Lola Jones chronicles important Ann Arbor stories, past and present
photo courtesy of Lola Jones
Much of her work has focused on true stories—the neglected history of the local African-American community, expressed in various "Another Ann Arbor" projects. But her recent book "Children's Choices" took her in two new directions at once: writing fiction, and writing for a young audience.
"There were stories that hadn't been told, and a lot of the culture of African Americans, from a children's point of view," she said of her inspiration for the book. "There were stories that reflect the background and the culture."
The book collects four short stories geared to children aged 6-12, with some real Ann Arbor locations serving as settings. In each story, the main character faces an important choice of some sort.
"My thought with this book was, children were faced with a decision and they came up with a good choice in each case," Jones said.
"Another Ann Arbor"
But "Children's Choices" is just the latest step in Jones' longtime efforts to tell neglected stories of Ann Arbor.
Originally from Boston, Jones moved to Ann Arbor in 1964 to earn a master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan. She helped work for a local open-housing ordinance and founded the Adult Resource Center for nontraditional students at Washtenaw Community College.
Much of her work has centered on the theme of "Another Ann Arbor," chronicling the community's African American history; she found it to be a neglected subject. Starting in the 1980s Jones produced a local television program under that name, highlighting the contributions of African Americans and also interviewing notable figures like Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
She also produced three documentaries on specific topics, "A Woman's Town" (about the history of black women in Ann Arbor), "A Change Was in the Air" (a local look at the civil-rights movement), and "Take it to the Top" (a motivational work for junior high schoolers). Excerpts from the first two are available online.
"Another Ann Arbor" would eventually move beyond the TV series, becoming an extensive website, anotherannarbor.org. In 2006 Jones and her daughter Carol Gibson, who had been involved in many of the previous efforts, collaborated on a book of the same title. Telling the story of local African-American history and some of its important figures, the book is still available in stores and from Amazon.com.
Jones said her daughter will likely continue the "Another Ann Arbor" projects indefinitely. "I think it will go on for a long time," she said.
Most recently, in collaboration with Jan Collins-Eaglin and the local chapter of The Links Inc., Jones published "Standing Tall, Putting Down Roots," which compiles the stories of 20 local African-American women who strived to improve life in Ann Arbor through projects devoted to education, helping the less fortunate, and so on.
"They all worked in the community to make things better," Jones said.
And she's not done yet. Next up, she plans to write a biography of her husband, Dr. Lee W. Jones. Now retired, he was an important figure at the University of Michigan.
"He was a very early director of minority services at the Dental School and recruited minority students all over the country, and set up a program to orient them," she said.
The stories continue, and thanks to Lola Jones, all of Ann Arbor can learn from them.
"Children's Choices" is available for purchase at Nicola's Books, and for loan at the Ann Arbor District Library.