Rays of Light: Alex Jones

Hometown: Chillicothe, IL / Peoria, IL

Current Location: Peoria, IL

Current Role: Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) & Exercise Instructor

Nominated By: Anna Tegge (an earlier Ray of Light)

Reason for Nomination: Alex Jones is a perfect selection for Rays of Light. Alex exhibits personal strength, passion for her profession as a speech pathologist, and loyalty in all of her friendships. She is kind, thoughtful, and brings her hilarious sense of humor to every situation.

Alex Jones was the type of teammate that increased my love for soccer in college. When joining the soccer team, she was an upperclassman from whom I wanted to earn respect. She made young players feel welcome, encouraged, and brought fun & humor to the game I hadn’t experienced since recreational, youth soccer. Alex had a way of building up those around her and fostering a sense of irreplaceable team spirit. She defined my collegiate athletic experience, and I know some of those characteristics are continuing to help her lead in her post-college-life.

Alex as young soccer player. PC: AJ

A Short Bio.

Boisterous, bold, and refreshingly authentic, Alex Jones lives life as many people hope to: she stays true to her character, does what she deems is just, speaks openly and honestly, and marches to her own beat. Stated in an English sentence, Alex sounds like the cliché archetype of any worthwhile biography or memoir. But, indeed, she is more. It would, in fact, be difficult to overstate how unique Alex is. She has a booming voice, which she frequently puts to use, and ears that always remain ready to listen. Alex projects bravado, yet as most of us do, sometimes, also experiences low self-confidence. She grew up in “the country” and embraced most aspects of country life—except, of course, the music. Alex also spent most of weekdays in the city.

Naturally, Alex’s upbringing was not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Too often, she faced discrimination for being African American. Yet, if you know anything about Alex Jones, you know that she also has thick skin. In effect, over time, Alex has learned to love and embrace her community, even if, too often, many of her community members have actively chosen not to embrace her merely due to the color of her skin. Despite it all, Alex rarely wears anything but a smile on her face, for she exudes genuine joy for life and tries to avoid letting hurt feeling prevent her from living her best life. And, hell, if she has anything to say about it, she will try to ensure that you feel the same as well. Laughter, lightheartedness, and friendship fuel her high-octane, joy-ridden life.

Alex (middle) and her family at her Master’s graduations from Eastern Illinois U. PC: AJ

Alex was born and raised in the Central Illinois outside of Chillicothe, a town of 6,000 located 20-30 miles northeast of Peoria. There, she lived “in the middle of nowhere, on a lake in the middle of a cornfield.” Neighbors were few and far between, as was cell service, grocery stories, and other trappings of 21st century life. Nevertheless, Alex enjoyed her country upbringing, her time spent growing up alongside her parents and younger brother, Eric.

Life as a young Jones moved rapidly. Since Alex and Eric attended school in not-so-nearby Peoria, they left for school extra early. And because their parents worked as first-shift pharmacists in Peoria, they all rode together, even though this meant that Alex and Eric often arrived around an hour before the start of their first classes. Although many people grumpily eschew early mornings, Alex didn’t seem to mind too much. After all, long drives meant family time. Even more, long drives to school meant that Alex could see some of her best friends and attend a place where she felt at home: Concordia Lutheran School (CLS). Even today, though time has faded some of Alex’s other relationships, she insists that, “The bonds and relationships from…[CLS] are like no other.” Alex still enjoys friendships with many of her former CLS classmates today.

Alex (right) and Eric (left) as children. PC: AJ

As a youth, Alex packed her schedule with athletics, music, theater, church activities, and extracurricular involvement. She played violin, piano, saxophone, and sung in the choir. When not making music, Alex lived in the gym—practicing her ball handling, positioning, and shooting, as she prepared for the next basketball game or season. Alex also played soccer and participated in Girl Scouts and, later, National Honor Society. Needless to say, free time was a foreign concept to Alex through her high school years. And though the pace of her life—leaving for school around 5:30 a.m. and not arriving home until after 5:30 p.m.— could feel a bit blistering, Alex credits her parents for with instilling dedication, passion, and discipline in her at such a young age.

Alex later transferred to Peoria Christian School, where she would go on to graduate in 2012.

Above: Alex points to an award she won for “Achievement and Leadership” in Jazz music back in 2008. Alex was a talented young violinist, pianist, and vocalist. PC: AJ

After high school, Alex moved 100 miles northwest to Rock Island, IL, a city on the Mississippi River. There, she attended Augustana College, studying Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) and anchoring the women’s soccer team. Reflecting on her time at Augustana College, Alex writes:

I have absolutely no regrets about the decision to go there. I met some of my best friends there. I learned a lot about myself during this time…[Augustana] was definitely a turning point for me.

At Augustana, the world opened up to Alex. She changed, she grew, and she made great friends. Even more, Alex became aware of who she wanted to be and how she wanted to be part of the world while at Augustana.

Old Main, a beautiful limestone building, is Augustana College’s centerpiece. PC: Augustana College Website

After graduating from Augustana, Alex attended Eastern Illinois University, where she received her Master’s in CSD. Today, Alex serves as a full-time speech pathologist for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the Peoria (IL) school district and as a part-time speech pathologist in a private clinic. Because every bone in Alex’s body loves to stay busy, she also teaches workout classes 3-4x a week. Furthermore, although Alex’s work schedule leaves her feeling exhausted most days, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I get to make a difference every day….I’m working on being the best version of myself,” she writes.

Q & A: The [Not So] Serious

BB: Hi Alex! Thank you so much for being willing to participate in Rays of Light! I’m excited to get to know you more, and hopefully others will do the same. If you had to participate in any food-eating contest, what food item would you eat?

Fried calamari is a popular appetizer at many restaurants

AJ: Calamari. Prepared in anyway. Anytime. Against anyone.

***

BB: What led you to pursue Speech Language Pathology (SLP)?

AJ: I chose to be a speech-language pathologist, because it was something I felt like I could be great at. My grandma also had an aneurysm and couldn’t remember who we were and had difficulties with language, executive functioning, etc. I met her SLP and watched her therapy with my grandma. I fell in love with the idea of speech language therapy, and I felt like I could one day do the same thing. Obviously, the doctors and nurses were a huge help in her recovery, but the SLP was the unspoken hero in this situation. The doctors, surgeons, and nurses helped give me my grandma back physically, but the SLP gave me back my grandma mentally. She gave me the woman I know back. She gave her back her language, speech, ability to function, and most importantly, she was able to give her back her memories…

Also, special shout out to all my PT’s and OT’s out there! I love working with them.

An SLP works with a child on her pronunciation. PC: Yeshiva University

BB: What does a typical day look like for you?

AJ: Well, I wake up. I teach a workout class at the YMCA at 5:30 AM on Monday’s and Wednesdays. Then I shower, skip breakfast, and drink coffee. I go to the school that I work at and look at the kids I am going to see for the day. I quickly grab a pre-prepped activity and I do push-in therapy inside the classroom. My kids all have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In previous years, I have worked with primarily children with intellectual disabilities, behavioral and emotional disorders, and middle schoolers. Then, after a full day of school, I get to my private therapy job where I provide specialized therapy to children outside of their school day. After seeing 1-2 kids, I end my day with going back to the gym to teach Spinning classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, I work all 3 jobs back-to-back, 3-4 days a week. I am always exhausted, but now that this quarantine business is happening, I’m going to enjoy my time off as much as I can.

BB: What do you most enjoy about your work?

AJ: What I love about being an SLP is that I don’t find it hard to stay motivated. I always feel like I’m making a difference.

The best part about working with my kids is that they are all different and fun. I love them so much. Their parents are great, too. I enjoy working with them to help create a plan for their child to function in a world that doesn’t always see them as equal.

I always tell people who are unfamiliar with the ASD diagnosis and/or population:  If you’ve seen or met one person with ASD, you’ve only seen or met one person with ASD. It’s a spectrum. One person may look or act differently than another person with or without ASD. People are quick to generalize a person based on their “disability.” People are quick to see the word “disable” rather than the word “able.”

Sadly, as a person of color in today’s America, I can relate to this. Now, I’m not saying being African American and having ASD are the same. However, there is some understanding of being a minority. It’s easy to get overlooked: people may look at you differently. They may judge you or compare you to others who appear to be like you, and the list goes on. Just like any minority, we need to advocate for each other, and I truly believe that this is what my job has taught me…Fight for those who ARE like you; fight for those who AREN’T like you; fight because you know what’s right; fight because you take pride in something bigger and greater than yourself. That’s what my clients have taught me about being human.

Time hasn’t changed much! Alex still loves to smile, even when life gets tough. PC: AJ

BB: Imagine you and three famous people (dead or alive) are holed up in a Trans-Siberian Express sleeper car for the eight-day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. What three people would you pick? How would you pass the time?

AJ: Jesus, Satan, Beyoncé. I’m interested in the Christian religion, so I definitely would ask questions to both Jesus and Beelzebub about various topics within the Old and New testament. I think that would be super cool. Once I’m done asking questions and conversing with Jesus and the Devil, I plan on them going back to their respective cosmological places. Then, Beyoncé and I are just going to kick it over a few drinks. I, for sure, want to get the tea about Solange beatin’ Jay-Z’s ass in the elevator. We might play a few games too, do some karaoke, work out – I’d do anything with Beyoncé to be honest. As long as it’s legal.

Inside a Tran-Siberian Express sleeper car. PC: Seat 61

BB: After finishing college, you moved back to your hometown of Peoria, IL. How did leaving your hometown and then moving back shape your perceptions of where you grew up?

AJ: Well, I felt like I was gone for 4-5 consecutive years. I did not spend every summer at home between each year at college. I spent a lot of that time travelling to various countries and/or going to summer school. Peoria will always be my home. I love it. I think I love it because everyone hates it here. I want to show people that you make your own happiness. I don’t care where I’m at. I make the best of every situation that I can. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side. It’s green where you water it. You feel me? That’s what it is right there.

I call Peoria the “Center of Illinois.” People often mistake Chicago as the Center, but it’s a money pit. I ain’t trying to die broke. Chicago can’t have Alex Jones. I’ll go there for a weekend or whatever, but to live there? I better have unlimited funds. Shoot, I save so much money here, and I find things to do. I’m only 2.5 hours from Chicago and STL (St. Louis). I’m right in the middle of everything, and that’s why I call it the Center of Illinois. I might be wrong, but I love it. When you grow up here and you know everyone and everything, those connections provide support for me in my career and social endeavors.

At the end of the day, this is home. You can hate on Peoria as much as you want, but if you ever come visit, I will show you the best parts, and I guarantee a good time.

Peoria (IL) skyline at night. PC: Peoria City Website

BB: What do you enjoy most about your city? 

AJ: I love that I know everybody. My parents and brother live here. I’m within driving distance to STL (St. Louis) and Chi-Town. We got lots to do here (you just gotta look to find it). I have friends that I’ve known since diapers here, and this is the land of Richard Pryor. Need I say more?

I will say, Peoria is segregated racially, and it’s pretty obvious. I won’t get into that too much, because I’d like to keep this positive, but there are neighboring towns that have active hate groups as well as segregated communities within this city. It’s sad.

***

BB: When looking to laugh, who or what (activities, settings, etc.) do you turn to?

AJ: Oh gosh. I’ve been down a lot during this quarantine. I live alone, so I get lonely sometimes. I went through a breakup during this crazy stay at home order as well. So, during this time, I’ve been seeking comfort and humor with my mom, my brother, my best friends from childhood, friends from Augie, and friends from EIU. I rely on these people to have a good time. Our good times consist of drinking out on the patio by the fire, Zoom happy hours, taking girls trips, attending a million weddings, and just coming together as much as possible. We have fun doing anything honestly.

If I’m alone, I enjoy reading sci-fi books and mysteries. I also play piano and saxophone for entertainment. I listen to music all day long – no country music, please. I play games with Alexa…she has become my best friend for the past 70ish days we’ve been at home. Dave Chapelle Netflix standups are hilarious. I’ll watch those weekly and Family Guy, too. I LOVE FAMILY GUY. Seth MacFarlane is a genius. I’d love to meet him one day.

Family guy always gets a laugh out of Alex. PC: Fox Television

BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

AJ: I would go back and tell myself that everything you got going on is not that serious; the things that have happened to you are not your fault, and you should go for what you want in life. Don’t let people dictate who or what you are. ALSO, you will continue to suffer if you have a quick reaction to everything that is said to you. True power can be found in sitting back and observing with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you, anyone else can control you, too. Allow things to pass.

***

BB: Finish the sentence: My greatest Halloween costume was ____________? Why?

AJ: Psh. I was the same two things growing up, because my parents didn’t want to buy me new costumes every year. I was a witch (basic) and a hippie (basic) growing up. [Lol] These two basic-ass costumes were not cool. In my parents’ defense, I don’t like candy or chocolate, so really Halloween was not that exciting for me. I just liked to dress up and give candy out to my friends at school.

BUT, this past year I was a clown. I made it my profile picture, and changed my name so people wouldn’t recognize me on social media. I don’t know if it worked. Anyways, I decided to be a clown because I was invited to a Halloween party where I knew no one. I found that if you can pull off a real good costume, more people would be willing to talk to you. I did receive some backlash for posting this picture on social media. There were a couple comments, which are now deleted, about me having “white face.” I have no comment about that, but it did raise some interesting thoughts and questions.

***

BB: In what important ways do you see that you have grown since graduating college—Undergraduate, Masters, or both?

AJ: Whoa. Loaded question. Hmmmm…I’ve grown a lot. I feel like I’ve grown and am still growing on having more respect for myself, which increases my confidence. If you ask acquaintances or people that think they know me, they would say that I have confidence, but my true friends and family know that I struggle with self-confidence in my job, in my relationships with people, etc. I think that’s how I’ve grown, but there is still room for me to grow. Always.

Alex is excited for what the future holds. Each day, she learns and grows. PC: AJ

BB: Would you ever consider getting a tattoo? If so, what would you get, and where would you put it?

AJ: Yes and no. I would love to have a tattoo. However, I have a condition in which I can easily grow keloids on my skin. Keloids are scars, but the cell tissue continues to grow on top of itself similar to how cancer cells continue to grow. However, Keloids are non-cancerous, tumor-like scars. I have them all over, but my most visible one is on my chest, and I wear my scars proudly. In African countries, keloids can be seen as a form of art in various environments for various reasons.

If I did get a tattoo, I’d put it in a place where no one can see it. I always thought having one on the inside of my lip would be funny since I’m a speech therapist. My students would love that.

***

BB: We are living in a very strange and unprecedented time. What are you doing to keep a clear head and find joy in this time?

AJ: I work out every day. I just started hanging out in small groups. I read books. I play my music. I watch documentaries. I bike A LOT. I hike. I meditate. I work from home, and I will start working back at the clinic in June. I am going to start road tripping with a friend of mine. and most importantly, I’m completing interviews for Ben Bruster 😉

PC: CNN

BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why? 

AJ: BACK TO CAMBODIA. I always said I would never travel to a country more than once, because once you’ve seen that place, you can go somewhere different for the same price or less (and I’ve been twice!). However, when I received a grant to go to Cambodia, it completely changed my life. Augie gave me the opportunity to travel to a place I’ve never been or even heard of, and I came back appreciating things I took for granted. Cambodia is a 3rd world country. I saw a different kind of poverty that does not exist here in the United States. I made a lot of friends. I even had myself a little Cambodian boyfriend. [Haha]

I’ve been twice, both through programs at Augustana. I continue to talk to a lot of the monks and students that I had there. I’ve been invited to weddings and sent baby photos from friends over there, and I truly had the best experience ever. You will never see a country like this. Cambodia has by far some of the nicest people and some of the most interesting history and artifacts I’ve ever seen. Although Italy, France, and Germany had crazy history/artifacts too, everything is modernized, whereas Cambodian artifacts look like they have not been touched since the beginning of time. Crazy cool.

When I came back, I flushed every toilet in the house, turned the lights on and off to ensure that I had electricity, and you best believe I turned the air conditioning on. I definitely took these things for granted beforehand.

Cambodia is located in SE Asia, bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. PC: Maps of the World

BB: If someone was to describe you in three words, what would you want them to say?

AJ: Extroverted, opinionated yet, caring.

***

BB: Pineapple on pizza? Explain.

AJ: Duh. Savory and sweet, aesthetically pleasing, and delicious? Why not.

Hawaiian Pizza:) Yum. PC: Tasting Table

BB: If you could fix one problem in the United States or this world, what would solve? Why?

AJ: Did you say one problem? Lol. Ben, c’mon now, you’re killing me. Hmm…

It would have to be racism. I identify as mixed (African American & Caucasian). Growing up, I rarely experienced, realized, or understood racial inequalities. I grew up primarily around other white people. The private schools I attended and even all the way through college, I was surrounded by mainly white children and their families. There was even a time where my brother and I were the only people of color in an entire school (K-8). As I grew into a teenager, I started to notice that I was different than my peers, especially when trying to date boys my age.

As a child, you assume the best in everyone but also hear the way people talk around you. I remember my best friends parents saying things like, “I would never let my child date a black person,” “Is that your real hair?,” or “You’re different because you’re not REALLY that black.” The latter comment I heard a lot growing up. I felt like they were trying to say those things as a compliment, but it’s still hurtful because it’s isolating. It stinks because I still hear things like that today. People will say things and not understand that it’s not about you and it’s not about you feeling less racist or prejudiced or whatever just because you have a “black friend.” I even have friends to this day that get frustrated with me because I don’t want certain people in my life. I’ve learned that no one has the right to tell me who to like and let into my life. I get a lot of excuses that a person is “sheltered” or “they don’t know better,” but those excuses only last for so long. It’s time to stop using those things as a crutch for people who do not fully understand the seriousness of racism and racial prejudices.

During graduate school, I received my first actual racial assault by a man. I was on a walk with a friend from EIU in Charleston, Illinois. We were minding our business. This man is driving a beat-up red car drives passed us, and we thought nothing of it. He turns around r, yelling racial slurs and cussing me out, telling me I need to go back to where I came from and all that nonsense. He spit at me, got back in the car and drove off. I was so scared. I was even scared to call the cops. If it’s like that down here in Charleston, IL, how do I know that I can even trust the authority? I believe I made a mistake in not contacting the police, but I was scared. Little did I know that this would continue for the entirety of my Graduate school career and later on in my adult life. To date, I’ve been denied service at a bar in Charleston that has since burned to the ground (Karma); I’ve been denied service at another bar in Frankfort, IL, and I had an employer in Graduate school that refused to call me by my name. Rather, she would continue to call me names such as “Shaniqua, Keisha, ShaQuonda,” and other names that made me feel like she was stereotyping me, because I was the only student of color who worked there.

“Black is Beautiful” became a catchphrase in the late 1960s. With recent protests due to police brutality against POC, the saying has re-emerged. PC: Center for Study of Poly Graphics

It’s a huge problem and it sucks because I don’t think people realize how embarrassing and hurtful it is to be called out and denied in public. Not everyone has experienced the feeling of “ruining” a good time because all your friends get serviced and you are the one person that has to explain why we have to leave a non-accommodating facility. Luckily, my friends have been AMAZING in standing up for me and helping me in these unprecedented situations. I’ve cried every time this happens. Even writing these things and sharing with you makes me tear up. I feel like a burden. You start to question whether you truly are hated that much because of the way God made you. It sucks that I have to be held to a different standard than everyone else. I aim to be the best version of myself, and that should be enough.

Any inequality is wrong. Whether it be based on race, age, ability and/or disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc., it’s wrong and it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve been there and I know.

***

BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what [if anything] do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?

AJ: I don’t know. The things I put on Social Media are the things I choose for you to see. Outside of social media, I would love for people to know that I am unique, I have a lot of weird things that I have accomplished in my life. I’d also like for people to know that even though I get perceived as opinionated, bossy, and even annoying (which I am), I have been through things that people couldn’t even imagine. Try to see where I am coming from before you label me. I am Alex Jones, and I’m changing for the better.

Alex surrounds herself with powerful people–namely, powerful women. PC: AJ

Author’s Note: Rays of Light is a blog dedicated to spreading positivity, recognizing everyday servants and role models, and allowing others to be vulnerable and share more of their stories.These words are found as they were written, except when subtle rewriting improved narrative flow. It was such a joy getting to know Alex through this process. Her authenticity, realness, humor, vulnerability, and care for others is so refreshing. Thanks for sharing your truth, Alex!

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