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Delores Jones has survived what most could never imagine. After losing her 21-year-old mother, Mary Ann, to a heroin overdose when Jones was only 5, she found herself homeless at 17 but started college anyway. Soon after, she was lured into a relationship with an abusive partner.
Despite this, she graduated with dreams of becoming a broadcast journalist and, of one day, meeting Oprah.
She accomplished both.
“I never saw myself as a victim. I was misguided. I was building myself from the inside out,” says Jones, now 50 who now calls herself “The Comeback Coach.” In 2011, Jones, wrote Stop the D.U.M.B. Stuff: A Woman’s Guide for Being Responsible for the Relationships We Have and the Decisions We Make. She also runs her own YouTube Channel, DeloresJonesTV, where she doles out advice to women who want to be, in her own words, unapologetic, bold, brilliant and a boss.
‘There Wasn’t Time to Be Ashamed’
Jones grew up the eldest of five, being raised by her grandmother. After her mom died, Jones’ grandmother also “ran into her own issues,” Jones says, and was unable to care for the children. Soon, Jones found herself in the home with no electricity or water. But it wasn’t time to be ashamed—she knew there was more ahead for her and enrolled at Donnelly College, a small private Catholic college in Kansas City, Kansas at 17 to study communications and broadcasting. There, thanks to her 4.0 GPA, she earned a presidential scholarship to cover her tuition.
“Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re stupid,” says Jones bluntly. No one was aware that Jones was living in a motel during this time.
Later, she would transfer to the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. She wanted to be like Oprah, Jones says. A voice for the voiceless.
It was here, while living in a motel, struggling to make ends meet, that she met her first husband, a preacher.
“He was 12 years older and presented himself as a savior.”
Early on, Jones felt his kindness came with strings attached. Whatever he gave her, she owed back in the form of obedience, compliance. She eventually accepted his marriage proposal, but knows now it was more out of obligation than love.
“I was two hours late to my own wedding because I knew... I felt indebted to him.”
‘At Home, All Hell Was Breaking Loose’
Jones, who was now graduated and working at a TV station, says her new husband turned up his controlling tendencies soon after, a form of coercive control. The religion he preached, she says, demanded she submit to the man, that he was the head of the household. (Read more about spiritual abuse here.)
“I didn’t think he had my best interests at heart,” she says, and their marriage began to crumble. One day, when Jones was on the phone being interviewed for a job at a local radio station, her husband yanked the phone out of the wall. He didn’t want Jones to work in secular radio.
“He felt like he was number one, always.”
Jones took the job anyhow, but it didn’t come without its punishments. The two would go on to have a son, Ricky. When he was still a baby, Jones’ husband would refuse to care for him, disappearing just moments before Jones was to leave for work, forcing her to take the young boy into work with her.
Luckily, her workplace was understanding and Jones proved her talents. A part-time position turned into a full-time afternoon time slot on the air. She became known as the “drive-time diva.” She was on Cloud 9 professionally. But at home, she says, “all hell was breaking loose and no one knew.”
Their son was 3 the first time her husband physically abused Jones. She was getting ready to go to work, washing the dishes in the kitchen, when her husband began yelling at her about some money he thought his wife owed him. Jones didn’t expect what came next.
“He wrapped his hand around my neck and lifted me up off the floor.” As she struggled to breathe, Jones considered grabbed a nearby kitchen knife and stopped herself just short of stabbing her husband in self-defense. She couldn’t bear the thought of telling her son what happened.
“If you stab this man, you’re going to have to explain to your son how his daddy got stabbed. And you’re going to go to jail, not be like Oprah Winfrey,” Jones says she told herself.
Eventually, her husband released his grip and left. They never spoke of the incident again.
But Jones did disclose what happened to a friend, who was also married to a minister, what had transpired. Her friend disclosed her minister husband was also physically abusive, but it was even worse. Looking back, Jones says she used that to minimize what her husband did to her.
Jones’ friend eventually left her husband, but the conversation that day would stay with her. Domestic violence, she realized, was far more wide-reaching than just her own home. Jones got up the courage to divorce her husband.
“I walked away from everything. The only thing I had was my son, a car and an education. When you’re ready to go, you’re not going to fight over anything.”
But the abuse didn’t stop.
“When we went to court, he had reached out to the judge before and was saying all these things, so he ended up getting custody and I had to get visitation.”
Jones remembers the judge’s words like it happened yesterday. “Your son doesn’t get to go home with you tonight.” She would see her 4-year-old every other weekend.
“I started crying. My great-grandmother was there. She said, ‘Deedee, you are still his mother. You’re still his mother but if you lose it, your son is going to lose you. I knew that the divine was aware of everything and I wasn’t going to be alone.”
The next time he hurt Jones was during a custody exchange. She was dropping their son off with her ex and the boy didn’t want to stay.
“He had these big crocodile tears saying, ‘Mommy, I want to go with you.’ My heart was breaking.”
She stepped toward her son to comfort him and her ex once again wrapped his hand around her neck, this time, swinging her from side to side like a rag doll. When he let her go, Jones grabbed her phone and dialed 911, but her husband took off in his car.
“He went to the police station and filed a report to say I was trespassing on his property.”
For his near-homicide attempt, her ex would end up paying a fine and attending anger management classes.
‘You Have a Very Powerful Story’
Eventually, Jones would go on to win joint custody but dealt with the aftermath of having a son who thought she’d left him. One night, Jones made a vision board. On it, she put images and words related to being a good mother. And in the center, a picture of her standing next to Oprah.
In 2007, it happened. She had told her story of growing up with a drug-addicted mother and the distressing relationship she had with her grandmother, attending college despite being homeless, and was included in an anthology of published stories. Oprah wanted to talk to her.
“It was surreal because it was something I had hoped for the last 18 years.”
After the show, Jones was able to show Oprah her vision board.
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“She told me, ‘You have a very powerful story.’” Her appearance led to the offer of a book deal but Jones said she couldn’t do it. Not yet.
“I wasn’t free in my mind. I had fears people would write me off.”
It would be four years before Jones could write her book and could begin speaking about the domestic violence she endured. She even started a life coaching business she calls Finally Free, LLC, where she “helps women make bold moves beyond labels, limitations and low self-esteem.” Her next bigger-than-life goal is to do a TED Talk, obviously. Her son is now 22 and they have a good relationship. She’s dating, though cautiously. There is still a part of her that blames herself for what transpired.
“I look at what role I play in it—should I have been smarter? Could I have been nicer? I don’t want to see myself as a victim.”
At the same time, she knows she’s evolved. After she began dating a new person, she was able to clearly see a glaring red flag.
“One morning, out of nowhere, he said, ‘Delores, you ever hurt me and I will F you up.’ I said, ‘What?’ And he repeated it. We were months into it. I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’” She ended things soon after.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve been working on Delores. I know I can make it without a man.”
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