Keeping up with the Joneses: culture, leadership and legacy at ASU

Some leaders come by accident. Some are intentional.

Enter Alonzo Jones and Ahlias Jones.

Father and son. Brothers in fraternity. Cultivators of culture.

And it all happened here at Arizona State University, starting in the 1980s.

“I landed in a Black and nurturing space here at ASU,” says Alonzo “AJ” Jones, associate athletic director in Sun Devil Athletics, of his introduction to ASU in 1986.

“But I also grooved into the ASU experience intellectually and was well received by campus organizations, faculty and staff. ... Folks turned into mentors. I got involved in cultural organizations like S.T.A.R.S. that gave me a chance to build community, kinship and friendship among other freshmen who identified as Black. That created excitement and gave me my initial entry point to fraternity, particularly Alpha Phi Alpha.” 

That’s AJ’s band of brothers. The Mu Eta chapter of the Greek letter organization came into being at ASU in 1976 — 70 years after the fraternity was first founded on the campus of Cornell University. Alpha Phi Alpha is the oldest intercollegiate Black fraternity in the United States, and, in over a century of existence, has become an incubator for leadership.

The fraternity stakes claim to a distinguished membership legacy that includes a who’s who of trailblazing Americans: abolitionist and intellectual Frederick Douglass; sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Olympic track-and-field great Jesse Owens; and civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — to name a few.

Joining the fraternity helped AJ find the emerging leader within himself, and he began doing the work. Before graduating from ASU with a degree in justice studies and moving on to Texas State for his graduate degree in developmental education, AJ was a featured speaker at the inaugural meeting for what is now the Black African Coalition at ASU — the organization his son Ahlias would take leadership of 30 years later.

“The community chooses the leader, not necessarily the other way around," says AJ, who now guides life skills programming for student-athletes and motivates as a speaker and coach. "I think there are many ways to be a leader. I’m more comfortable organically but I have much respect for intentionality.”

Intentionality is more descriptive of the leadership style of Ahlias, AJ’s fifth child and fourth to attend ASU. Since beginning his ASU journey in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahlias has dived into leadership roles that speak to his passion for culture and education.

While studying secondary education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and working as a preschool teacher, Ahlias also serves as president of the Black African Coalition, president of ASU’s National Pan-Hellenic Council, vice president of the Mu Eta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Incorporated, and vice president of the newly formed Black Educators and Mentors.

“I was definitely different (than my dad). I sought out the position (as a leader),” Ahlias says. “I’m a visionary person. I have a lot of ideas and I want to see these come to fruition. For me, the best way to do that is to be in the leadership room; … ‘in the room where it happens,’ like they said in ‘Hamilton.’”  

Ahlias was on a leadership track even before he got to ASU, having received a pair of prestigious scholarships in his senior year of high school — the Leadership Scholarship and the ASU Alumni Association Medallion Scholarship.

“In my freshman year, we would meet and talk about how to be a better leader, how to be of service, how to understand what our strengths are and how to make an impact on the community,” Ahlias says. “Having these classes early in my college career kind of lit a fire under me. It pushed me to get involved in other student organizations.”

The first organization Ahlias got involved with when he arrived at ASU was Alpha Phi Alpha — just like his dad. He was a standing member in his first semester, then ascended to president his second semester. He is already making plans to pursue a master's degree in educational leadership and policy at Howard University after he graduates from ASU.

Naturally, AJ is a proud father. He says Ahlias has accomplished much more and in a shorter period of time than he did in his years at ASU.

“I’m a mad proud dad with my son,” AJ said in a recent exchange with Ahlias. “And you’re at the beginning. You’re going to be, in my mind, an innovative leader … from the way you’ve handled leadership positions from high school to now at ASU — and it was at the jump! They’ve been calling you Mr. President.”

Ahlias politely corrected him.

“It’s more like Mr. ASU now,” Ahlias said, smiling. “Mr. ASU is the new moniker.”

Hear more of what they had to say about culture, leadership and legacy in ASU's Golden Conversations video series.

Video of Uplifting and Celebrating Your Cultural Community: Golden Conversations

ASU News reporter Marshall Terrill contributed to this story. Top photo by Chloe Merriweather and Enrique Lopez

Suzanne Wilson