Johnetta Jones had been wanting for years to start a scholarship program in her late husband's name, but was always put off by the amount of work she figured it would take.
In April, 1992, Jones got the spark she needed. As she stood in the window of her View Park home watching Crenshaw Boulevard burn during the riots, she decided the time was ripe to start encouraging young people of color to pursue careers in law enforcement.
"I looked out at the street and saw not enough firetrucks, not enough police," said Jones, a retired schoolteacher. "I decided then that the only way to change the system is from within, not without."
Jones quickly established the Donald Jones Scholarship Fund, in memory of her late husband, a 32-year veteran of the county Sheriff's Department, who died in 1984. At a dinner last week at Holman United Methodist Church, Jones and her scholarship committee presented the first three awards of $1,000 each. The recipients were all local college students pursuing Administration of Justice studies.
Jones said that the scholarship is intended to continue her husband's legacy of involvement with community youth, which included active participation in the Crenshaw YMCA and being a mentor to fatherless young men. Perhaps most important to her husband, said Jones, was ensuring that young people of color were made aware of career opportunities in law enforcement--something that barely existed when he started in 1953.
"There were very few blacks in the department at that time. It was tough," Jones said. "But he hung in there, weathered the storm. He always believed in it . . . he thought that too many people judge law enforcement officials by one bad incident."
For 22-year-old Sean Smith, the scholarship means fewer financial burdens as he continues justice studies at Santa Monica College.
"I'm learning a lot about the justice system that I never knew. It's interesting," he said. "Even though I always thought I wanted to do this kind of work, I was like everybody else in my neighborhood. I said, 'A cop? No way!' But then I thought to myself, 'Well, if it's true that the Klan runs the police department, then I need to get in there and make some changes.' "
Lisa Aubert, 30, said the scholarship will enable her to pursue what she has always wanted--a career as a private investigator.
"Deciding to go after Administration of Justice inspired me to go back to school," said the high school dropout, who is now back in school at El Camino College. "I feel now more than ever there will be changes for the better (in law enforcement) . . . blacks and Latinos have to go into the field and straighten things out."
The third recipient, 21-year-old Inglewood resident Emilson St. Julian, is also a student at El Camino College. St. Julian is an LAPD Explorer Scout as well as an LAPD reserve officer.