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Clifton Jones, A Servant For The Students

Clifton Jones is the creator of Ball On The Yard, a media production documenting the Howard University Football team. Photo by Joshua Heron.

When traversing through the Metropolitan Building, home of the Howard Cathy Hughes School of Communication, one is bound to engage with Clifton “CJ” Jones. As the Director of Media Production and the Tech Center since 2021, Jones is the crutch for aspiring students searching for their footing in the communication world. The service he implements in his role is a testament to the plethora of experiences molding him to be a source for Howard students. 

As Jones progressed through his adolescence into young adulthood, an unrelenting desire to create beats dominated his heart. 

“I remember being in my dorm room at the University of Virginia just making beats and today, this generation makes them in their classroom,” Jones said.

His ability to produce music landed him one of his first jobs at a music studio. However, producing with no purpose isn’t satisfying for Jones. Jones worked for Hands On The Future, a program catering to the Black inner-city youth’s digital skills from 2007-2014. 

“The time at Hands On The Future was very fulfilling,” Jones told the Hilltop. “Taking kids and showing them what I now know to be the Howard experience was beautiful because kids might know the rapper but never ponder about the producer, accountant or engineer.” 

Before walking into his new office in 2021 at Howard, Jones would do a similar stint at George Mason University and work at a corporate think-tank which he credits with developing his digital skills. Nevertheless, his seven-year tenure at Hands On The Future prepared him to serve well at Howard University. 

“Hands On The Future opened the door for me to find joy when engaging with the community,” Jones said. He admitted his mentor during his time at the program, Gary Drew, instilled the mindset that nothing can be coined a success without service to the next person being the priority. 

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Accumulation of these experiences led to a venerated position at Howard University, molding him to receive each equipment reservation from the tech center with joy, as he is eager to know the students and inquire about their endeavors. 

“When a person comes to pick up their camera equipment from the tech center, I am intentional in my conversation with them,” Jones said. “One thing I find in the majority of students in the School of Communications is that they want a future.” 

A passion consumes Jones knowing that he can provide equipment that may contribute to their future endeavors as filmmakers, audio producers and journalists. After all, this same passion did create a program for inner-city youth who were inspired to do the same– different position, same passion. 

“I want to be the Oprah of cameras, screaming ‘you get a camera, you get a camera’,” Jones said. “I want to see everybody win.” 

Jones’ dedication extends beyond equipment, however. He wants to ensure that students are equipped. 

“In my conversations with students at Howard, I want to reveal what I wish that I did better in life so they don’t have to run into certain hurdles but jump over them.”

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Jones shared that he knows a thing or two about jumping. When playing at St. John’s College High School, he spent an immense amount of time jumping over defenders as a fullback and barreling through the offensive line as a linebacker. His days on the field did not end in high school. Jones would go on to have a role on the field in college. However, this role would not be at the University of Virginia playing but at Howard University to record. 

During the summer, Jones decided to take a walk with his camera on the desolate Howard campus. However, the presence he thought was empty was actually filled with determined young men practicing with the goal of winning their conference championship. A conversation and a few recordings of Howard University quarterback Quinton Williams turned into Ball On The Yard, a docuseries and social media platform that highlights Howard athletics, student athletes and HBCU sports culture.

 A season-long documentary on the football team was recorded throughout the semester. The unique aspect of the project was that Jones welcomed other students to walk in their gift of storytelling and spearhead the project.

“The ultimate goal is to bolster exposure of the players’ stories and put the Howard University football program on the map,” said Jones.

Jones believes his days as a football player allows him to relate to the players more. 

“There is a diaspora of personalities and they all endure the preparation it takes to win,” Jones said. He understands the pain they undergo. “You are almost never fully healthy for a complete season but it’s really sweet when you win.”

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The Howard University Football team did win. After starting the season 1-5, the Bison won four out of the next five games, good enough to play in and win the 2022 MEAC championship. Because of Jones’ diligence through the suffering, a victorious season was captured on camera. When asked what to expect from the docuseries when released, he kept his response simple, yet enthralling. 

“Lookout for that heat content to drop,” Jones said. 

Jones desires to capture other sports teams on campus as well. 

His love for football crosses the state lines and finds its home down south in a town outside New Orleans, called Poplarville. Marinated in creole heritage, Jones savors the Thanksgiving trips in which he and his family strut down Bourbon Street and attend the Bayou Classic between Southern University and Grambling State University. 

Afterwards, he finds himself returning to his family’s abundance of land in Poplarville. With the closest service a mile and a half out, Jones, the servant, gets to recharge and rest among those he leans upon the most in trying times, his family. And for some students at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, he is like family. 

The Cathy Hughes School of Communications student president, Alana I. Smith spoke to Hilltop about Jones’ dedication to the students. 

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“Mr. CJ is very helpful and always looking out for students to make sure they’re equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge for production,” Smith said. “Mr. CJ will give his real-world advice to students so they can be prepared and strive to become the best professionals. I’m happy to have someone who cares about the students’ success and well-being.”

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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