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A Visit With Lola Jones: Soul Of The Show

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Soul of the Show: Television producer puts focus on African-American community

By Anne Martino, News Staff Reporter

African-American leaders Jesse Jackson and Dennis Archer have appeared on her non-profit TV show. So have beauticians who discussed the politics of hair.

Since 1984, Ann Arborite Lola Jones has produced "Another Ann Arbor," a half-hour Sunday talk show that focuses on African-American culture, issues and history.

Jones is not the host, but she's the soul of the show, working behind the scenes to create an important and insightful program.

"When we think of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, images of the University of Michigan, the Farmers Market and Depot Town come to mind. But there's also the African-American community, with its own accomplishments and concerns," she says.

Warm, gracious, and tightly focused, Jones lives in a comfortable northeast Ann Arbor home with her husband, Lee, a dentist. They have four grown daughters: Joan, a homemaker; Janet, a physician; Carole, a TV personality, and Karen, a dentist.

"My daughters know more about Afro-American art than I do." Jones says with a grin, surveying several eye-catching paintings in her home.

Lola Jones has lived in Ann Arbor 28 years, but her childhood roots are in Boston and Jamaica. Born in Boston, her father died when she was a child. Her mother took Lola and a brother back to the island to raise them.

Later, Lolal met and married Lee Jones and moved to Michigan. Jamaica is still home for many of her relatives, so she and her husband go back often.

Lola is trained in social work, a field well represented in the tall of wall of books in her home. But it was TV that grabbed her interest in the early 80's, when she and her daughter Carole were watching Ann Arbor's public access television station.

Eager for their own air time, the mother-daughter team sought training at the cable station and soon launched "Another Ann Arbor," with Carole as host. In 1986 the show moved to a local commercial chanNel, now WBSX (channel 16 on Columbia Cable in Ann Arbor). The show airs Sunday at 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Carole Jones, now Carole Gibson, has since worked for TV shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, LateNight America with Dennis Wholey, Both Sides Now, and Detroit Week Review. She has been replaces on "Another Ann Arbor" by Crystal Jones (no relation to Lola), formerly a station secretary. "Crystal has what it takes- some people just do," Lola says.

Jones looks down modestly when asked why she doesn't host the program. "I could never do that," she says. Behind the scenes, she arranges guest appearances.

The lost of figures who have appeared on the show is long. Local people include:

-John Simpson, Ann Arbor schools superintendent

-Ray Tanter, U-M political science professor and former congressional candidate

-Pat Vereen-Dixon, Ann Arbor City Council member

-Eric Santifer, former Huron High School basketball player and now athletic director at Greenhills

-The Rev. Floyd Walls of Ypsilanti, whose family has historic ties to the Canadian portion of the Underground Railroad

-Joseph Dulin, principal of Roberto Clemente Student Development Center

Prominent state and national figures who have appeared on "Another Ann Arbor" include:

-Jesse Jackson, when he was running for president

-Dennis Archer, before he became mayor of Detroit

-Marva Collins, educator

-Susan Taylor, Essence magazine editor

-Charles Wright, founder of the African-American museum in Detroit

On the show, Jones aims to present the untold stories about local African Americans. "In 1984, it was almost as if we were invisible, yet we had a presence in this community from very early on," she says.

Jones doesn't make any money from the show-it's underwritten by the Jim Bradley car dealership; the law firm Hamilton, McDonald, and Simpson; Sarah's Designer Flowers; First of America Bank; Comerica; and the University of Michigan.

Jones clearly finds the show rewarding, and often fun.

"Once we got two hairdressers to talk about the politics of hair-braids, straight, and what it all means," she says.

Jones has produced two documentaries, the first about African-American women in the Ann Arbor area from 1850 to 1950. A followup, to air during Black History Month in February, brings the topic to the present.

The Ann Arbor Public Library had videos of the first documentary, and will have the second available for check-out in February.

When she's not working on the show, Jones volunteers her time to help plan a local African-American museum. She also teaches young children through the NAACP and works in the Ann Arbor chapter of the Links, a group that exposes children to cultural events in the community.

Community-wide, she sees African-Americans pulling together to accomplish common social goals, "even though we're widely dispersed. I do see a lot of good things happening."

Jones also sees some bad things happening locally. She criticizes the conduct of the Ann Arbor police in their hunt for a serial rapist who has assaulted several women on the city's west side.

"African-American males are being asked to prove their innocence. You should be presumed innocent until proven guilty," she says.

"There was a molester in this neighborhood, described as a white man. Police are not going around questioning white males who fit that vague description."


Picture: News Photo Linda Wan

Lola Jones is the producer of 'Another Ann Arbor,' a television talk show that focuses on the history, culture and interests of African Americans.