A leader and a legend

For over 50 years, MAC’s founder, Hubie Jones, has shaped and defined the civic landscape in Boston as few others have. Hubie Jones defined advocacy for children.

It’s not only about getting change, but also about institutionalizing change. Locking change in. Advocacy is not about in one day out the next, in one month out the next. The issues we’re concerned about mean having a lifetime commitment to children.

While leading Massachusetts Advocates for Children, his Task Force on Children Out of School not only uncovered the scandal of over 10,000 children who were pushed out and excluded from the Boston Public Schools, but also the shame of innumerable children with disabilities who were misdiagnosed, warehoused, stigmatized and educationally languishing in separate classrooms. That report, and the subsequent passage of Chapter 766, the special education law in Massachusetts, was, to Hubie, among the most important legacies and contributions of his career. Thousands upon thousands of children, previously deemed unteachable, now go to school in the least restrictive environment where they can learn, grow, and succeed with dignity and without stigma.

Hubie Jones was born in New York City in 1933. He earned his BA degree from the City College of New York in 1955 and came to Boston to attend graduate school in social work at Boston University. It was during graduate school that Hubie attended a Ford Hall Forum speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was inspired to make a life-long commitment to work for social justice.

If you don’t stay vigilant, no matter what victories you win, they will attempt to roll them back. So one of the things we’ve learned at MAC was that you never win. You may get a victory, you may get a concession, they may be put in place, but you’d better be there to monitor what is going on…

Once Hubie received his masters degree in social work in 1957, he began to have an impact on the quality of life in the city, fighting for social justice, racial justice and the rights of poor people. After a stint at two social work positions, he became associate director and then executive director at Roxbury Multi-Service Center in 1967. While there, he noticed a pattern of children who were not in school. He led a formal investigation through a “blue ribbon” Task Force on Children Out of School, which published a scathing indictment of the Boston School Department for systematically excluding 10,000 children because they were disabled, had behavioral problems, did not speak English or were pregnant.

That report, The Way We Go to School: The Exclusion of Children in Boston (available in Publications), eventually led to the groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation enactments of two landmark laws in Massachusetts designed to include previously excluded populations of children: the special education law and the bi-lingual education law. The Task Force he chaired became known as the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, or MAC, (presently, Massachusetts Advocates for Children), of which he was board chair until 1980 and is currently board emeritus. It was the inspiration for the national Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., whose founder and president, Marian Wright Edelman, was the director of the Harvard Center for Law and Education and saw up close the effective advocacy of Hubie Jones and MAC.

We do not merely have a social responsibility to assure that our children and youth have decent life chances and prosper. We have a sacred obligation to do so.

Hubie developed a particular style of very effective advocacy: uncompromising in its goals, thorough in its research, and tough in its methods, but always respectful and designed to bring out the best on both sides. The MAC Model, the cornerstone of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, continues to change conditions for children across the Commonwealth.

Emerging from his commitment to social justice and his identity as an advocate came a man of many talents and sides: an institution builder, a mentor, a problem solver, a teacher, an administrator, a television commentator, an advocate. He is a rare individual of integrity, talent and humility who is known and admired by people from all segments of society: business, community, academia and government. He is also the husband of Dr. Katherine Butler Jones and father to eight grown children.

A community is best judged by how it treats youth with serious personal troubles and who are at risk. No child should be lost. No child, no young person should be marginalized. Every young person counts.

Hubie played a key role in the formation, rebuilding and/or leadership of more than 30 organizations throughout his illustrious career, including the Boston Children’s Chorus, Higher Ground, City to City, B.U. School of Social Work (former dean) and Roxbury YouthWorks.

The following are excerpts from a testimonial offered by MAC executive director, Jerry Mogul, at the 2004 MAC Tribute to Hubie Jones

Hubie Jones, and the advocacy which led to the creation of MAC, was 30 years ahead of his time. The now-familiar mantra of Leave No Child Behind is nothing but the resounding echo of a lone voice, then a few more, and more and more and more until it has grown into a chorus and a societal goal that can no longer be denied. But beware those who borrow slogans and rest easy when a law is passed. For Hubie Jones and MAC learned a hard lesson in those early, heady days of great victories, a lesson that is no less true today. In his words: “You may get a victory, you may get a concession, they may be put in place, but you’d better be there to monitor what is going on.” Advocacy for children takes nothing for granted.  

Hubie and MAC spent years not only fighting to create new laws to benefit children – school breakfast, lead poisoning prevention, for example –  but also fought to implement the special education law and took on the legislative and institutional forces that attempted to weaken it.  Hubie himself led the State House rally on the 25th anniversary of the special education law when it faced its greatest peril. Advocacy for children cannot rest.

MAC continues to follow the trail blazed by Hubie, faithful to his methods and to the substance of the work he has set before us. There are issues that require constant vigilance: mobilizing the community to assure educational excellence and equity in the Boston Public Schools for all children, particularly those of color; informing ever new generations of parents about their rights under the special education law for their children with disabilities, and holding school districts accountable to meet the letter and the spirit of that law. Advocacy for children is a life-time commitment. 

And then there are new issues emerging, new barriers uncovered: the growing numbers of children diagnosed with autism, the hidden trauma experienced by children who witness domestic violence and how it affects their ability to learn and behave in the classroom, MCAS, Boston’s school assignment policy, and the educational crisis facing boys. Advocacy for children builds on the past, but can’t live there. It finds and faces new challenges.

Advocacy resides in the world of both politics and policy.  In both those worlds, there are ebbs and flows of support for advocacy, whether among public institutions or private funders.   Sometimes other trends, like partnerships or collaboration, appear and catch the fancy of policy-makers. But as long as there is institutional neglect, institutional indifference, institutional incompetence, or institutional abuse that harms children and prevents them from reaching their potential, partnerships and collaboration will never be enough. Advocacy for children is not a fashion, it is, in Hubie’s words, a sacred obligation.