The last time I talked face to face with Rocky Jones was in November 2011, a few nights before he was scheduled to deliver a public lecture on “The Struggle for Human Rights in African Nova Scotian Communities, 1961-2011.”
It could have been the too-wordy title for his autobiography.
We met at 8 p.m. in my university office because there was no other time. There was this national conference on public policy. He was speaking. An event in Truro. The keynote. A meeting in Ottawa. On the board. We couldn’t meet earlier that day because Rocky had another meeting at the Transition Year House.That Rocky was then pushing 70 seemed — at the time — inconsequential.
That he is no longer with us seems incomprehensible.
Rocky and I were never personal friends, but I was privileged to chronicle pieces of a public life well spent in the service, not just of his people but of our province.
Not everything he did, it’s fair to say, was appreciated in its time.
In the ’60s, he ran Kwacha House, an inner city youth program that tapped a rich vein of pent-up black anger and frustration. City fathers lobbied to cut funding. In 1970, he helped rally 4,000 Haligonians — black and white — to protest the appointment of a racist city manager. The protestors won. He brought the Black Panthers to Halifax and so scared the establishment Ottawa quickly funded a new, it-hoped-more-docile Black United Front.
“The government subverted the movement in the sixties by funding it,” Jones would say later.
Rocky was never subverted. Even when he accepted government funding — as he did for ROPE, an organization he created to help ex-cons find jobs — he refused to compromise. The government cut off funding.
Rocky kept creating. The Transition Year Program at Dalhousie to help Nova Scotia blacks and natives succeed at university. The Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaq program to train minority lawyers. His own career as a pioneering, poorly paid civil rights lawyer who took important cases all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
It’s impossible to contain all he accomplished in a short column.
But it is possible to say thank you. Rest in peace, Rocky. You earned it.