By Charles Sowell  

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010 8:15 a.m. Comments (1)

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Sometimes help can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Erin Jones left her small Midwestern town to study education and then earn a master’s degree in theater from the fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University, where she met and married the Jones family heir, Stephen Jones.

Betsy Fleming left a liberal-leaning family in Spartanburg to attend Harvard University, then studied at the London College of Arts and ultimately earned a doctorate from Yale University.

The women disagree on the roles of women in society and religion in education.

Yet their deep knowledge of art history and meetings over a two-year period helped them find common ground. That is one of the purposes for the Liberty Fellowship program, which pairs mentors (Fleming) with mentees (Jones) – to develop leaders by exposing them to new people and ideas.

“We did a survey of fellows and found that half said they learned the most from the persons they were least like,” said Jennie Johnson, executive director of the Liberty Fellowship. “It helped them see the world from a different perspective.”

Jones’ fondest memories as a child are of playing with her brother in the hayloft of her grandfather’s farm in Kansas during family vacations from Normal, Ill. Her dad was an insurance executive and her mom a teacher.

“I’m sure it sounds silly,” said Jones, the director of the Bob Jones Museum and Gallery. “It was dusty and hot. But we did love that place.”

Her parents were busy but always found time for at least one meal a day with the family.

Fleming most remembers rollicking meals around the dinner table and freewheeling discussions on a variety of subjects with friends of her large family. Her father was a physician and her mom served on Spartanburg’s public services commission.

“I learned so much there about things like diversity and different points of view at that table,” Fleming said.

It helped prepare her for the world she was to enter as a college student, museum director and, now, president of Converse College.

Geographic proximity, shared values and experience are part of the current mentor-student strategy, Johnson said.

“We tried things like pairing a lawyer from Greenville with a doctor from Charleston and that just didn’t work out. The distances were too great and there was little common ground. Betsy and Erin shared a love of art and we hoped that would be enough to cement the bond between them. This whole mentor thing is very much an art, not a science,” Johnson said.

Jones has been director of the Bob Jones museum since March 1999. Fleming’s last job before coming to Converse was as executive director of the Gibbs Museum of Art in Charleston.

Jones and Fleming met about a half-dozen times, mostly in Fleming’s office at Converse.

“We were pretty much all business. Betsy is a busy woman and so am I,” Jones said. The sessions generally lasted about an hour.

“Outside of the Liberty Fellowship work, I’d pick Betsy’s mind for ideas on things like fundraising for the museum,” Jones said. “She’s such a wonderful resource.”

Jones and Fleming’s differences came up during the women’s only meeting at the museum and gallery, Jones said. It was one time the subject of religion as it relates to education came up between them.

“I believe we change the world one heart at a time,” Jones said, “And I told Betsy that. It is basic to my beliefs as a Christian.”

Fleming said, “Erin and I had one talk about religion during the time we were together and that was enough for me. Overall we kept our relationship professional. And I think we worked well together.”

Jones said she learned from Fleming to catch herself when being judgmental of people from different backgrounds than hers. Jones’ fellowship project centered on using Christian exchange students and native speakers at BJU to reach out to non-native students (and their families) attending a Greenville public school.  English is a second language in all of the households affected.

Today the women consider themselves friends. That’s not unusual, said Johnson. “We’re out to build relationships that last a lifetime (at Liberty Fellowship) and to produce leaders that will carry South Carolina forward.”

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Comments
Add New
Stephen Fox  - Muslims and the Liberty Fellowship   |2010-09-11 05:05:47
It may be pushing this relationship a little fast, but I do hope it would be
possible for Ms. Fleming and Ms. Jones to consider sponsoring possibly with
folks in the Furman community a discussion of the highly praised film on
Interfaith Muslim Dialogue: Different Books, Common Word.
Denzel Washington
of the Book of Eli has endorsed this effort as has former Furman proff and great
friend of FBC Greenville, Charles Kimball.
I see in the article that Ms.
Fleming said her one hour discussion with Ms. Jones about religion was enough
for her.
Even so chance for these institutions in the Upstate, Wofford too,
to show much needed and timely leadership on this matter, and this documentary
is very good talking point to start the conversation.
Even so most
fascinating article and I applaud Ms. Jones, Ms Fleming for their good works and
the Journal for this feature.
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