We are proud of our alumni’s accomplishments, especially those who have given back to the communities that we serve. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Diamond Jones, a Class of 2008 Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School Alum and a rising activist in South Los Angeles. This past June, the LA Times featured Jones for her fearless Clean Up South Central initiative.
Listen to the full interview, or read the edited transcription below.
Question: Thanks, Diamond, for taking the time to tell your story and your path after high school. Can you tell me where you grew up and where you went to school?
Diamond: I grew up in the South Central area and I attended Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School.
What was special about that experience at Ánimo Inglewood?
I think because Ánimo was smaller, I feel like a lot of counselors and teachers had a really good opportunity to reach out to certain kids that they know that were going through issues. And I felt like Ms. [Janneth] Johnson did a really good job at showing that she cared and actually creating things that helped us. I mean, I don't know of any other school that actually had therapy sessions with a group of kids. Like we would actually sit on the floor in a circle and talk about our lives on a really deep level. Ms. Johnson really made a safe place for us to where, you know, high school can be petty and, you know, little stupid things that happen. But Ms. Johnson really made this circle a safe place and she really chose people that were actually going through things outside of school.
My dad was killed when I was in high school. And prior to that, he had a lot of issues going on. So I think Ms. Johnson knew that that affected me. So that's why she chose me to be a part of the therapy session. And I think with her doing that, it kind of opened my eyes also to just after high school, like how to maneuver and ask for help in going to therapy and talking through issues, because you need that. So just experiencing that in high school, I feel like it changed my perspective a lot on just life and just like how to treat people and like how to be a good person.
I think Ms. Johnson is a genuinely a good person and she wanted to see the students that she cared about actually succeed in life, you know?
I'm really glad that you had that opportunity for recovery. There's still many times in life, I think, that we need help, and sometimes we don't know exactly how to ask for it. So, you mentioned earlier, off of this interview, that you had a chance to go on a college tour. So what was sort of special about that experience?
I think what was special about it was seeing myself in a higher standard, like a college institution. I think seeing our history. When you go to an HBCU [Historically Black College or University] like the first year, they ingrain in you the history of the school, the history of HBCUs. So I think that was the thing that I took away from going on that college tour: This is such a cool experience and you rarely get to see that being from LA, because the colleges that we see are like USC, UCLA. We don't have an HBCU out here, so going on that tour opened my eyes to who I am as a black woman.
You went to Ánimo Inglewood, you had this great experience learning about colleges outside of California. Then you went to an HBCU. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
So like going to HBCU and learning about my history I was just like, so fascinated with everything. And then like I did a pageant, I was crowned Miss NAACP, royal blue and gold. And then I'm just getting that experience that you just don't get it in LA. Because in LA we have a black community, but when you go to an HBCU especially CAU [Clark Atlanta University] you have a whole like little town you have CAU, you have Spelman, you have Morehouse. So it's like a whole big community just experiencing that. It just changed my perspective on who I was, it helped shape who I’ve become as a person when it comes to my community and how I want to better my community
I feel like when you go to an HBCU, you get to blossom and be yourself. I feel like when you go [elsewhere], you're timid. You don't really know where you kind of fit in. And it was like at an HBCU, you fit in everywhere.
Now, after this moment that you had to fit in and you got to experience a different side of college—and I'd even go as far as saying a rare side of college—you decided to come back to LA. I know you've done a lot since you've been back. But recently you were featured in the LA Times for your Clean Up South Central initiative. Can you explain how that started?
I saw a lot of people like cleanup on Melrose and Fairfax [after protests]. And it just kind of bothered me only because I know that like these stores, they have a lot of money, and getting their community clean wouldn't be a big thing. It's, you know, like, “I'm going to be paying people.”
I feel like it just rubbed me the wrong way because I felt like I live in the community. My family still lives in a community where the Rodney King riots happened, and the 1965 watts riots happened and just in general. When you live in the hood, you see poverty, you see streets are dirty, and you see abandoned buildings. So, I just felt like if all these people are coming out to help this community, why can't they come out to help my community?
I thought about it and was just like, “Yeah, do you guys want to help me clean up my community?” And then I wrote it on my Insta story. And then like, maybe like a couple of my homegirls are like, “Yeah, sure.” Well, then I thought about that on Monday. And then I did the graphic designs and I posted about it and it just happened so fast, I wasn't even prepared for what was going to happen. The picture got over 10,000 likes. I was like, “this is insane. “So, I just felt like this was a better way for us to like protest and to like, show that we care about our community.
How do you think more leaders can sprout up and do things that you did in regards to cleaning up South LA?
I think it's more so just about like, just actually doing it. I think a lot of people may be a little timid about doing things because they just don't know if they'll get the support or whatever. But I feel like, for me, it was always just doing it. If a lot of people just need to take the necessary steps to actually want to better the community, I think that a lot of change will happen. I think it’s hard for people to put themselves in a position to lead because, honestly, I wasn't prepared for what happened, but I think once we get past that point, a lot of good things will happen.
What were the emotions going through your head? Were you afraid? Were you afraid about how people would remember South LA from its 1992 scars?
Honestly, I was afraid only because I didn't want it to be an issue, especially around the time that there was a lot of emotions going on and it was a lot of rioting and stuff. So I was afraid, definitely afraid that I was gonna do more harm than good. But when I saw how much people just wanted to clean up, it was definitely very emotional cause it was just like, “wow.”
People just really want to clean up and give back, and, you know, I was able to put that together. So definitely very like an emotional time.
Do you think that this jump-started your affinity towards activism? Will there be more stuff after this?
I think it definitely put me in a place where I feel like I can really do something for the community. I think it's definitely motivated me to continue to want to do more.
Last question here for you: If you could give the next generation of students a word of encouragement, those following after you at Ánimo Inglewood or any other school in South LA, what would those words be?
I think those words would be...To follow the dreams that you want to follow right then and there. I think it took me a while to get to a place where I was okay with following my dreams. I think that once you graduate from high school, you may have a lot of pressure of trying to figure out your life. But I realized that like, as you grow, you're not going to be there just because you graduated high school.
It's a whole process. So I think the more you lean into your dreams and your goals, the closer you are to it. And I felt like the more I leaned into, like what I really wanted to do as I got older, the more it became available, and the more opportunities presented itself. So I think my advice would be to just really follow your goals and don't take no for an answer, because you're always going to hear no, that's not a sign of failure. It's just a sign that you're on the right path.
Well, thanks so much, Diamond. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to share your story and to be a source of encouragement and a role model for the next generation of students.