Donor and Board Member Spotlight: Lamont Jones | Facing History & Ourselves
Lamont Jones at a book signing cropped

Donor and Board Member Spotlight: Lamont Jones

Chair of Facing History Chicago’s Membership Committee, Lamont Jones, shares how he honors the lessons of history.

Lamont Jones was first introduced to Facing History through longtime supporter Stacy Sharpe. Lamont went on to both marry Stacy and become a champion of Facing History through his leadership and interest in amplifying the lesser known stories of the past. Lamont was kind enough to recently detail for us his journey to becoming a Facing History advocate. He also shared some of the life experiences that helped him connected to our organization and inspired him to write a book about Bid Whist, a card game long associated with the Black community.

Facing History: Tell us a little bit about yourself—where did you grow up, who/what were your influences as a kid, what was your experience learning hard histories in school? 

Lamont Jones: I grew up in the 1970s and early 80s in Hugo, Oklahoma, a town of about 5,000 people in the southeastern “Little Dixie” part of the state, 10 miles from the Texas border. 

Hugo was a cool place to come of age because there was only one junior high and high school, so all the kids went to school together--the Black kids, the white kids, the Native American kids, and the few Jewish and Asian and Latino kids; as well as the kids from families with some money, a little bit of money, and no money. So cultural cross-pollination was a fact of life. 

Our Hugo pride was amplified in our sports programs, especially football and basketball. We were proud to represent the Hugo Buffalos against the other towns in the area--and especially against the city kids from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. 

My primary window to the world was the sport of boxing. I started as a second grader, and competed in more than 200 amateur bouts by the end of my junior year of college at the University of Oklahoma. Through boxing, I was able to travel to compete in innumerable towns throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states. That helped me learn how to appreciate and interact with people. And boxing helped me understand the relationships between goal-setting, disciplined habits, time management, and achievement of those goals. 

I benefited from a range of programs that I now realize relied on volunteer efforts and dedicated philanthropic and governmental resources: Head Start, sports and mock trial programs, Upward Bound, Boys State, and the like. 

Back then history, for me, was not about trying to better understand the present or imagine and impact the future; it was just a matter of memorizing and regurgitating events and dates. I had no idea, for example, that our region was called “Little Dixie” because after the Civil War so many Southerners moved to what was then called the Indian Nations that they made much of what is now southeastern Oklahoma culturally southern. 

I didn't learn about the Tulsa Massacre until I was in law school at Columbia—I learned about it from a fella selling pamphlets on 125th Street in Harlem. I felt cheated out of the pride and example that would have been provided had that ugly episode not been systematically erased from the record, and had I been aware that Black Oklahomans hadn't just excelled at stuff I knew about—as mechanics and cooks and farmers and ranchers and teachers—but that we'd also excelled as capitalists who owned banks and hotels and restaurants and clothing stores—before that tragic violence.   

Facing History: How did you first learn about Facing History, and what made you want to be part of this organization? 

Lamont Jones: I first became aware of Facing History when my then-girlfriend, Stacy Sharpe, invited me to an event. She was an executive at Allstate, a stalwart corporate supporter of Facing History. So initially my involvement with Facing History was a matter of spousal obligation. 

But I found that at each gathering I'd learn something and enjoy the company of others. I’ve found that Facing History events consistently feed me intellectually and emotionally. I enjoy being part of a learning community. I like the idea that Stacy’s and my efforts and contributions might positively impact students and society. So Facing History has become a key part of how we try to stand up to help make our communities and our country and our world better. 

We were able to co-host a benefit event. We introduced friends to the organization. I'm particularly proud that two of our dearest friends, MyKhanh Shelton and Kobie Conner, serve on the LA Advisory Board and recently co-hosted an LA benefit event. Stacy and MyKhanh also serve on Facing History’s International Board. 

Facing History: What would you say to other individuals or organizations looking for a nonprofit to support, either as a donor or as a board member—why would you recommend Facing History? 

Lamont Jones: We need upstanders now more than ever. We must support civility and civic engagement now more than ever. Facing History needs your support more than ever as we all face this historical moment.

Facing History: As we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth this year, what do you think Facing History offers to both educators and students as they look for ways to reflect on this history and lift up Black voices and stories? 

Lamont Jones: I appreciate that Facing History values continuous learning and provides space for all of us to learn out loud even as we strive to be upstanders. Recently, I've learned about two fascinating details about how the Civil War impacted the area where I grew up—and vice-versa. 

First, I learned that the last Confederate general to surrender did so just 15 miles from my hometown, months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Growing up, I always thought that the Civil War was something that had happened "Back East," hundreds if not thousands of miles away. 

And just a few weeks ago, I learned that the first Black soldiers to join the Union Army were men from the territory that became Oklahoma. These kinds of tidbits excite me. I hope to continue learning about—and sharing—aspects of our shared history and hearing from compelling speakers and teachers. I'm confident that Facing History will continue to be part of my learning journey for Juneteenth and beyond.

Facing History: How has being involved in Facing History as an adult changed the way you approach the world? 

Lamont Jones: Even aside from its primary mission of reaching and empowering teachers and students, Facing History offers tools that are useful in helping citizens engage in conversations that might be tough, but that are necessary and important for the vibrancy of our democracy. I try to discipline myself to use what I’ve learned from Facing History’s approach to examine my thinking and my feelings, and to avoid too quickly condemning those who think differently without considering their filters and their experiences. I am now more conscious about pushing myself to think a little harder when I confront views and behaviors that may differ from my own. I'm optimistic that Facing History will continue to offer those tools and model courageous citizenship even in this fraught moment. 

Facing History: You are Chair of Facing History Chicago’s Membership Committee. Can you briefly explain what that entails and what you do to ensure the board’s membership is diverse and passionate about the work? 

Lamont Jones: Our focus is on deepening our community by fostering a greater sense of belonging among members of the Advisory Board. This includes helping to spearhead events that engage board members. And it involves making sure our board is an inclusive one that reflects Chicago's diversity. So when there are opportunities to add members, we recruit people who are passionate about education, social justice, and racial equity, and who bring diverse perspectives and experiences to our board. 

Facing History: You’re a big fan of Bid Whist and have just released a book detailing its gameplay and its connection to Pullman porters and the wider Black community. What do you hope readers will take away from your book? Do you foresee a new era of Bid Whist players and renewed interest in the game? 

Lamont Jones: I wrote The Gist of Bid Whist: The Culturally Rich Card Game from Black America because I believe that card games connect people, and that the rich story of Bid Whist—a game with a cultural backstory so fascinating that Professor Skip Gates calls it "The National Black Pastime"—deserves to be widely known.  

In addition to fun stories about the game's cultural impact, I provide a comprehensive playing guide in hopes that people who enjoy games like Hearts or Euchre or Spades or Bridge will come to appreciate Bid Whist's fast-paced thrills and charms. I hope that people enjoy the fun of Bid Whist, and use its magic to build bonds and make memories at the card table. I am eager to partner with people and organizations focused on spreading the joy of playing cards.