There are dads, granddads, adoptive dads, dads who take on that critical role for kids who are not their own, and men who put forth the effort to fill the needs they see in their communities.
Melvin Jones is all of these in one. His paternal influence has affected the lives of those closest to him, of course, but also the lives of many people who’ve never even heard his name. At least, not until now.
“In my view, you don’t rush off looking for mountains to climb and glorious outcomes for particular events. You start wherever you are,” he said. “There’s plenty of work to do, wherever you are, right in front of you. So you start there.”
It’s a belief that for him is based in faith, and a mandate to take care of one another.
“The very beginning of that is when you’re a child, and your father or mother takes care of you; and then you pass that on when you become an adult and have children, and you take care of them,” he said.
“And from there it spreads to all manner of fatherhood, whether it be a community, an organization, a person — we take care of one another. And you do that where you are.”
Even if that means working on Father’s Day to pull off a major fundraiser designed to benefit the community.
Jones began his journey toward this sort of community fatherhood in the usual way. First, he became a father himself, to a daughter. Then he became an adoptive father to a son and daughter.
It was daunting at times.
“[Fatherhood is] the most important work you can do this side of heaven, and there’s no manual, no instruction book,” he said.
Back then, he relied on the lessons learned from his own father, Charlie Jones.
“My dad was a great dad,” he said. “He had a third-grade education. He could write his name, he could read the things he needed to read.”
Through jobs in manual labor, Charlie Jones worked hard — hard enough to help send all five of his children to college — and quietly set the example Jones would follow.
“He showed me how it’s done, the kind of self-sacrifice that’s required,” Jones said. “He really had very little, but he gave everything he had, all in an effort to provide for his children. And that’s what I learned at an early age.”
Looking back, he said, he might have been a little too focused on that one aspect of fatherhood.
“You’re better equipped to be a father when you’re older,” he said. “I was preoccupied with feeding and providing, and wish I’d just enjoyed them more.”
He did well enough to rise through the ranks at Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, eventually becoming the vice president for business and finance and later special assistant to the president at West Virginia State University.
Along the way, he found time to volunteer with Kappa Alpha Psi, his college fraternity, and to sit on a number of area boards including YWCA, KISRA, CAMC, Ferguson Baptist Church and the Clay Center.
As chairman of the board for the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, he attended a conference a few years ago that sparked an idea for a way to do even more.
“There was a session on giving circles, a circle of people who give money, pool it together and then look for opportunities to make a difference in their communities. I thought that was something that could work here,” he said.
African American Philanthropy in Action was born in 2014, with a focus on providing the “last money in” for small nonprofits working to impact education, art and culture and economic development, primarily, but not exclusively on Charleston’s West Side. The groups they work with serve children and families — and, sometimes, kids whose own fathers aren’t around much.
Jones is unofficially known as the father of AAPA.
“We have fewer fathers than we need — both the African-American community and the community around in general — and there are a plethora of reasons for that,” he said.
“We have an opioid crisis, and many of the people who have become biological fathers can’t even support themselves and take care of themselves, let alone a child. We have a crime problem, and an employment problem,” he said.
Those things can feed off of each other, and any one of them can cause a father to be absent.
“If he’s in jail, if he’s addicted, he cannot fulfill his duties to be an active, participating father for that family,” Jones said.
Fatherhood impacts all of that, he added.
When a father is absent from a child’s life, the likelihood of a child being drawn into crime, poverty or substance abuse goes way up, he said, “because if you don’t see hope, you might look for it in a bottle or a syringe or a pill, or some other way.”
AAPA makes relatively small grants designed to have big impact — to put a struggling organization over the top, and provide the funds they need to make a difference.
This weekend’s Jazz & Jambalaya gathering — a combination cooking demo, dinner and concert — will help fund those needs.
“It’s our major fundraiser that allows us to do even more, to provide grants to those 501(c)3s that are in the trenches every day doing the work,” he said.
“And these are some really heroic people. They live and breathe their organizations and the projects they foster in those organizations, and they love what they do.”
To Jones, it’s all about fatherhood, providing for the needs of his family — and his community.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the community boards on which Jones has served.