The Voice of the Valley

The Voice of the Valley

         Many of us know him as the quick-witted baritone voice hosting WZYP’s morning show, bringing us real time updates on news, traffic, weather, with a healthy and colorful splash of today’s current events mixing things up with audience call-ins and hilarious recurring segments such as Dear Naked Morning Guy (because he has nothing to hide), Making Headlines, and Random Facts. But what most don’t know is the Man behind the voice has a heart the size of Texas and a passion for philanthropy.  Although he would never outright admit it, Mo “Mojo” Jones has done more for the Tennessee Valley by volunteering, advocating, and raising awareness for important issues than most anyone else.

         I am honored to write about my friend Mojo. But like any novice writer, also a little intimidated. This guy is sharp.  He’s adept at cultivating and constructing conversation both on and off the air. Words are his career. And to top it off, he’s a great writer.  (I feel like there’s probably an emoji that captures my insecure face perfectly…).  In my early attempts to name Mojo’s article, I stuck to my love of alliteration and came up with The Valley’s Voice for Volunteerism, Veterans, and Various Vocations.  Okay… que the circus music.  That was a bit cheesy, even for me.  Even though all of these things are true.  As I sounded out the original title, all I could picture was the circus ringleader making introductions as a guy cracked a whip and a tiger jumped onto a ball. Well, I assure you, Mo Jones is anything but a circus act.

          I met Mojo in 2016 at a Charity Event called 22 Won’t Do.  He emceed this event to raise awareness to the 22 military veterans a day taking their own life.  Twenty-two pushups in 2 minutes at 10:22 on October 22.  Slightly star struck, and shy in general, I worked up the nerve to approach Mr. Jones to ask him if he would be willing to emcee the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of Darkness Walk.  I had recently signed on to chair the event for the North Alabama Chapter and was more than a little overwhelmed.  Fully expecting him to graciously bow out, he accepted my request with open arms.  I never told him that the day I asked him to do this was my late brother’s birthday who we had lost to suicide.  With his help, we have managed to grow our Walk each year to over 500 participants having raising $25,000 for suicide prevention in 2017 alone.  When I contacted Mojo to tell him these amazing numbers, and how ecstatic I was, he was excited but said, “It’s not enough.  Next year we’re going for $50,000.”

        Like many of us, there are times when Mojo questions his career path and if he’s made the right decisions. In those moments, he reaches into a small cedar box and pulls out a letter he received from a young girl early in his career…

        Years ago, while doing his show at Kiss FM in Boise, Idaho, Mojo received a call from a man who told him that his daughter, Chelsi, had a terminal illness and didn’t have long to live. The father explained that the family had spent all of their savings on medical expenses for their daughter and that they had nothing left. Chelsi had heard Mojo announce on his show that Nelly was coming to town. She wanted to go so badly but she knew the family couldn’t afford tickets and she wouldn’t burden her dad any further other than telling him how amazing this experience would be before she passed.  Her dad called to see if Mojo could help.  Mojo said he would see what he could do.  After hanging up with the man, Mojo and his producer went to work. They set aside tickets for her and called a limo company to arrange for her and her closest friends to arrive in style. They called Nelly’s record label. When Nelly found out Chelsi’s story, he sent a pair of his Air Force One tennis shoes complete with autograph and instructed Mojo to bring her backstage the night of the show. Mojo called her dad back and told him the good news and made plans for her and her friends to be surprised when they were picked up for the show.

          About a week after the show Chelsi’s father called Mojo back to thank him for what he had done for his little girl and to break the news that she had passed away. A few days later, Mojo received a letter in the mail. It was from Chelsi… the last letter she ever wrote. As Mojo read that letter, tears flowed down his face as he realized, if not for his job, he would not have been in a position to put together this experience to this wonderful young lady.  To this day, if Mojo ever questions his path in life, he pulls out that letter, reads it again, and thanks God for blessing him with this career.

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         Mojo has utilized the opportunities his vocation has provided throughout his life. In 2004, after recently moving to the Tennessee Valley, he pitched the idea to WZYP to build an entire house (floors to roof) in 24 hours for a family in need.  They told him it couldn’t be done.  But Mojo’s mentality was: challenge accepted. He helped construct a team of subcontractors who worked through the wee-hours like perfectly choreographed dancers. Drywallers, electricians, carpenters, painters, and roofers moved seamlessly, each knowing they’re exact time frame and role. At 10 am sharp the next morning (former) Mayor Loretta Spencer turned the key and the new house was presented to the grateful family.

        Mojo and his team were again brainstorming ideas for how to help their community. A team member proposed raising 104 bicycles in 104 hours so that children in need would wake up on Christmas morning to a brand-new bike. Mojo said, “Why stop at 104 bikes?  Let’s use the entire 104 hours and try for 500 bikes.”  No one (other than Mojo) thought this was possible. So, for 5 days and 4 nights, Mojo climbed onto a scissor lift 40 feet in the air in November with only a cot, a sleeping bag, and a port-a-potty.  With only his voice and dedication to this cause, he encouraged WZYP followers to bring out bikes.  Mojo’s Marine Core Reserve experience served him well and he completed the hours.  He blew the top of his numbers the first year with over 600 donated bikes.  He laughs that he eats better that week than any other time because of the generous meals brought to him by local businesses. Since the start of Bikes or Bust, they have raised over 27,000 bikes in the last 15 years. Monetarily that is $1,350,000.

          Mojo has made multiple cross country trips to help those in need. During the Flint Water Crisis in 2014, Mojo was able to partner with Toni Terrell from WZYP’s sister-station WHRP and organize a semi-truck of water to be delivered to those in need.  Being a Detroit native, this cause became near and dear to his heart. He followed behind with his team in an RV to help unload.  When tornados devastated Moore, Oklahoma in 2013 he and his team went to the airwaves and were able to have 5 trucks donated from a local dealership which, with the help of our listening area, were loaded down with supplies and then convoyed out to help those affected by the tornados.  Mojo toured the site of a school demolished by the tornados.  Seven crosses stood in memory of the seven children that lost their life.  A baseball helmet hung on a fence post along with letters, stuffed animals, and memorabilia.  When Mojo was a coach for his son’s baseball team, he had a habit of walking up to each player in the batter’s box and placing a hand on top of their helmet.  He would kneel down, eye-to-eye with the player, and give them words of encouragement.  Mojo instinctively placed his hand on top of the helmet hanging on the fence post and cried.  His son was nearly the age of the boy who had passed.

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          Recently, Mojo was contacted by a 5th Grade student from Monte Sano Elementary.  She and her classmates wanted to find a way to transport the school supplies they had collected to be delivered to Houston after Hurricane Harvey had demolished parts of the city.  The students were only seeking donations for shipping; Mojo said, I can do better than that, we’ll drive the supplies there.  With his cohost Ricky Fernandez, they made the 765 mile trek to Houston.

          I visibly cringed when I thought about Mojo reading the circus comment. Mojo is one of the most non-judgmental people I know, yet the thought of summing up his accomplishments and doing justice to his advocacy work seemed a staggering task.  Full disclosure: I had honestly thought about handing him a pen and paper and asking him to write his own article.  The problem with that?  He’s too modest.  He would leave out important details like the emotional toll performing difficult charity work can take on your soul. Mojo takes it in stride. He is quick to tell you he wouldn’t be able to do any of it without the local support of our amazing community.

           Reflecting on his own mortality, Mojo said, “I’ve lost several friends and relatives over the past several years and I watch as people share their own memories of each one on social media and I think to myself ‘I wonder if they knew they had this kind of impact on others before they passed?’ When I do go, I’d like to think that I’ve made a difference. But I question myself, as well as others….”

        While I am appreciative of the ab work-out I get from laughing as I listen to Mojo each morning with his perfectly timed voice inflections and anecdotal references as he chats with his hilarious co-hosts Ricky Fernandez and DeeDee Morgan, I am much more appreciative of the advocacy my friend does for the Tennessee Valley. Any one of his kind acts would be enough to call him a hero. But Mojo doesn’t stop at one. Or ten.  Or even twenty.  He keeps giving. And something tells me that will never change.  I’ll leave you with my favorite Mojo quote……

         “Robin Williams once said ‘I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone’. This is one of the most profound statements I may have ever heard. Each of us, more than likely, have people in our lives who are feeling all alone… We may not know why, we may not understand how, but if you love someone, don’t let them feel all alone… Listen… without judgement. Pray with them that God would heal their inner pain.  Spend time with them in person, not over text or social media. Today’s society has made it easy to disconnect from real feelings and emotions and has made it easy to think that if we just hit the ‘like’ button that person will know ‘I’m here for them’… Humans were built to love and be loved….. It’s time we love each other a little more.”

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