Bernell Jones has a gift.
He raised a son as a single father. In 1990, he began mentoring an orphan boy who to this day calls him “Dad” and since retiring from Livingstone College in Salisbury in 2007 he’s worked as an Exceptional Children instructional assistant in the Durham Public Schools system.
“You’ve got to show love for them, really,” Jones said. “Love is the key type of thing to me.”
Jones has a gift for guiding, teaching and raising children — many of them plagued by troubles and pain.
“He’s an exceptional encourager,” said Lucas Middle School Exceptional Children teacher Cheryl Smith. “He’s a father figure to many, many of the children in my classroom.”
The 75-year-old Jones came into the world on Jan. 7, 1942 a month to the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and in 1973 his biological son De’Shaun, now 44, was born.
De’Shaun lived with his mother in Winston-Salem until the age of 7 when his father took sole custody.
“It’s not that my mother wasn’t in my life anymore,” De’Shaun Jones said. “It was, at that point in time, when I needed a better role model. At that point, I needed a strong, male, positive role model to raise me.
“He’s a great, great man. The structure he gave me. For a young, black male to a have a strong, financially stable father figure, who is also educated … I believe my life’s trajectory would’ve been vastly different without him.”
Bernell Jones received a Ph.D. in education from Southern Illinois University and drove the notion that education was the key to success into his son’s psyche.
Bernell Jones was working as an administrator at N.C. Central University when his son started at Rogers-Herr Middle School and school wasn’t easy for De’Shaun. The rigid, daily school schedule hammered against his young disposition. The young man’s energy was more conducive to athletics and attention was focused on football and basketball.
So, Bernell Jones secured his son a position as NCCU’s basketball and football teams’ water boy.
“Always being on, spending so much time on, a predominantly black college campus allowed me to see the students,” De’Shaun said. “To be around students doing things that, one day, I might do too. That I could do too.”
In 1982, he met his future wife, Betty at a dance, married her and was transformed into a stepfather of four stepchildren. Therefore a lot of young people were in Bernell Jones’ life when a Salisbury school principal told him in 1990 about a young man in desperate need of guidance. He said, “Send him to me.”
Bernell Jones met the recently orphaned David Leon Simpson, then 9, whose mother had died in 1989 of breast cancer and whose father, six months later, was killed by his own brother — Leon’s uncle.
Jones pushed Simpson hard, teaching him to focus on the positives and not the negatives in his life. He pushed him into after-school programs and sports. Just as he had with his biological son, Jones secured Simpson the position of water boy for Livingstone’s football and basketball teams.
“The staff at Livingstone knew me as Dr. Jones’ son, not just somebody he was mentoring,” Simpson said. “He helped me with my homework and got me to school.
“He was somebody I talked to — somebody who didn’t embarrass me.”
Simpson, now 36, is a father of three children of his own, and still talks to Bernell Jones multiple times a week — “if not every day,” he said —and passes the lessons he learn from his “Dad” to his own children.
De’Shaun Jones now lives in Houston and makes a living doing exactly “what it is that” he “wants to do” which can be a rare commodity.
“I watch sports and run video equipment almost every night of the week,” De’Shaun Jones said.
He works as a self-described injury video sports technician for sports teams, including the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association and various National Football League and college and university teams in Houston.
“He made sure I knew that going to college was essential to getting to the next point in life,” De’Shaun Jones said.
The son “Thanks God” for his father.