When he got the call that there was a shooter at LeFlore Magnet High School Tuesday, Joshua Jones almost couldn't believe it.
"It took a minute for me to register," Jones said. "But then I got up and got my vest and went into police mode."
Jones is the Youth Violence Prevention coordinator with the City of Mobile. He was working on a new program for youth violence prevention at the moment the shooting happened. Any shooting or violent act involving teens in the city hits Jones in a personal way, but on Tuesday, the feeling was even worse.
"I high-tailed it to the school and as soon as I got there, there was an ambulance there, so I knew the scene was secure," he remembered. "Some students recognized me and ran to me."
"One of the young men that was shot, I had recently talked to him and the same group of kids that ran up to me to tell me what happened," said Jones. "I had talked to them outside of the school. At that moment, I couldn't do anything but sulk. I was completely deflated and discouraged all the way around."
Two students were injured in the shooting, and a 16-year-old girl was later arrested and charged as an adult for the crime. But for Jones, the job isn't over.
The Youth Violence Prevention program started in March 2022. The program's first year was the assessment phase, where Jones identified resources and established connections. He realized during that year he had to win the hearts of the community before any program could be implemented because there was no trust.
"For me, it's near and dear to my heart," Jones told 1819 News. "God has purposed me for this. I truly believe that. So, when I took on this burden, I knew what I was getting myself into."
A self-proclaimed "cringey optimist," Jones said he loves people and his community and believes his passion for the at-risk population will translate to success and less violence. Through his own experiences and challenges as a child, Jones said he knows exactly what youth needs to hear. As a child, Jones and his family were homeless for a time after his mother left an abusive relationship.
"As I grew up, I internalized a lot of those feelings," he said. "I began to display severe anger issues and all kinds of acting out based on the community I was surrounded by."
"I can strictly go back to the times where I was written off," he continued. "Specifically, my third-grade teacher told me I was stupid and I was going to go to prison. I remember these things distinctly because a lot of folks wrote me off and they thought I was going to be another statistic."
And statistics are not something Jones likes.
"I only use statistics when I am doing grant writing," he told 1819 News. "I don't like to speak in statistics because statistics can only tell half of the story. I can say we're down in shootings or we're down in this or that but if one person is feeling the brunt of a shooting, that's too much."
During his childhood, Jones said he learned very early that what adults say to kids makes an impact.
"In third-grade when I was told things, I thought, 'I can't learn," he explained. "If I'm stupid, I can't learn. I literally gave up on myself in the third grade."
But it wasn't long before Jones found a passion and, thankfully, was able to re-program himself. Through football and good coaches, Jones was able to gain confidence and shift his mindset. He said when he went to college, his world changed because he continued to play football and track and field.
Sports was a foundation he continued to build upon as he got older. In fact, his resume is impressive.
Jones has previously worked as a child behavior specialist with the Baldwin County Health Department, which helps him in the position he is leading now. Jones joined the Alabama Army National Guard and worked as a police officer for the city of Mobile. Jones also worked as a special agent for three and a half years in the Secret Service.
He said during his time in the military, he learned the importance of winning over the hearts and minds of others. He wants to do just that by connecting to youth on their level.
"It's rare that you will find me in a suit or dress clothes," he explained. "I'm normally in some jeans, a T-shirt, my J's, a ballcap. I wear my earrings; I wear my chains when I'm around because I remember, as a middle schooler and high schooler, when we had guests come speak at the school. When they came in fancy suits and ties, I automatically disassociated myself from them and shut them out because that picture was something that was unattainable to me."
As the Youth Violence Prevention coordinator for the City of Mobile, Jones hopes to give that same transformation to children and teens in the city. The goal is to prevent and reduce youth violence through strategies and programs made possible by community partners and stakeholders.
But that job is a high ask in a large city with a violence problem. Jones said when he responded to LeFlore High School this week, he realized how challenging changing the culture will be.
"It's sad to say that for them, a lot of the kids that I spoke with, there is a level of desensitization," he said. "They are desensitized to a point where they are already on to the next time. To me, that is a trauma response.
"If you are a child growing up in today's society, you are already trauma-rehearsed," Jones continued. "You already recognize that at some time, violence is going to happen so your mind is ready. That right there is absolutely terrifying."
As a "cringey optimist," Jones is confident the reality for children in Mobile will be changed, and their hearts and minds will be touched.
There are multiple programs through Youth Violence Prevention, including Youth Violence Prevention Week, YVP Breakthrough Teens, the Rock the Runway team model program, Whole Family Initiative, YVP Affirmation Project and the WHY Campaign.
For more information, go to the Mobile Youth Violence Prevention website or call 251-208-6384.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
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