by Tony Roberts
By Tony Roberts
Ben Christopher Jakes, a friend to youth, Founder and CEO of Destiny Achievers Academy of Excellence, and former board member of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, passed away on July 3, 2015 after a long battle with cancer at the very young age of 64.
I say at the “very young age” because I remember Ben as youthful, energetic, positive thinking, visionary and a just plain fun guy to know. Yet Ben was always poised, dignified, and businesslike (I have never seen Ben without a tie and jacket).
It was my pleasure to meet Ben when making my first visits to Georgia’s charter schools in 2007 after becoming the CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association .I will never forget visiting the aged, formerly abandoned DeKalb County school building that Ben and his vision had transformed into a place where he hoped to turn the trend of black males dropping out of school.
Ben was not an educator by trade. But he was an innovator and a risk taker. (This may be the best definition of a charter school leader!) A native South Carolinian, he graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1974 with a degree in Computer Science. He spent his career working for AT&T where he retired, or should I say where he “retreaded.” His work was not done. After retirement, he set his sights on making a difference in his community and his world through education by founding the forerunner of the current school “Destiny Academy of Achievement.”
Although I asked him not to do so, Ben always called me “Doctor” Roberts. Ben was an Elder in his church and a very devoted Christian and leader in his church, so I always called him “Bishop” Jakes.
A fond memory is Ben calling or dropping by our former offices in Midtown and saying, “the voices at Varsity are calling me and I cannot resist….do you want to join me?” Normally with a board member or school leader, I would assume that such a visit would be an occasion to discuss some business or a problem. When Ben asked me to join him at Varsity, the agenda was to eat, ask about my family, talk about how things were going with me, offer any way he could help. Then, with my encouragement he would tell me about his family, his school, his golf game (which he loved), his church, and politics.
Speaking of politics, Ben was politically active and very influential especially in DeKalb County. He was greatly respected by leaders in public education and broader government entities. For instance, when Destiny Academy (as it was first called) once lost its charter as a State-authorized Charter School, Ben used every ounce of influence and political will to successfully move DeKalb County Schools to include Destiny Achievers as one of their own schools. The fact that he could make such a thing happen was nothing short of phenomenal—a testament to the respect that he had garnered. The leadership in DeKalb knew that Ben’s aim was for bettering the lives of youth, improving the community, and seeing young black men “succeed as he had done” (my words–as Ben’s humility would never have let him say such about himself).
Ben was an ideal board member at GCSA. He never missed a meeting, only offered carefully considered comments and votes, took advantage of every service offered by GCSA, and was a public advocate for all member schools—not just his own.
I have missed having lunches with Ben at Varsity since he has been fighting the battle with cancer and felt sorry for myself yesterday as I passed the Varsity thinking it would never happen again. But I remember the good and hope that those that remain will keep his commitment and drive to educate youth and move them to success.
If our youth could all turn out like Ben, the world would be a wonderful place