Black History Month is not just a time to reflect on the lives and collective histories of the African diaspora. It is also a time to celebrate the diversity in thought-provoking ideas and creative ingenuity within that community. February is a time for us to grow and collaborate together and to re-engineer the way we think, not only at a base level but also at the highest levels of our organizations.
Alonzo “AJ” Jones, a dedicated Sun Devil, father and self-proclaimed “circumstantial hustler” has had the experience of being a role model in several aspects of his life. With over 30 years of experience as a Sun Devil, he has made a lasting impact in the development of Arizona State University’s (ASU) cultural competency. He has served as the Associate Athletic Director for Inclusion and Championship Life since 2016, where he focuses on the career and (sometimes) entrepreneurial development of his athletes.
Seeing his life through many lenses, AJ mentioned three things that were critical to his being: first, his “Sun Devilness,” second, being a father and lastly, being a community sun, someone who acts as a community leader within the Black Community.
Incorporated in “Sun Devilness” are the goals and priorities of not only the institution but also the department and the individual person. As a certified Sun Devil, AJ has had a hand in developing cultural initiatives for the university, specifically promoting African-American and Black student attendance and supporting their retention. As a father, AJ has also had the chance to see his own children attend ASU, similarly positioned as leaders within their respective ASU communities. Dedicated to “Sun Devilness,” AJ has made it a point to support what keeps him motivated and engaged in such a forward-thinking space, putting him on the forefront of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). As a community sun, AJ maintains his service-oriented leadership style for the Black community both locally and on a macro scale.
The Many Forms of Entrepreneurship
When we at Edson E+I first connected with AJ, the first thing he asked was, “What made you think of me as an entrepreneur?” Sometimes we have to remember that different communities and people may address things differently. They may not always see themselves as an entrepreneur but engage with the entrepreneurial mindset in other ways.
The term side hustle comes from the recession eras of the 1950s when traditional jobs disappeared and people had to learn new ways to make ends meet, and AJ’s side hustle is no different. Attending conferences that focus on the Black male experience, AJ has become l a subject matter expert and presents on topics related to his interests in identity and higher education. His “circumstantial hustle” as a guest speaker was created out of necessity to support his family in times of need. Leveraging his skills to provide for his family when necessary wasn’t only possible but achievable, having facilitated workshops for audiences beyond ASU such as municipalities, the NCAA, the NFL and even TedX Maricopa.
Addressing Diverse Community Needs
AJ has embraced his role as both a community sun and ASU leader. AJ aided in co-founding African American Men at ASU, which he remains connected to to this day. The group, also known as AAMASU, is one of the current member organizations of the Black and African Coalition at ASU, a group of student-led organizations working towards the mutual benefit of all community members.
With access to funding and coaching, groups like AAMASU create impactful student-led experiences for other university students, increasing cultural awareness. AJ notes the creation of AAMASU as being pivotal to the Black Male experience at ASU. AAMASU, according to its bylaws, “dedicates itself to the empowerment of African American men toward the following common goals and objectives: increasing recruitment, retention and graduation rates of African-American Men at ASU, and providing holistic programming at the academic, civic, cultural, corporate and social levels. Echoed in the ASU Charter are the fundamental responsibilities of economic, social, cultural and overall health and the importance of assuming these responsibilities as community suns of our local ASU community.
During his time as a student, AJ found himself joining one of the oldest historically Black fraternities in the nation, Alpha Phi Alpha, also extending his community (both locally and nationally). Existing in spaces that were traditionally predominantly white, AJ found his voice, his representation and his reason for continuing to understand urban youth development. By strengthening and uplifting their respective communities, AAMASU and Alpha Phi Alpha both provided him with the safety, security and sense of belonging needed to progress in his academic and then professional careers at ASU.
Be sure to check out and support local organizations and learn more about our resources, ASU foundations and other ways of giving back below. By connecting with local community members and checking out their spaces or helping a Sun Devil in need, you too can make a small impact feel much larger.
Ways to Connect with Community
Onyx– The only Black-owned Art Gallery in Phoenix, owned by Vernon and Kathi Williams, started as an idea their son had previously realized: opening an art gallery aimed at attracting and celebrating young black artists. Their location of choice is the Roosevelt District, a hub for artists, musicians, spoken word artists and the like in Downtown Phoenix.
Local First AZ, We Rise Accelerator– This organization supports Black entrepreneurs in the Valley with a free six-month program developed to build comprehensive business skills and other components to start successful businesses.
Hustle Phx– This is a local chapter of an organization that equips, empowers and activates entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented communities in urban, inner-city communities across the US with the intellectual, social and financial capital to start businesses.
Ways to Give Back to Black: Generosity at ASU
A member of ASU’s Black and African Coalition, read more about Jason Amoako-Agyei’s Story and learn how you can give back below:
ASU Black Alumni Chapter Scholarship: https://scholarships.asu.edu/scholarship/114649
ASU Black African Coalition Student Scholar Fund: https://scholarships.asu.edu/bacscholarship