by Florence Howard and John Semien —
Melvin Jones continuously showed his love for Memphis by never wavering in his support for the growth and development of African-American businesses – even though his advocacy could sometimes come across as an irritant to some.
Jones, the founder and CEO of the Black Business Directory, died on Monday (Nov. 16). He was 66.
A graduate of Cornell Law School, he served for a while as interim editor of the Tri-State Defender.
Funeral Services for Jones are set for 10 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Olive Cathedral C.M.E. Church and will be streamed live from mtolivecathedral.com and on the church’s Facebook platform. The wake will be Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Mt. Olive.
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway learned of Jones death on Tuesday. Jones, he said, recently had reached out to him to arrange a meeting for a proposed project to benefit Black business owners across the state.
Alandas Dobbins, a longtime friend, recalled interacting with him as she served as director of the Memphis Office of Resources and Enterprise during the administration of former Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
“There are so few people who are really selfless and fighting for a better day for African Americans. Melvin was one of those people. He was tireless in faithfully moving the needle ahead for African-American business owners by standing up and standing out for us.”
Sometimes fear keeps many Blacks from speaking out, but Jones didn’t have that problem, Dobbins said.
“He was working for all of us. He was fearless in his dedication to us until the day he died.”
David Williams, regional director for Vitalant, the blood and plasma organization that replaced LifeBlood in Memphis, said he was “just sick” when he learned of Jones’ death. Williams, former president/CEO of Leadership Memphis, talked of Jones’ passion for supporting Black businesses, describing him as an early influence on his wider understanding of the importance of supporting minority businesses.
“He was a crusader for minority businesses,” Williams said, as he recalled a “a smart guy” with an ample amount of stories and questions on just about any issue one might want to discuss.
“Melvin was someone who cared about the well-being of Memphis and a supporter of Black business,” Williams said. “We lost a lot of great people this year, but that was certainly unexpected.”
Judith Black Moore, a former corporate executive who now serves as president of the Tarik Foundation, Inc., said Jones was a “dear friend.”
“He hired me as a writer when I returned to Memphis in the 90s to create copy for the Black Business Directory. I worked with him to produce his Simply the Best Awards show. He supported me in becoming Minority Business Oversight Commissioner and later when I became chair.”
Moore said, “Melvin would come to me with new project ideas for ways to honor and support Black businesses. Some of them he made happen. Some were great dreams. But he never stopped pursuing ways for Black businesses in Memphis to receive their fair share of the economy.”
Jones was “passionate, uncompromising and tenacious because he believed in Black businesses,” she said. “Melvin was relentless in encouraging city government and the business sector to recognize and offer both mentoring and contract opportunities to Black businesses. He was equally as diligent in encouraging Memphians to patronize these businesses.”
An “an activist for Black business,” Jones, who was former chairman of the Minority Business Development Oversight Committee under Mayor Wharton, was “a presence in the Memphis business community that will truly be missed,” Moore said.
That’s how Dobbins remembers Jones as well.
“You might not have liked his potency,” said Dobbins. “He took licks and kept on ticking for us.”
V H Bins & Son Mid-South Funeral Home has charge.