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AAMU PR Director Retiring

Jerome Saintjones
March 27, 2023

AAMU PR Director Retiring

The public relations director of Alabama A&M University has announced that he will begin his retirement May 1, following more than 30 years of service at the institution.

"It has been a great season, and I believe I filled a role at a crucial point in time that few would have been either able or willing to fill," said Jerome Saintjones, director of the Office of Marketing and Public Relations.  In fall 1992, he was hired to handle public relations duties by Dr. Jeanette Jones, the celebrated mycologist who was then vice president of research and development.  Dr. David B. Henson was president at the time.

"It was a tough period financially for AAMU, so anyone who could perform multiple functions was a tremendous asset, no matter how taxing it may have been to that person," Saintjones recalled.  "Yet, I remember seeing a passion that kept many cars in the parking lot after 5 p.m. and often on weekends." 

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saintjones entered Tuskegee University initially to pursue his dream of becoming an architect, following being named Outstanding Draftsman of the Year at his local vocational school in 1977.   However, because of an even stronger passion for creative writing, he changed his major to English early enough to remain a graduate of Tuskegee's centennial class in 1981.  He served on campus committees, was managing editor of the college newspaper, won the Tuskegee Centennial Poetry Contest, and served as public relations coordinator and other positions for the Student Government Association.  He persuaded his fellow SGA officers to convince the school administration to hold its student-oriented meetings in "the hot" SGA offices instead of the Kresge Center and helped facilitate a move of mattresses out of rooms to the warmer dorm lobby when rooms were cold.

Upon his graduation with the B.A. in English, he was hired in Tuskegee's public relations office, where he worked for 10 years.  Within that decade, he earned his master's degree in higher education administration at Auburn University, where he was often the only African-American in his classes.  He also briefly served as the administrative assistant to the Chairman of the Macon County (Ala.) Commission, and public relations specialist for the Southeast Alabama Sickle Cell Association.  It was during this period, that an Alabama A&M graduate, Erskine McKinnon, who was working at Tuskegee University at the time, informed him about an opportunity in Huntsville.

"Probably because there was a lot of turnover in the PR office until I arrived in 1992, doing a little extra could take you a long way," Saintjones said.  "For a few weeks, I manned the office alone.  Later, Thomas Colvin III joined as a graphic designer/creative coordinator.  It was likely three years before Shirley Alexander joined as secretary, and likely 20 years later that Debra Daniel joined to handle social media.  Overall, though, staffing was a roller coaster, never peaking, but always dragging along the bare minimum line, in terms of full-time personnel."

Nonetheless, Saintjones takes pride in purchasing A&M's first billboards, theatre ads, airport ads, and using every dime possible to assist minority businesses.  He also said he wrote, designed and laid out hundreds of newsletters, magazines, brochures and other items, when outsourcing wasn't an option.  Resolutions, he added, probably approach a thousand.

"Some think that persons who serve long develop a resistance to change," Saintjones added.  "I tend to disagree.  Serving long doesn't come without some insight into nearly every change in the book.  If you're lucky, sometimes you are blessed with an ability to see patterns.  You recognize the welcomed arrival of the bright and the shiny, along with your silent role as coroner when things go awry."

Since his days in junior high school, Saintjones has worked for only African-American entities for some 50 years, including setting up for a piano teacher, cleaning his church on weekends, serving as a dishwasher at Stillman College after high school classes, work-study and full-time employment at Tuskegee  and serving as a staffer at A&M.

Favorite Interviews

When asked about his favorite interviews, he indicated that two stood out:

labelle"There was a time when Patti LaBelle was on campus to receive an honorary degree," he recalled.  "She was alone in a room within the President's office at the time, and Mr. Michael Morns (from Electronic Media Communications) asked me to interview her.  We talked about Old School soul music and other topics.  I noticed a sweet humbleness that I thought was rare for one who had achieved so much.  I really enjoyed talking with her."  
Another interview involved an everyday, on-campus individual:
"One of my favorite stories, however, was my interview of AAMU staffer Carla Draper Holloway of the Honors Center," said Saintjones.  "She has a caring spirit and possesses a genuineness that is otherworldly.  When she recalled to me how she put all of her being into holding on to her child who was being pulled away by a tornado, I knew then that she was a special person for whom the Lord has much in store."  

After spending three decades in a place, there will be things that will be missed following a transition.  Saintjones was asked to consider a few.

"I will miss the wide array of stories that seem to come out of nowhere," he said.  "I liked trying to make complicated subjects more interesting, getting professors to dismiss the Ph.D.'s and relate to everyday people as if their careers and grants depended on it.

"I definitely will miss the PR staff--Shirley, Debra and Linda.  The four of us helped to develop an office that was nearly stress-free within.  We created a welcoming space that allowed people to vent, offer their perspectives over tea, a snack or candy.  Our snack area freely served staff and students in Patton Hall for some 20 years.  Because of our 'what happens in PR, stays in PR' unspoken policy, we were a favorite office for many people.  We handled calls from media, joked about the disparaging comments yet high demands placed on social media, served as an unofficial campus-wide switchboard, and provided many services to the campus community."

HBCU Experience

As a child, Saintjones grew up about one block from HBCU Stillman College and became fond of its family atmosphere. Nearly fifty years later in 2021, he penned the words to the official school song of J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College, another HBCU located in Huntsville.

Saintjones has always been an advocate for all HBCUs, but has not been afraid to ask the hard questions. 

"The HBCU experience is fantastic in many ways," Saintjones said, "but I'd like to critically explore it in terms of the stresses it places on the individuals who have been nurtured by it and are helplessly in love with it.  You can't be overcome by the savior complex.  Simply, you must keep your integrity intact and walk away knowing that if there's some God left behind, it will sustain itself without you.  Keep going forward; remember Lot's wife."  

Throughout the years, Saintjones has served as a consultant for the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors, the National Conference of Black Mayors, the Southeast Alabama Sickle Cell Association, Savannah State University and other organizations.  He has also served in various capacities at Holy Cross-St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Huntsville.

About 15 years ago, Saintjones said he was excited about earnest discussions at AAMU about the makings of a doctoral program in higher education administration.  He enrolled in the Ed.S. program, hoping to one day switch into the long-awaited program and to become its first graduate but, several retirings and professor deaths later, it never materialized.  He earned the Ed.S. degree from AAMU in 2011.

What's Ahead

What will he do after retirement? Is that trip to Africa still in the plans?

"I'll probably take the first few months to de-stress," Saintjones stated.  "There'll probably be some withdrawals from not constantly having to do something at the last minute.  I'll turn that switch off that expertly kept me for decades from telling a few people where to go.  I'll finally edit the novel I have been putting off for better times.  I'll also make some surprise visits to my dad in Tuscaloosa. 

"In terms of travel, the luster has dimmed somewhat on a future trip to the African continent.  My lengthy experiences with African-Americans on this continent has led me to the point that I feel the color of the foot on your neck doesn't matter.  But--I don't know why--I always find New Orleans and Charleston appealing."

Saintjones said he will focus more keenly on personal interests, including some yard work with wife Marilyn, giving requested advice for daughter Morgan, intense reading,  creative writing,  working on special projects with long-time friend Georgia S. Valrie, and enhancing his intense weekend hobby, The Valley Weekly (, the online newspaper founded by AAMU alum, entrepreneur and former administrator Dr. Dorothy W. Huston.  He has served as the paper's senior editor for nearly a decade.

"Thank you, A&M, for being a wonderful family," Saintjones concluded.

by Debra Daniel


Caption: Saintjones (r) interviews singer Patti LaBelle  (Photo by Michael Morns)