jones
the first 40 acres for his school. Log by log, brick by brick, Jones, his students - young and old - and every black man, woman
and child in those back woods would build every building with their own hands. Storms would come - literally - and tear them
down. But this mighty people, unfettered by fear or misfortune, would persevere, until Piney Woods Country Life School would
come fully into being.
Along the way, others would engage the campaign. African-Americans from surrounding counties and beyond, Anglo Iowans
who learned of their native son's efforts, even Anglo sympathizers right there in the racist deep woods delta south. Indeed, it is
told that the very mob that corralled to lynch him in 1918, freed him after hearing out his story, and subsequently contributed to
Nearly a half century into his journey, an incredible blessing came. On December 15, 1954 Laurence Jones was featured on
Ralph Edward's popular television show, "This Is Your Life." After sharing Jones story, Edwards appealed to the watching
audience to send at least $1.00 to the Piney Woods School. The outpouring was so overwhelming, that the post office had to
set up a sub-station to handle the mail. Within days, Piney Woods received enough money to seed it's endowment, $700,000.00.
Today, The Piney Woods School has an endowment of over $7 million, and sits on 2,000 acres which along with it's academic,
communal and residential buildings includes a 500 acre Instructional Farm, five lakes, managed timberland, and Mississippi's
only rock garden Amphitheater. It is one of only four accredited African American boarding schools in the United States, and
was ranked amongst the top ten boarding schools by US News & World Report. Its enrollment comes from all over the nation,
and from abroad, and 98% of it's graduates go on to college.
While I've had the great privilege of preaching at Piney Woods, I did not have the good fortune of ever meeting Dr. Jones. He
passed in 1975, nearly ten years before I first set foot on the Piney Woods campus. But from that first stepping - walking the
paths of his footprints, sitting in the clearing where it all began, praying by the graves of Jones and his wife, Grace - I became
filled with his spirit; a spirit of resilient determination, commitment and service. Indeed, he became one of my "Spirit Guides."
In return, I have contributed what I could, when I could to Dr. Jones dream. In the mid 1980's I organized and sponsored
winter term projects for Oberlin College students to volunteer as interns and tutors at Piney Woods; through the 1990's I passed
on "The Pine Torch," recruiting friends and associates to join me in visiting and contributing to the school; I've attended the
school's "Cotton Blossom Singers" tour concerts whenever I find myself nearby.
You see, at my own graduation from high school, the words "Noblesse Oblige" rang clear in our Cleveland East High Alma
Mater song. "Noblesse Oblige, we will live long, always, always true." I got it. Maybe not right away, but over the years, as
with Dr. Jones, the challenge became crystal clear. While I have never been a woman of great wealth in material ways, I have
been abundantly blessed with the foundation of the rich traditions of strong family and faith, an excellent education, and many
talents and skills. And like Laurence Jones, who had more profitable opportunities, I submitted early in my life to my calling and
commitment to render my gifts to the needs and causes of the least of us.
Given nearly a century of inflation, I probably had less than Laurence Jones' $1.65 when I set out to build a bookstore and café
in the heart of our deprived black community ten years ago. It came into being only through the goodwill and confidence of
family and friends. We opened on January 1, 2002 with a mission of "doing good, while doing well." The good, we've done.
No doubt. The well... well, we could do better. Nonetheless, our history reflects a decade of engaging community in critical
and strategic thinking about the circumstances and challenges of our collective lives.
As we approach the first anniversary of The NIRJ as an autonomous entity, we have firmly established our mission to educate
for the purpose of nurturing advocates for social, economic and legal justice. Over the next decade, The Institute roots its focus
in three campaigns: The Municipal and Media Monitoring Movement; Sustainable Community Controlled Development; and
The Eradication of Constitutional Clauses for Slavery and Voter Disenfranchisement. In visiting our web pages you can learn
more about each of these initiatives, and ways in which participate, and contribute to our cause on-line and by mail. I encourage
you to visit The Piney Woods School website as well. A link is provided to your left on this page.
Indeed, it is our hope: that whatever your financial capability, you will feel comfortable in giving, and encouraging your family,
friends and associates to give as well. $1, $10, ten times $10. Whatever your contribution, we are thankful. Who knows,
perhaps you will help "pour out a for us an overflowing blessing," one that is too great for our postal station to handle. It could
Until then, as always, we wish you all the peace, joy and blessings that comes with God's abundant love.
Mittie Imani Jordan
Founder & Chair
|$1.65 And A Noble Obligation
|Photograph by Jeff Ivey