As a kid, Burnley Jones Jr. was used to being referred to as Rocky Jones’s grandson or Lynn Jones’s great-nephew.
That’s just what happens when you’re born into a family that’s spent generations fighting for civil rights in Canada.
The recent high school graduate is now trying to make a name for himself as he continues his family’s legacy of social activism.
The teenager already has a good start, with years of protest work under his belt.
“I remember my mom, she’d make us do the signs, and you and your siblings are all sitting there, you’re colouring them and you’ll be there for long hours,” he said with a laugh during a recent interview on CBC’s Information Morning. “You didn’t always want to be there, but it was always a good experience.”
Jones Jr. remembers watching his grandfather, the late civil rights icon Burnley (Rocky) Jones, speak to a crowd at a rally at St. Pat’s school in Halifax.
“When you just hear something, it’s not the same as experiencing it, but I’d say that was a big moment for when I really noticed and got to see the type of man he was,” he said.
Rocky and Joan Jones devoted their lives to advocating for the Black community in Nova Scotia, and together helped start the Black United Front and the Nova Scotia Project.
The family’s dogged pursuit of justice is in their DNA, said Lynn Jones.
Her mom was instrumental in having segregated washrooms finally outlawed at schools in the Truro area in the late 1950s.
“It wasn’t always called activism,” Lynn Jones said. “It was just you’re responsible for what happens in your community and your family and you have to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
For Augy Jones, being part of the solution has meant changing the school system so that Black students can see themselves reflected in the classroom..
His master’s thesis explored the experiences of Black students in rural parts of the province, and he’s now the director of the African Canadian Services Branch in the Nova Scotia Department of Education.
“We’re making sure that our story is embedded in there so that not only Black kids see themselves, but I think white students have to also understand our history and Mi’kmaw history,” he said.
The last segregated school in Canada was in Guysborough County. It didn’t close until the early 1980s.
“So when we talk about George Floyd and some of the things that were happening in the States, one of the things I really wanted to do was make sure that Canada takes responsibility for its own history,” Augy Jones said.
He remembers coming home from university and finding his dad with a stack of papers from CSIS that showed how closely his parents had been surveilled over the years.
“I just want to give kudos to the people, many people beyond Joan and Rocky, who did the work previously and felt way more heat than we do,” he said. “And it blazed a trail so that we could do work and have doors open that weren’t open to them.”
Lynn Jones said it’s important to remember that movements like the one we’re seeing in the wake of Floyd’s death aren’t born out of thin air. Long before thousands of people gather in the streets, there are a handful of activists refusing to back down.
“It’s not about us as individuals,” she said.”It’s that we’re fighting for everybody.”
It will be up to Burnley Jones Jr.’s generation to keep the family’s legacy going, she said.
“They may have different methods and they have their technology and what have you that we didn’t have, but I still think they’re up for the job.”