By Michile Lam
From failure to Fellowship
Art Jones is a man who wears many hats. He is a husband to Rosiland, a father to Joseph and Kennedy, an accomplished athlete, a small business owner, and a person who has overcome many demons in life to become the person of influence he is today.
Many people know him as the central Mississippi community representative for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Others know him simply as Coach.
On any given afternoon, one might see Art Jones on the Cypress Lake tennis courts, where he owns and directs the FITT Academy (Finest Intensive Tennis Training). His job is training some of the most committed tennis competitors in the area.
Tennis is where Art excelled from a young age. A 1988 graduate of Callaway High School in Jackson, Art was also the son of two accomplished Jackson State University educators and the first African-American to win the 5A singles state championship. He played tennis at Morehouse College and Jackson State University — and from the outside looking in, the world was his oyster.
But internally, Art said, there was always a deep struggle with insecurity and identity, which led to drinking and smoking in high school. He hid his struggles and won a full scholarship to Morehouse but while there, got introduced to crack cocaine and lost his scholarship.
The fall was deep, resulting in a cycle of bad relationships, drugs, and rehab. It lasted until he was 37 years old.
There were high points: the birth of a son, periods of sobriety, teaching tennis, and meeting and marrying Rosiland. But the demons always returned: insecurity, relationship struggles, depression, and negative thoughts. Art recalls a recurring lie he believed: “It is impossible for you to live for God. There is no way you can deal with temptation and all the stuff the world is throwing at you.”
It was during that time that the drugs stopped working and did not fulfill him or get him high, and in a moment of irrationality, Art shoplifted at a Kroger, got arrested and found himself in jail. Despair overcame him, and he recalls thinking, “There’s no way that you can face family, friends, students, or the people that know you, ever again.”
When his life reached its lowest point, it became the beginning of Art’s turnaround. He remembers God asking him in jail, “Will you run for Me as hard as you ran for the world?”
Art’s answer was direct and sensible. “You know what? This is the only thing that I haven’t tried. I’ve tried everything else and nothing else has worked, so I have nothing to lose. I will give God everything and see what it looks like.”
It was then that his life turned from focusing on his career, influential people, and being a high-powered coach to working on his marriage, breaking negative soul ties with people from his past, and believing God for a child with Rosiland.
When Art left jail, he decided to go to Christ Life Church of the Highlands, where he met Lead Pastor David Hale, who would become a spiritual father and mentor. It’s also a place where Art met men who loved their wives and families, and he learned an important truth: “You become who you hang around,” he says.
The Joneses’ marriage went from one of resentment and unforgiveness, where both parties wanted a divorce, to one of peace. Rosiland says for her it was a time of healing — moving from jealousy and the strain of a blended family (Art has a son, Joseph, from a previous marriage) to knowing her husband loved God most and her second.
Finding encouragement and strength from a solid marriage, a healed relationship with his son, and a loving church family, Art soon found the support to operate using his true gifts to coach and mentor again.
Pastor Hale says Art’s past helps him connect with people in a unique way.
“When you’ve been there and you come from brokenness, there’s an edge that you can pick up on that can be very beneficial for kingdom work.” That brokenness, according to Pastor Hale, draws people to Art. “He is very encouraging. He loves people. He loves God … and I’ve literally not seen anybody as passionate at trying to help people … they see his genuine desire to be there for them.”
What Pastor Hale sees in Art as he ministers, parents see on the tennis court. Art has coached Kevin Hankins’ daughter Carleigh, a senior at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison since she was in fifth grade. What impresses Kevin the most is that Art understands the whole child. Coaching goes beyond drills and practice and includes life advice and developing self-esteem. Kevin appreciates that a coach would go out of his way to be interested in a student as a person and work to understand their learning style.
“Every time you talk to (Art), he has something specific to accomplish in a conversation … but he does it very tactfully and powerfully,” Kevin says. Also, while Caleigh excels as a singles player at St. Joe, Kevin says Art has helped her branch out into doubles, and has helped her become the best she can be.
“He is more invested in kids than just about anybody I’ve seen, and they know it.”
It seems Art Jones has found his identity and place in life as husband, father, coach, minister, and friend. He notes that it doesn’t matter where people are; they face the same struggles in the merry-go-round of life, and the challenge is finding a way to overcome those struggles. While church culture can lead some to feel they have to present a life that looks neatly put together, Art is transparent about his story and says he and Rosiland put it all out there — the good, the bad and the dirty.
“I have found that it doesn’t matter whether I’m at church. It doesn’t matter whether I’m on the ball field. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in the workplace. People and problems are the same. (God has) opened up three different environments for me to share my story, to tell people how to get off that merry-go-round … and it’s real simple … you’re either all in or you’re not. And that’s why I couldn’t get off the merry-go-round, because I had one foot in the world and one foot in the church.”
Perhaps one conversation Art had after getting out of jail was the most important conversation of all: “The first place I went was to the mirror. And I looked myself in the eye, and I dealt with the guy in the mirror, and I said, ‘You’re done.’ And I was talking to him like I was talking to another person.
“And when I left that mirror, I left that mirror changed. I had no fear of people any longer. My identity was so secure in Christ that I wasn’t afraid of people … and the Lord showed me that transparency and exposing the devil for the liar that he is would be the strength of our ministry.