On January 17th, Concord Academy invited Ron Jones, executive director and artistic principal of Dialogues on Diversity, to speak with the community for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jones is an educator, writer, and social activist who uses improvisation as a tool for self-expression and violence prevention. He has won numerous awards for his work in theatre for social justice, including an Emmy for Best Children’s Programming in 2002. His current company, Dialogues of Diversity, is one of the nation’s premier social justice and diversity awareness theatre programs.
When asked what inspired his passion for social justice, Jones stated, “Growing up, I feel like I lived in two worlds. As black man, I was ostracized by peers and elements of my own family because I didn’t reflect their idea of a black man.” He often did not agree with the perspectives that his family presented to him, which made him realize that the world is more complicated than just “good” and “bad,” black and white. Instead, these experiences brought Jones to understand that people’s experiences often shape their view on the world, and that most individuals often fall somewhere in the grey area in between black and white.
Jones described, “I think that most people are compassionate folks, who want the right thing done, but have no idea how much other people hurt because they aren’t engaging in these issues of social justice.” From his young adult experiences, he realized that most people did not have the language for advocacy in their body. As a result, they do not know how to engage in change, even when the ability to participate is right in front of them.
When asked why he founded Dialogues on Diversity, Jones explained, “I do my work for people who care but don’t know, which makes up around 60 to 65 percent of the population, and try to move them into the know and care.” In this way, Jones believes that real change in the world can be made by making the dominant culture understand the pain of non-dominant culture.
At Dialogues on Diversity, he creates his visionary change through incorporating a unique synthesis of several critical elements within his performances. These include complicating the human story, increasing our humanity by helping others get better, and emphasizing the American story, which was built on a constitution designed to give more dignity to a select group. Jones expressed that, “In order to accomplish this, we need to understand that we need to emotionally and psychologically embrace our better selves. This is an emotional and constitutional mandate that we make to each other.” Through helping people understand the importance of making life about helping others, Jones believes that we can speak the love of basic humanity in a process that exponentially grows.
Finally, Jones also gave some pieces of advice for students who are interested in pursuing future work in social justice. He stated, “Do your deep learning, every issue has an origin. I believe that the calling toward social activism is a way of asking the world asking you to be a societal parent. The joy is in the process, and the winds come when you see change start to flourish and burst.”