Bridging The Gap

Feb 14, 2024

This trailblazer was the first Black cadet in the Western Territory, advocating for minority communities and their needs.
- by James McMechan

February is when we honor the achievements and contributions of African American men and women throughout our nation's history. Despite facing many challenges and decades of struggle, the pages of The Salvation Army are filled with trailblazers who worked for religious harmony despite serving in some of the most difficult places imaginable. As one historian once recalled: "Black Salvation Army soldiers lived the Army's "Blood and Fire" motto, as they struggled to hold fragile communities together, sometimes amid the spilling of actual blood and in the heat of real fire."

Major Gwendolyn Jones was one such trailblazer. As the first black cadet at the College for Officers Training in the Western Territory, she spent forty years advocating for the needs of the community. Her tireless efforts to "bridge the gap" between the work of The Salvation Army and the communities they served gave her a reputation as an innovator. Throughout her career, she constantly challenged The Salvation Army leadership to do more to break down the racial barriers that often created mistrust, preventing them from impacting critical areas of need for Christ. She said, "You need to represent whatever community you are working for and help Salvation Army leaders understand what's going on, so we can better serve it."

"You need to represent whatever community you are working for and help Salvation Army leaders understand what's going on."

In addition, Major Jones served on the African American Multi-Cultural Committee, often looking for new ways to increase the presence and role of Black officers. She understood that the best ministry often consisted of giving people a safe place to "tell their stories where they can share their frustrations . . . and know someone is praying for them and trying to walk alongside them."

As she advocated for the views and needs of minority communities, change began to happen. Underserved residents began to trust and understand the mission of The Salvation Army as new opportunities for ministry emerged. She was instrumental in helping develop effective outreach programs for children. She would recall that her work helped her achieve what she felt was her biggest accomplishment as an officer: "being able to speak into people's lives and be able to encourage them to be the person God wants them to be."

Today, Major Jones is retired, but she holds the distinction of being the first Black officer to train and retire from the Western Territory. The legacy that she leaves has produced lasting change in the culture of The Salvation Army. While she might be quick to offer any praise she receives to God, she is also quick to advise young officers coming up through the ranks.

"You have to put your armor on to do this work because you are going to need courage, strong self-identity, and stamina to swim upstream, stand alone, decipher ignorance from evil, remove glass ceilings, and remain true to God and yourself." Words to live by for all of us.

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