Hundreds of members from every corner of the Baltimore community packed Nowchild Soundstage on Preston Street on June 4 to celebrate the life, work, and music of Derrick Jones, better known by his monikers “OOH” and “Yo Slick.”
The man that so many knew as a mentor, father figure, teacher, brother, and friend, passed away at the age of 38 on June 1, but not before leaving an indelible ma
rk on his beloved city of Baltimore.
“There’s a disconnect with knowing that I was told he has passed away and feeling like he’s still here,” said Ian Smith, better known as “Jahiti.”
The two had a friendship that began on the campus of Coppin State College and spanned nearly two decades.
“He was holding religious conversations on campus, and I was holding them in the dorms—not knowing that we were each doing the same thing,” Smith said.
The two finally connected when Smith noticed Jones coming out of a campus building with a copy of Anthony Browder’s “From the Browder File” in his hands.
“That was the beginning of our friendship: sharing knowledge and the understanding of the spiritual quest,” Smith said. “He was intelligent enough to know that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and the more intelligence you have the better you can navigate.”
Jones himself was a loyal member of the Five-Percent Nation, but his influence and mission of serving the community crossed over the barriers usually posed by religion. Evidence of this could be seen clearly near York Road and Belvedere Avenue, where members of the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, led by Heber M. Brown III, changed their public display to honor the memory of Jones in the days after his passing.
“The Baltimore community got it right—he knew that he was loved and appreciated it,” said Smith, noting that most people usually get their recognition after they’ve passed. “OOH got that love while he was alive.”
“No matter how close I think I was to him, there are another 400 or 500 people that feel they had that same connection,” he added.
Through his music, Jones was the gritty lyricist who worked crowds into a frenzy with catchy lines that pushed boundaries while also encouraging listeners to break out of the “fishbowls” they are living in. Jones and Smith had a strong following across the city.
To his students, he was Mr. Jones, the caring teacher who went the extra mile to make sure those he served never went without.
A force in the classroom for 10 years before moving into the position of director for the Baltimore division of Youth Advocate Programs Inc., Jones’ influence was palpable to those in attendance at the candlelight vigil Wednesday.
The crowd listened intently as three of his former students took to the microphone. Tears began to flow as one of the young ladies told audience members how Jones stepped up with the necessities needed to take care of the child she had at age 14.
Though Jones’ time as a teacher was a success in its own right, his real legacy centered around the work readiness program he created to take at-risk youth off city street corners and put them to work.
The program, Save a Dope Boy, spawned off a song Jones titled “Dope Boy” which told the tale of an inner city youth trying to survive while stuck in a cycle of poverty with all the odds against him.
“He was one of those kids. Because he was intelligent he was able to break the mold and get out, but what about those other kids who can’t?” said Smith. “Those kids who say they are only doing it only because they need the money.”
To them, Jones offered at least six months of employment at a local business. His program was so successful that an entire movement began to sweep over the city as the song became more and more popular. Sales from tee shirts and hats with the slogan became fuel to help the program survive. In September, The White House came calling for the man raised in West Baltimore’s Poplar Grove and East Baltimore’s Somerset Homes.
Some anonymous supporters had nominated the Save a Dope Boy program for recognition by President Barack Obama himself. Jones used his Facebook account to take his followers with him every step of the way.
“When he died it was like Maya Angelou passing,” said Munir Bahar, leader of COR, the group that carried out last year’s 300 Men March. Bahar recounted how Jones selflessly worked to combat street violence and pull young African-American men off street corners.
“Half of us will go on Facebook and post pictures and comments—and that’s only half,” said Bahar. “The real question is who’s going to take his place on the battlefield? It’s going to take a lot of men to fill his position.”