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Outlook 2020: Opportunities Industrialization Center of Oklahoma County executive director sees education as key to help less fortunate

DesJean Jones
DesJean Jones

DesJean Jones is executive director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Oklahoma County.

Big sister Tammy shielded and protected DesJean Jones as she grew up, helping her learn that teaching was her calling.

She embraced it, she recalls, after she joined the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Oklahoma County (OIC) in 1992 and created a course to teach clients desktop computer skills as technology rapidly grew.

In 2007, Jones reluctantly left to pursue another opportunity.

“I told Tammy, ‘I can’t believe I am teaching and I love it, I would do it for free.”

Despite leaving, Jones continued to serve OIC as a member of its board until 2015, when she rejoined it as deputy director (she became executive director in 2017).

OIC, established in 1966, today offers courses helping its clients learn conversational English for job and personal use, to build cultural understandings and pathways to citizenship, to learn basic computer skills, resume, application and work readiness skills, to learn about health and wellness and to learn how to read. It also offers clients preparatory instruction and testing for General Educational Development certificates.

Jones observed that 20% of Oklahoma City residents can’t read above the third-grade level and that Oklahoma City Public Schools’ dropout rates for African Americans, Hispanics and white students are 50%, 46% and 18%, respectively.

“That should be an outrage to everybody, because these children are going to become adults, and what do you think is going to happen to them? They are going to be stuck in low-end jobs because they don’t read well.”

“Everything weaves together to make you who you are,” Jones said. “The same is true for the people who come here.”

As she sat down for an interview, Jones pointed out she only wears lipstick on the job.

“Everyday, I end up crying with somebody.”

Some tears are celebratory when a client obtains a GED, while others are shed amid reassurances a client can overcome a seemingly impossible task to succeed.

“You can’t quit because the rest of your life is waiting, because your kids need you, your community needs you, and your neighbors need to see that you went back to school and got your high school diploma,” Jones said. “They need to see that, so that they know they can do that, too.”

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›