In the often cutthroat world of commerce, helping employees to become competitors and encouraging others to reach for dreams would seem antithetical to good business practices.
William “Will” Jones III begs to differ.
“It’s important to support people, to help others succeed and to help where you can,” Jones said. “We are stronger together as a community. We can go farther together if we support each other, but separately we won’t go as far.”
Co-owner with Yolonda Coles Jones of His Image Barber Shop & Natural Hair Studio on Berkmar Drive in Albemarle County, Jones recently was named the winner of the 2019 John F. Bell Sr. Vanguard Award. The award is presented by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Diversity Council.
The award will be presented at a Sept. 17 luncheon hosted by the Chamber Business Diversity Council at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The event is slated for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Jones, chamber officials say, is exactly the kind of businessman the award’s namesake represented.
Bell was an African American business leader who founded the J.F. Bell Funeral Home in 1917 after learning that Charlottesville lacked a funeral home to serve the black community. Still family-owned and -operated, the business provided its customers with respect and dignity not easily found under Jim Crow-era laws and legalized segregation.
During his life, Bell was known for promoting and supporting African American business owners and the community. At one point, he ran a free ambulance service because those that served the white community would not transport black people.
“[Jones] embodies everything we saw in Mr. Bell. He consistently mentors everyone he can. He doesn’t see others as competition and chooses to mentor others so they can grow in their craft and work their craft,” said Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, director of member education services at the chamber.
“Will is an amazing person. He will take the shirt off of his own back if that means it helps the next person,” said Fernando Garay, a former employee of Jones’ who left to start his own barber shop, House of Cuts. “I’ve seen him mentor people, and he is my mentor. I’ve seen him teach. He teaches his children to be excellent stewards of the community, as well.”
Garay said Jones helped him to become a successful barber and encouraged him to open his own shop.
“He taught me a lot. He took me under his wing when I was 16. I was able to learn my craft as a barber in his barbershop and I was cutting next to him for about four years,” Garay said. I learned so much about the craft from his perspective. I feel like our haircut styles compliment each other’s work because I wanted [my style] to be like his, very detailed work and a comfortable service.”
Copeland-Whitsett said Jones’ efforts in the community, from helping others become entrepreneurs to arranging fundraisers and creating educational events, are increasingly being seen among other black business owners.
“I think there is a trend toward entrepreneurism in the African American community. African Americans have said, ‘if we’re going to rebuild our business communities and build wealth in our own communities, we need to do it ourselves,’” she said.
“There is definitely a rise. When Mr. Bell opened his business, there was an African American business district in Vinegar Hill. That, of course, was torn down in the 1960s,” Copeland-Whitsett said. “We had no control over what happened to Vinegar Hill.”
“It was vacant for 20 years after [it was razed], but we now have people who look at that space with different eyes. The feeling in the community is that we can choose to have control over what we do.”
Garay said Jones supported his effort at opening his own business even though he is technically a competitor.
“I was very nervous to tell him that I would be parting ways from his team to open my first business, but I was nervous for no reason,” Garay recalled. “He was supportive and he kept informed about my decisions since day one of opening my shop. We are still family. Competition was never a factor when it came to our shops. He covers a different market than I do and also on a different side of town.”
Garay said Jones’ effort at helping the community at large also inspired him.
“He is very big on strengthening his own community and people. I remember once he stocked the break room and lobby room with stacks of bottles of water to send to Flint[, Michigan,] with the help of others. Even during business hours, he let people bring truckloads of water to his shop,” he said.
Garay has followed suit, participating in back-to-school events and helping to mentor others and working with interns.
“Giving back to the community that you’re from is so very important,” Garay said. “Our community is our people. We must take care of each other.”
“It’s important because it’s what’s needed. I didn’t have anyone in my life telling me to try and stick with one thing, giving me advice, helping me to make choices. Barbering saved my life, in many ways. I met a lot of good men, some of whom were good in different ways. I tried to learn from all of them,” Jones said.
“The thing is, once you learn about your history, once you wake up and find out about yourself, you want to help make other people better,” he said. “Sure, you want to make good money, but we do better as a community when we support each other and work with each other.”