By Victoria Necessary
When you meet Sandy Springs actor Bernard Jones, you understand why award-winning Alliance Theatre director Rosemary Newcott cast him as Li’l D — the bright, talented, tenacious, overly confident music class leader — in her adaptation of the Emmy Award-winning Cartoon Network series “Class of 3000.”
Billed as “Class of 3000 Live,” the original Alliance production casts nine local actors to breathe life into cartoon characters created by Andre “3000” Benjamin of OutKast and Tommy Lynch. The cast includes Wendy Melkonian, co-owner of Sandy Springs bakery Breadwinner and veteran of Buckhead eatery Souper Jenny.
Sunny Bridges is the show’s central character. When we meet Sunny, he has abandoned his career as an international music star. Eventually, he is recruited by Li’l D to be the middle school music teacher. In that role Sunny renews his passion for music and inspires his students to follow their dreams.
That theme fits the Alliance Theatre’s commitment to inspire creativity and Jones’ personal mantra: “Success and self-expression through hard work.”
Born in Paterson, N.J., to a single mom who refused to let two strokes and lupus prevent her from giving her son a “normal” childhood, Jones began life as a “miracle preemie.” When describing his childhood, he counts among his blessings time spent at home with his mother, disciplinary boundaries and a strong relationship with his religion.
Jones said he is thankful for having always received everything he asked for or needed.
At the age of 5, he experienced a life-changing “a-ha” moment. “I was singing my first church solo,” Jones said with a twinkle in his eye. “From that point on, I knew I would be a performer.”
His mother knew he was talented and needed an outlet for self-expression. When he was 9, she enrolled him in the KGT Center for Performing Arts. His training there continued until age 12, when his mother died.
Reflecting on the loss, Jones said his mother “had already taught me that with hard work I would be successful.”
Jones has worked to hone his craft ever since.
Asked if he drew on his childhood experiences when preparing for the role of Li’l D, Jones said, “I was actually a little like Li’l D back then.”
But he said the guidance of his grandmother, father and other relatives helped him escape the lure of drugs, crime and the Paterson gang scene. “I was in it,” Jones said, referring to the rough urban setting of New Jersey’s third-largest city, “but not of it.”
Jones attended the Rosa L. Parks School of Fine and Performing Arts, a public high school in Paterson. “I was a little cocky as a freshman,” he said with a chuckle. “But both my drama and vocal teachers humbled me by explaining how even though I may have thought I was good, with hard work I could always be better.”
In retrospect, he was lucky to have found his own Sunny Bridges in the form of two inspirational teachers. In addition to his stage career, he is pursuing music with an R&B group, Xclusiv, and has performed at Carnegie Hall.
Jones came to the Atlanta area in 2003 to attend Morehouse College, which he graduated with honors, and settled in Sandy Springs. “Class of 3000 Live” marks his professional theater debut.