Occupation: Writer, blogger, performing artist, MC
What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I always wanted to be a star! I love transporting an audience, row by row, to a magical, beautiful place where there are no appointments, bills, or traffic! Even if one person out of thousands is inspired by my performance, it’s worth it. As the first African American Rockette since the troupe’s 1925 foundation, I lived that dream, and had the honor of being a positive role model for girls everywhere who saw that hard work, perseverance, and dedication can accomplish your dreams, even break down a historic color barrier!
What are some different jobs you’ve had in your life?
I’ve been a print model, a pageant Queen, a Broadway actor and dancer, a bartender, an executive assistant, and an usher. The most rewarding job was founding my own studio, the Jennifer Jones Dance and Fitness Center. I took great pride in meeting the needs of my clients, encouraged them to seek good habits like clean eating, wellness, and meditation. Eventually I had to step away because there were months when I travelled for work like during the Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular 75th Anniversary Tour. I’m grateful for the experience. It was a huge outlet for personal growth. I helped a lot of amazing clients reach their fitness goals, and I learned the ropes of entrepreneurism.
What do you work toward in your spare time?
Since this is the 30th anniversary year of being the first African American Rockette, I’ve been looking back at my accomplishments as a yardstick to measure where I’m at, and where I’d like to find myself in the next 30 years. I’ve realized that I have such a passion for MC’ing and hosting, so I’m working towards that goal in my spare time, taking classes, practicing, and building towards my dream. I credit great media figures like Oprah, Gayle King, and Robin Roberts for inspiration, and the smart, charismatic, daring hosts who came before them like Joan Lunden, Jane Pauley, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Walters.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Morning! I’m up before the sun. If I have a late night scheduled, I’ll take a disco nap in the afternoon.
What are you most proud of?
Raising two incredible kids! I pray they go through life blessed with good health, steadfast morality, a strong sense of justice, and a college education that gives them great pride in hard work.
What are you known for?
Compassion and mercy. The longer I’ve been alive, the more I believe that being born with a deep sense of humanity is a roll of the dice, and it’s incredibly hard to learn or teach. I feel so blessed to have been born with that God-given grace. I’m also known for my perseverance. After performing for two decades in NYC, I learned how to put on a stoic face and get through hardships without pity or complaint. If you can’t find a way, make one. The show must go on!
What inspires you?
Game changers and revolutionaries! It’s such an honor to be a color-barrier breaker, so I’m incredibly inspired by other pioneers, trailblazers, and groundbreakers, especially those who’ve paved the way. I recognize the hard work, courage, and dedication it takes, and all of the obstacles you have to overcome. I know exactly what it’s like to be in a place where you know you’re not wanted, but know you belong! It’s a big reason why I have so much respect and gratitude for Oprah: I was poised to become the first African American Rockette during the same period that she was an up-and-coming young black woman in Chicago, demolishing the old guard of the very genre that they had created! My accomplishment absolutely would not have been possible if she hadn’t changed the landscape first, and hadn’t set the stage for diverse talent to have voices in an exclusionary industry. No doubt!
Tell me something about you that most people don’t know:
I’m biracial! When my parents married in the 1960s, it was considered scandalous, radical, and literally unlawful in some places. My parents raised me and my sisters with an emphasis on feeling comfortable in our own skin, regardless of color, so I’ve never felt uncomfortable being the minority or majority in a room filled with one race or the other. There’s a duality in being biracial that’s equally awesome and challenging. The hardest part is when I’m discriminated against because of the color of my skin, or when people assume my heritage based on my appearance. The most rewarding part is that I fit into a whole range of humanity, and feel comfortable around everyone! With the Rockettes, especially in the first couple of years, it was a question of revolution vs. evolution. I worked hard to ensure that my accomplishment as the first African American dancer on the line was based on my raw talent and skill, and not just a headline-grabbing gesture based on my skin color. Looking back 30 years later, I’m proud to say that it sparked a modern new chapter for performing arts diversity and inclusion.
Why did you apply to be an O Mag Insider?
After I left Broadway and the Rockettes, the thing I missed most was having a platform to broadcast my light and goodwill. I’m forever grateful for OMag’s support, recognition, and connecting me to its loyal readership. The magazine has always encouraged me to live my best life, so I feel like I’ve come full circle. I was a longtime OMag subscriber, but in 2016, with the shift in American politics, I started subscribing to the NY Times and WaPo, which totally restricted my budget for magazine subscriptions. This past summer in NYC, while waiting for a friend, I was browsing at the Prince Street newsstand, and the July OMag issue caught my eye with radiant Oprah asking the big question, “What Would Make You Happy?” and I remembered thinking: Oprah makes me happy! So I bought it, and saw the OMag Insiders announcement in the back pages. I sat on the idea for a couple days because I figured I didn’t have a shot in the world, especially since I’d just started doing social media a couple months prior! I applied on July 4th, and in hindsight, it’s such a huge metaphor! My OMag Insidership has been nothing short of explosive, and larger than life!
How do you live your best life?
I’ve been writing a weekly “LYBLABCs” series on my website [https://rockettejenn.com/lyblabcs/] based on Oprah’s “Live Your Best Life” philosophy that focuses on essential, core values as keys to unlocking the best version of yourself. I think that your best life’s goal is completeness, and your mission is to cultivate it and defend it! Here are my three basic guidelines to remind me of the three most important values: generosity, positive change, and joy!
- Keep your heart pure and your mind clear. When the heart is open, the hand gives freely. Generosity seeks no bounds or conditions, and it means taking responsibility for the well-being of others and showing them that you’ve made an effort, even if you can’t offer them caviar and champagne!
- Throw your support behind a good cause and dedicate yourself to changing what is hopeless in this world. Connect with others and make their lives easier: ease sorrow, bring comfort, and do good for the world. Help bear someone else’s burdens, and carry them when they’re too tired to take another step. Help the helpless and defend the defenseless.
- Sometimes life feels like one long act of endurance, so if every moment lived is one closer to the end, why not make every one as joyous as possible?!
What are you reading now?
For the past year, I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction, so when I got Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage as part of my OMag Insiders welcome package in late summer, I was happy to get back to fiction! The story is so immediate that I have to read it in small doses. I’m loyal to all the authors in Oprah’s Book Club, so my bedside stack is currently the Oprah-NYTimes Bestsellers: Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, Mitch Albom’s The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, and Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light. And now that Oprah has picked Michelle Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, it’s so perfect: the past couple months, I’ve been sketching-out anecdotes for my own memoir, and this will be great inspiration!
What’s a day in your life like?
I’m up before dawn and always wake with a meditation. When I started the practice, I focused on positive words linked to the “good” in “good morning” like grace, glow, grateful, gratitude, goodness, God, etc., and now it comes natural. To jump-start my body, I brew a hot water infusion of ginger, lemon, turmeric, and raw honey. I’m all about restoring the alkaline balance! Then exercise. I try to switch it up between yoga, running, and the gym, but for me, exercise is always about shutting out the past and the future, and focusing on the present. Then it’s time to caffeinate, usually with a cappuccino…or two! My day is always varied between work, errands, family, and friends. I had an almost militaristic routine for 15 years with the Rockettes, so I cherish spontaneity! The one thing I always try to do is eat healthy. I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so it’s always veggies, salads, grains, dairy, etc. Before bed, I have an evening meditation that builds on the morning’s thought. It’s such a great way to start and finish each day with harmony, serenity, and gratitude! X
You can find Jennifer Jones online below:
This is part of an ongoing series, introducing you to the dynamic individuals who make up O, The Oprah Magazine’s Brand Ambassadors known as the O Mag Insiders. For more information on the program or to apply, click HERE.