When Tuere Jones was left with the decision to take over leadership at a declining non-profit servicing the formerly incarcerated, she continued a critical program for New Orleans residents.
What did you create?
BAR NONE by DeSign is a grassroots-minded, nonprofit organization which offers Black people who are currently and formerly incarcerated seven elements of services: therapeutic healing, education, entrepreneurship, arts, homes, community-driven justice, and partnership.
MOTTO: Transcending Incarceration With the People We Serve.
How did you come up with the idea?
I didn’t initially. I was hired on to BAR NONE. However, a month in, I realized some things needed to change. The mission was too long and vague with no clear direction of our service other than being art-based. Eventually, I was able to define it more. If we were to serve this very specific, and oftentimes, isolated people who have been reduced to numbers on cheap jumpsuits, I understood that we had to be deliberate about our language and purpose.
When I brought my idea to one of my elder mentors, Mama Carol BeBelle, Co-Founder and Executive Director of, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, she confirmed it with the question, why? Why are you doing this? Why should people believe you? Why should people support you? I’ve always been a firm believer that “why” is the root; and the ultimate question to answer if you want the Freedom that lies within the truth. Regardless of how painful and ugly that truth can sometimes be.
After months of being a part of the organization, I had my doubts about where we were going. We did some great work, even prior to my joining. However, the internal struggles started to outweigh that, and I had to start making decisions on whether or not I wanted to remain here. I prayed often.
Then someone close to me said to me that this work was in my blood and that I’d brought over 20 years of experience to this organization and built a foundation where none existed. So, I made a costly decision to stay and make some significant changes for the betterment of the organization.
I’ve been doing work around the prison industrial complex for more than two decades easy. So many people around me have been directly impacted by mass incarceration in some form or fashion. Either going to jail or prison, or having a loved one being incarcerated, including myself as a juvenile and adult.
I’ve served with the Angola 3 Coalition at its conception. The coalition was to release three men who spoke out against segregation in Louisiana and their treatment of incarcerated people. Subsequently, they were charged for an offense they did not commit while in jail. They ended up spending between 29 to 42 years in solitary confinement.
(Baba) Robert King, the first of the three to be released is like a dad to me. Other local organizations like the Fred Hampton Youth Education Committee that directly dealt with school pushouts more commonly known as the school-to-prison pipeline and PICRM (People’s Inter-Communal Resistance Movement) is where we led community conversations about what plagued the Black community. One being what we called, police terrorism, lead us to facilitate, Know Your Rights Campaigns, at Community Book Center.
Santa Barbara, CA: Robert Hillary King of the Angola 3 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2010. Photo credit: Scott London.
National organizations like: Angela Davis’ Critical Resistance; Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; Black August International (South); Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr.’s POCC (Prisoners Of Conscience Committee); and Blackout Arts Collective, which brought our nine chapters straight into prisons around the world in a Lyrics On Lockdown Campaign Tour. Before all of this, I’d taken it upon myself to take up cases of incarcerated political prisoners, arming people with information about their stories and in turn, asking them to sign petitions to see them free. I would try to gather 5000 signatures.
Who inspires you? How?
My mama, granny and nanny have always been my inspiration. These are the three smartest, strongest, beautiful, for the people and well-dressed sisters I know. Lol! I wanted to be them!
My mama is quiet. Very observant. Our home was Black Power for sure, but it wasn’t drilled into our heads. It was lulled in our hearts and spirits. You know?
She made us understand this was who we were naturally. Other people would tell me of her activism and I would run back and ask her and she would grin and ask me who told me that then laugh. When I found her high school yearbook and read what her classmates wrote, it just reaffirmed the power of this 5 foot 1 woman, and how much she truly loved her people. Someone in the book called her EF Hutton. I didn’t know who that was and when I asked her, she laughed.
I asked my granny and she told me. I still didn’t understand at such a young age. When I got older, I understood. My granny and I share the same spirit. Like my cousin Sunni says, “she comes to shake shit up!” The shit is already shook though passing for structure. I just expose it and work with others to develop and consistent plan of action or plans of action. Whatever works!
My granny is 5 feet and I’m probably giving her an inch. She’s who all the mayors, and chiefs of police, and 5th district police captains and council people know by name: Mrs. Dumas. She will call you out on your shit; have the facts to back it up; provide you with a blueprint to implement the changes; expect them to be done by a certain time; then invite you over for a home cooked meal from scratch with veggies from her garden and fish that her family caught her that morning.
She helped raise her two brothers, putting one through college. My great uncle, Sam Bell, Sr., went on to belong to organizations like Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Freedom Riders, and more local organizations in the Lower 9th Ward and Treme like Tambourine and Fan founded by his best friend, Jerome “Big Duck” Smith.
Uncle Sam ran for governor, shaking things up sometimes showing up to debates, and other functions in a dashiki and already sporting an afro, lol! He didn’t win of course, but the threat was evident and he was able to ensure resources to many of our people as promised while exposing racism and corruption.
When did you recognize your talent?
I think I’m still recognizing it, I guess. I’m only learning now to clap for myself. I’ve been on autopilot for a long time. In 2004, I remember asking both, Baba King and Baba Sundiata Acoli (political prisoner currently wrongly convicted for murdering a police on the New Jersey turnpike with comrade Assata Shakur and another of their comrades, Zayd Shakur was assassinated) about taking a break. Getting their permission basically.
They both were like you do what you need to for you. You have to take care of you first. Baba King especially. He knew firsthand, how long and hard I had been at it, so he encouraged a break. I had my two babies, Aisha Afi and Zion Kinte Naasir and got married. Now, my babies are my energy.
How did you create an audience or community that appreciates your work?
As an educator, my students have always been why I got up. I was clear why I did what I did. I was and still a servant. Period. They reminded me every day that I needed them as much as they needed me, so we tackled this Eurowestern school system together.
My promise was and is, to show up everyday like it’s my first day, but I’m a little more wiser. I chose them. Not the other way around. Now, being a mama, I realize the depth of that even more than before and the importance of that partnership between parent and teacher/educator. My students are my babies. Some of them are in their 30s now. To see them and all of their accomplishments makes me proud that they allowed me to be an active part of their lives.
As well, I’m just inviting. All are welcome to BAR NONE. Partnership is a part of our mission. I believe in that for real. Anyone can come to our events. We’re not always invited to the table and that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t stop us from extending an invitation. Even if they’re coming just to see what we’re up to, what they can steal, etc. It’s frustrating at times and definitely disappointing; however, we know why we do this. Them moving the way they do only shows us that the work we’re doing is effective. I just wish that it could be done collectively rather than in opposition. But when you have outside forces in your ear . . .
I have put a lot into this organization for someone to come in and steal anything from it or me. The mission, vision, goals, those are my words, feelings and experiences.
I am an ally who has been dedicated to this work . . . [and] I am directly impacted by it as well, through family members, including my brother. But I shouldn’t have to say all of that. Caring, commitment and action should be enough. But it isn’t and that’s unfortunate. And because of that, you have to check people, call them out when they use your name to get funding and not share the wealth.
When you allow others to dictate who you are and give them the power because you’ve allowed them to convince you that they’re the only one with a bag (like the youngsters say), then what does that say about your intentions, integrity, and morals? And more importantly, about those you serve?
. . . We’ve seen too many instances where we sell each other (those in the same situations) out for less. Like the saying goes in Black community, “all skin folk ain’t kinfolk.”
My mama often reminds me that not everybody has the same heart as me. I’m her child who doesn’t care about money. And not that I don’t care, I just don’t stress. I’ll figure it out. The Most High will make a way. I will give it more than I receive it. If I got it, so does everyone else. I’ve always been like that. So when I say, “I put my money into this organization,” I knew I wasn’t going anywhere, and had to rebrand and regroup. That’s what this journey has been about: a whole transformation and transition.
Where can you reach Tuere and BAR NONE.
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