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May 16, 2007

MSD commencement to feature comic alumnus

From: Fulton Sun - Fulton,MO,USA - May 16, 2007

The Fulton Sun

C.J. Jones' Web site describes the performer as a CEO, comedian, actor, motivational speaker and teacher.

Add to the list “role model” and “entrepreneur,” and you'll almost have a comprehensive portrait of this Jack of all trades.

He's appeared on Broadway, on NBC's “Frasier,” ABC Family's “Lincoln Heights,” and PBS's “Sesame Street.” The Los Angeles based entertainer will speak to the graduating class during the commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday at the Missouri School for the Deaf.

Having experienced what he calls the “double whammy” of being both black and deaf, Jones urges young people of all walks to take advantage of what life gives them.

“My mission is to tell them that they must not find excuses,” he said. “‘I'm deaf, I can't find a job,' or ‘I can't have a dream because I'm deaf.' That's baloney. That has nothing to do with anything. The most important thing they have to remember is this: Your thoughts will lead you to success.”

Jones was born to hearing parents in St. Louis and has four brothers and two sisters. He began acting when he was 5 years old and when he was 7, he contracted spinal meningitis and became deaf. He then attended Gallaudet Day School for the Deaf and MSD before heading east to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I graduated with a degree in data processing,” said Jones, laughing. “Imagine that ... but, you got to eat. I didn't want to be a starving actor.”

Jones received recognition for his work with the National Theater of the Deaf and toured with the troupe across all 50 states and parts of Europe.

“I love acting in any format, but I'm really trying to focus on TV and getting onto the silver screen,” he said. Jones' most recent work was as a “voice-over” for a deaf Native American (played by a hearing actor) in a movie called “Path Finder” from 20th Century Fox.

In 2001, he founded Sign World TV, a station dedicated to broadening the opportunities for deaf people in entertainment.

“We've got 500 channels already,” said Jones. “Why not 501 with a channel for the deaf?”

He also heads Hands Across Communications, a production company for deaf artists. His DVD “What Are You ... Deaf?” is available at

Jones has called the opportunity to speak at his alma mater “a huge honor,” and he is looking forward to visiting the campus for the first time in almost 30 years.

Those attending can expect to learn and laugh.

“It's been a good journey, my life, but it's been a struggle too,” he said. “Something good will always come out of struggle. Doors will always open, but you have to open them for yourself. Nobody is going to open the door and say, ‘Here's your silver platter.'”

MSD superintendent Barbara Garrison felt Jones was an ideal speaker for a group of graduates she describes as “highly motivated.”

“They're definitely going to achieve their goals,” she said. “We've got three students who are planning to attend post-secondary school, one who is going on to veterinarian school and some who are going into networking and computer graphics. It's a great group of kids.”

With that level of motivation already in place, Jones' inspiration should definitely sink in.

“I had never seen myself as deaf or black - I was just C.J.,” he said. “Color has nothing to do with it, disability has nothing to do with it. We just have to get out there and show our abilities.”

© 2007 The Fulton Sun.