There are those people who seem to be in perpetual motion. No matter how fast you move or how involved they move past you and are in the middle of the mix. If you happen to be at the Church of the Reconciler on Sunday you will see such a person, Mary Jones.
And don't let her size fool you, she will force herself through those much bigger and much stronger, but who don't have the intestinal fortitude or passion to hold her back from her desired destination. And as she passes through you she will grab you by the arm or sleeve and say let's go there is work to do! But her relentlessness flows from her because of her belief that as a Christian witness she is responsible for being a formidable advocate for the downtrodden. And she is willing to speak out and take on the powers to be, challenging and pushing them until they hear the truth of the phrase 'justice for the people'.
Mary Jones was born in Sweetwater, Alabama in 1936. And she is quick to tell you that there was nothing sweet about Sweetwater. Though racism was rampant in all parts of Alabama, for Mary it seemed that the evil in Sweetwater was greater than any other place.
She will tell you that she was a difficult student, often getting into skirmishes, but she was at the top of her class academically. Fed up with Sweetwater she moved to Birmingham in 1954 hoping she could have a new start. While in Birmingham she would marry and have two children Terry and Zana, but two events would convince her to get out of the south. She went through a divorce, but the tipping point was when walking in Birmingham a white man walked up to her and spit into her face. She says “at that point I knew I had to get out and I especially did not want my children to grow up in the south..” So in 1957 she headed to Chicago, a single mother with two children, but with a determination that was and is her trademark, to do what ever it takes to reach ones goals.
Chicago was the door that opened real opportunity for Mary and in addition to raising her children whe enrolled at Roosevelt University where she would major in social work. While in school she stated that the one class that helped her the most was Speed Reading, she said, “speeding reading taught me patience which was something I did not have but needed the most.” Chicago was a place that allowed her and her children to experience life in a cosmopolitan city, with people from all over the world and wonderful things to see and feel. For her it was the arts especially the music that brought her great joy.
Over the years there were trips back to Birmingham to visit family. Mary stated “as my children came to Birmingham off and on through the years they desired more and more to move back permanently. So in 1976 she moved with her family to Birmingham.
Upon arriving in Birmingham she found a new career working at the UAB School of Nursing where she was able to council nursing students. She said, “the students would just gravitate to me, wanting school advice, but also life advice.” Over the years there have been hundreds of students that have sought Mary's advice as they move from school into the next phase of their lives.
But advocacy was always the focus and passion of her life and as she worked and raised her family in Birmingham she immediately got involved in various organizations that were helping the least of these. And for Mary the very special group was women. Because of her passion she was chosen to head up a group called, 'Child Support Enforcement Committee'. With the groups mantra being 'every man that can be found must pay child support!' She would challenge he legal system and political system to move the agenda forward speaking out for women throughout the community.
Over the years she would go to different churches throughout Birmingham, but none of them seem to be home to her. But then she met Lawton and Kevin Higgs who had started a church in their home and their she found her church. She said, “ They were talking about the things I believed in, including social gospel, and there were people from all walks of life that were attending the church. And from this house church the Higgs would move into a building near to what is now the Church of the Reconciler, eventually moving into the present church building on 2nd and 14th. And Mary has been a faithful member ever since. But it is not just the Reconciler that receives the blessings and energy that Mary brings, she is involved in many agencies and other shelters, such as the Fire House giving her voice to the wrongs that are happening in the Birmingham community. She continues to be a voice for the voiceless. For her it will always be “Justice for the People”.