On Charleston's East Side, kids have dedicated mentor in Edward Jones

December 31, 2016
in Kids

By Wade Spees wspees@postandcourier.com Dequan Goff is running. He's running fast from his East Side home because he knows he’ll do something he’ll regret if he stays. His temper has flared up again. He feels like his life is spinning out of control. As Goff's legs carry him, he’s halted by Edward Jones, a man he knows and trusts. Anger subsides as Goff cries into Jones' chest. Here, embraced by Jones one evening last fall, Goff finally feels as if nothing can harm him. Jones, 57, a tall man with a low voice, has come to the aid of countless young people like Goff during several decades of mentoring and coaching on Charleston's poverty-stricken East Side. Jones never turns his cellphone off because he wants to be available to kids whose calls for help stir him awake in the middle of the night. He's found that a lot of problems can be solved over a Waffle House breakfast or during a calming ride by the water in his '77 Chevy Impala. “He’s really like the father that I never had,” said Goff, 19. “Whenever something goes down, he’s able to find me. He’s like the only person who can hunt me down.” Jones is a father of five and a grandfather who runs sports leagues and a youth council, but his role as an advocate doesn't stop there. To him, real impact requires building trust with youth who otherwise feel overlooked. When kids say they don't know where their next meal will come from, he has them covered. With their parents’ permission, he said he's taken in at least a dozen kids who were having trouble at home. “They call me, I’ll be there,” Jones said. “They ain’t asking for anybody to give them the world on a platter. All they want to do is know they got somebody to love and somebody to depend on.” Kids also turn to Jones for reasons that don’t carry so much weight. “We got something to do today, coach?” they frequently ask, wondering if he might take a group of kids fishing or to a restaurant to watch a sports game. “This goes on all day,” Jones said on a sunny November afternoon at Martin Park, where his recognizable Pittsburgh Steelers car was a sign of his presence. “They know my car. They know my walk. I can be two to three blocks away, and I hear them calling my name.” Jones dedicates long hours to kids because he's witnessed what happens when they don't have an outlet. He's seen how street violence can devastate a neighborhood and a community. He can't keep count of how many young people he's lost. At times, it seemed like another teen was dying every weekend. This is why he'll drive across town in search of a kid who's grappling with a personal crisis. It's why he'll jump out of bed at 2 a.m. to pray with a teen who's contemplating suicide. It's why he'll work with a girl who's struggling in school, and then be in the audience when she receives her high school diploma. Jones is strong when he's counseling kids. It's when he's alone that their hardships wear on his heart. That's when his tears come. In August, Jones and others cradled a 19-year-old who was shot in broad daylight near Martin Park. The victim, who was popular in the neighborhood, was the third young man gunned down near the park since 2013. Seeing the teen's life slip away as they desperately tried to revive him mirrored a pivotal moment for Jones nearly four decades ago. At age 19, he held a dying friend who had been stabbed. "I made a commitment to myself ... that I would never want to be in that predicament again where you have someone die in your arms," Jones said. "I went back through it again, and that made me want to do more." He knows firsthand the...

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