BJ Jones: On Call

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BJ Jones

“The Equalizer” is a new (revamped) show about a person you can turn to when you need help and don’t feel comfortable contacting the police. Here in Philly we have a whole team ready to help you in times of need. The LGBT Police Liaison Committee  serves as a resource for members of the community who are victims of crimes and are fearful to call the police. Committee members can help people decide whether to contact the police, walk them through the process, arrange for statements to be taken at another location besides a police station or take a statement and provide it to police themselves and an array of other services. They act as a buffer between the community and the police if needed and also work with the police to provide training and education. This week we spoke to one of the co-chairs of this important group, Philadelphia native BJ Jones.

How would your mom describe you?

[Bursts into laughter] I was not prepared for that opening! Oh gosh… Unique. Very unique. It would depend on the time of day and what story she was telling if that’s a good or bad thing. Good question. I’m her first born, the oldest of the kids. She had me when she and my father were both 18. They graduated from Strawberry Mansion high school, entered Temple and had me! Ta da! 

The oldest out of how many?

11! 

My goodness gracious! That’s unusual these days.

Well, I’m the only child between my mom and dad, then they split and my mom had 5 kids with her current husband, my stepfather, and my dad did the same thing. I’m the golden one in the middle that brings the family together! 

What were you like?

Very sociable. I got in trouble for that a lot. I’d get those pink slips from my teachers saying, “We love his energy but he’s just too social! He likes to communicate with people – a lot. It can be disrupting to the class.” I think of it as an amazing thing to be able to socialize and network with everyone, with people from all walks of life but they didn’t always agree! I should go back and tell those teachers they were incorrect, it was an asset, not a liability! 

What kinds of extracurricular things were you into?

I practiced Taekwondo, I played football, a little bit of swimming, and I played tennis, so I was pretty athletic. I was always very active. 

Football, my favorite sport, what position did you play?

It was short lived, I only played a half a season but I was a running back.

What was your greatest sports moment?

In Taekwondo I was able to reach the blackbelt level, and they had a big ceremony in St. Joes basketball arena. It was back when they first built it so it was really exciting.

So if someone jumped you, could you pull out some of those old Taekwondo moves?

Anyone born and raised in Philly knows how to fight, martial arts or not. They say Ford tough? Well, we’re Philly tough, so yeah. 

Especially this year, we’ve had to be Philly Tough with the escalation in violence.

Yeah, people are always asking, “You still live there?”

I grew up in the suburbs on the Main Line and was astonished at how many people had NEVER been to Philadelphia. They lived 20 minutes from a major city and were too afraid to go in.

Yeah, a lot of people feel like that, and I’d be like, “It’s fine! I just went to the corner store for some ice cream.” 

What’s a fun family memory or tradition?

Precovid, we would all get together in person about 4 times a year. No matter what you were doing, or where in the country you lived, we’d get together. Gathering, meeting, talking, kumbaya and all that stuff. I loved that. You can talk on the phone, but there’s something about being there and looking each other in the eyes. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again soon. 

Fingers crossed. Who’s the funniest in the family?

They all are, that’s why it’s such a good time when we get together! It’s a Comedy Central type of thing. Pure entertainment! I love bringing friends to family gatherings, they’re like, “There’s something wrong with this family! Y’all are too funny!” Your cheeks always hurt from laughing too much at Jones family reunions!  

Where did you go to school?

I got my associate’s degree in business administration at Strayer University, and I’m a couple of semesters from getting my Bachelor’s degree in marketing. I think that’ll be it for right now. I’m thinking about going to grad school for public policy and administration, but I want to take some time off first. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure that out! There are so many options! It seems like every year it changes. I love that my life is constantly evolving. Through all my networking and connections, there always seem to be opportunities that just come to me and say, “Hey, check me out.” 

What are some of the jobs you’ve had?

I was the retail manager for Wawa for a couple of years. From there I went to Boston Market where I was an area supervisor for catering, and sales and operations. I had the Philly, South Jersey and Northern Delaware areas and then did acquisitions for 7/11. 

That meant I helped corporate stores that were turning into franchises and franchisees that were reverting back to corporate. I could wake up in North Jersey, be in Delaware by the afternoon and spend the night in Lancaster. After a while it got to be too much. It was fun and paid well but I needed to make a change. I got a job with Home Depot. They were just launching a “Buy online, pickup in-store” push and it was a relatively new concept back then. Since I had experience with that from Boston Market — the catering department was mostly online ordering — I became one of the pilot managers for the Philadelphia region at Home Depot. I helped roll out and was in charge of the logistics for the region. I was with them for 6 years until I left and started my own business.

Congrats, tell me about that?

It’s a property management firm. And that’s where I’m at now! I’ve had some amazing opportunities mostly just from talking to people and making connections.

How did you get involved in the Police Liaison Committee?

I’ve known Deja Lynn Alvarez for a lifetime and she introduced me to Franny Price who was the chairperson at the time. They invited me to be part of the committee and then when Franny retired, the committee selected me and Deja to be co-chairs and here we are. 

For someone not familiar, what does the committee do? 

We are a community based organization that advises and works very closely with the members of the police force like the Deputy Commissioner and other leaders. We help the police department to improve their interactions with the LGBTQ+ community and provide sensitivity training. We also act as a buffer between the police force and the community. The LGBTQ community has not always had the best relationship with the police department, so if something happens, we can act as a “comfort place” to kickstart the process of reporting a crime. Or even act as a safe place for someone who has committed a crime and wants to turn themselves in. We try to bridge the gap and make the interactions as positive as possible no matter what the circumstances. People who’ve found themselves in adverse circumstances have found relief in being able to use us to mediate the situations. Because of past trauma, not all community groups are waiting with open arms to welcome police outreach, so we try to mediate there as well and bring everyone to the table. 

How directly involved do you get with people and which case was most emotional for you?

We get directly involved. We are right there whether it’s a homicide, robbery or just a nuisance problem. The most emotional are whenever any of our trans sisters are hurt or killed. One person was someone who I’d grown up with, so her murder was especially difficult for me. 

Can you share who it was?

I’d rather not, out of respect for her family. Also, we are very guarded about privacy. Even though the person’s name may already be public, we aren’t going to share it or talk about specifics.

I understand completely.

Thank you. A lot of time we are approached by the press and they want to know the details, especially when something tragic occurs, and they can get pretty aggressive about it. But we are approved through the law department and are one of the few committees with confidentiality clauses, which shows you the weight of the committee and how seriously we take our commitment to the people we serve. They’re real people, not just headlines, and [they] deserve our respect. 

What’s most empowering about the work you do? 

Bringing the work to communities that haven’t been served in the past. Before I got here, a lot of people that look like me thought the committee was mainly for white people that lived in Rittenhouse Square or the Gayborhood. There was no outreach by the police or us to West or North Philly, to the Northeast or South Philly, to say “Hey, we are here, we are around to help you. Come to us if you have any problems or issues.” Now we’re known everywhere. People know they can call us and we’ll be there to help you out. To help mitigate a situation or explain the process or make sure that you’re not re-victimized when you go to the police. So for me to give communities of color a voice and to demand that PPD has a standard of respect, including proper language and gender pronouns when dealing with the community, things that they’ve now begun to implement, has been empowering.

So let’s get back to your personal story. When did you come out?

I was a teenager, at my high school. People didn’t seem to care who was what. I didn’t see anyone being bullied for being LGBT, it was more like, “Hey you get in where you fit it.” So it was more of a celebration for me. 

Who was your first boyfriend?

Oh, it was many moons ago, I met him at Woody’s when they had teen nights, so that’s how long ago it was! He was a dancer at Woody’s and 12th Air Command. They played a Britney Spears and Shakira song and I was like, “Oh my God!” We were together for 6 years and it was a lot of fun. 

Are you allergic to anything?

I’m lactose intolerant if that counts. But, I can’t help myself, if I pass an ice-cream shop I will go in, indulge and pay the price later! When I was a kid, it was strawberry ice-cream that was my weakness, now it’s French Vanilla that gets me, unless I’m feeling wild then it’s Rocky Road, Bottom of the Kitchen Sink or Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake. I shouldn’t even know the names of these, never mind eat them! 

Ever have a paranormal experience?

I believe in the unseen, yes. I believe in ghosts or spirits, all that. 

Any phobias?

Rodents! And I live in Philly right? If I encountered a mouse close up, I’d probably turn into ghost and be my own paranormal experience!  

Have you been featured in a parade?

No, I’ve been to the parades here in Philly and in Toronto, but I haven’t been in one. As social as I am, I’m not really good with big crowds, I get a little bit claustrophobic. It’s crazy, I start to sweat a little if there are too many people around. 

When did you open your first bank account?

When I was 18, I had my first job at Blockbuster Video in Lansdowne. I opened my first checking account and it was exciting. I was like, “Hold up everyone, I’m depositing, my Block Buster Video check. I’m an adult now! ” It’s funny, it was First Union at the time, then Wachovia and now Wells Fargo and I’m still with them! 

What was the craziest thing that happened at Blockbuster? That must have been a fun place…

It really was. Craziest thing? People used to mistakenly put porn videos in the wrong cases and I’d have to call them and say, “Um, I think you still have our copy of “Home Alone” because we seem to have one of your tapes…” It was embarrassing when they’d rush over to make the switch. 

Did you ever have parents calling you and saying, “Uh, we thought we were renting Home Alone but…”

Yes! Yes! That was crazy too. And I was the assistant manager in the store. It was cool, I was in high school and I had a job making $7.25 an hour. I was Big Man on Campus!

What’s the first LGBT movie you saw?

Well, not a movie, but “Will & Grace” was the first LGBT thing I saw. We used to watch it regularly because it was funny as hell. 

Favorite movie of any kind?

“Kill Bill”, anything from Quentin Tarantino, and the John Wick films with Keanu Reeves. I’ve watched every one so far and will watch every one they make. The next one is four, but I’ll watch John Wick 11 when he’s 70 and in a walker! Same thing for Kill Bill. Quentin Tarantino, you have my ticket money already, when’s the next film? 

Favorite Quote?

Advice from my uncle Ramone Jones. When I was complaining about things being hard, having to cope with life, while going to school and dealing with community affairs, he said, “Nothing worthwhile or successful comes easy.” I tell it to all my friends when they’re having a hard time because it’s so true.  And whenever the going gets rough I remember that. I want it on my tombstone!

For more information on the Philly LGBT Police Liaison Committee, visit their Facebook page.