- Durham Public Schools
Hillside High Alumnus April Parker Jones Credits Drama Training for Dream Come True
“I’m a Huge Fan of Public Schools, Always Have Been”
There are a myriad of reasons to love actress April Parker Jones of Bel Air and Tyler Perry’s If Loving You is Wrong fame:
- She’s a 1994 Durham Public Schools Hillside High School alumnus—the last class at the original Hillside school building.
- She’s a protege of the legendary drama instructor Wendell Tabb, who has clocked 35 years as an educator who has impacted countless students’ lives through theater.
- She loved being a DPS student.
- She’s faith-filled.
- She’s a strong woman who has played strong characters.
- She’s grateful.
- She’s as warm as a summer breeze.
On this particular day, she has stacked appointments but one cannot tell. Her voice immediately calms you, and she makes you feel as if you’re the most important person in the world. She doesn’t rush the conversation.
Perhaps her calm can be attributed to the fact that she’s living her purpose. Parker Jones has known that she was meant for drama since the tender age of five when she played in The Tortoise and the Hare at the W.D. Hill Recreation Center on Fayetteville Street in Durham. (She also played basketball there.) “I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.” But she says her foundation in theater education was built at Hillside High School with Drama Director Wendell Tabb’s training. Her early education began at Pearsontown, R. N. Harris, and Hope Valley elementary schools, where she was captain of the Bouncing Bulldogs jump rope team. She then attended the “beautifully diverse” Githens Middle Schools, where she was a member of the chorus, before going to Hillside.
Tabb says he remembers her strong commitment to pursuing her dream.
“What I remember most about her is her ability to know what she wanted early on but to also be flexible in scheduling.” He remembers Parker Jones making theater her choice despite all of her options. She played basketball and ran track, and Tabb asked the Durham Striders track coach if Parker Jones could come to his play practices sometimes. He called Tabb and asked if she was going to be a star because ‘she’s already a star with me.’ Tabb told him, “Coach Blount, she is going to be a superstar.” An agreement was then forged to support Parker Jones in her Hollywood endeavor–as long as she continued her participation in track.
Tabb said she gave theater 100 percent though her time was split between the two.
“I had to. It’s where my heart was, and I had to follow my heart and I don’t regret it. I’m so happy that was the course that God put me on, and I’m so happy that I was obedient... I knew that being part of the legend and the reputation that Hillside drama had, the choice was easy,” said Parker Jones. “I had to pursue my theater career with Mr. Tabb.”
She had a dream and she followed it, noted Tabb, who emphasized that for so many reasons, students don’t follow it. “But she was able to follow it and I could always use her as one ofht examples about why it is so important to follow your dreams,” she said.
“Hillside played such a pivotal part in laying the foundation,” she said. “It all started in Durham.”
Her gifts and creativity were nurtured at Durham’s Lincoln Memorial Baptist Church, due to her mom’s insistence that her four children have a spiritual foundation. She was also a part of the Githens Middle School drama department. She was familiar with Hillside’s theater department from attending the shows. She said to herself, “This is a special high school, and if I get a chance to go here, I’m going to be a part of the drama department,” she said. She continued playing basketball and running track but eventually had to make a choice. “I followed my heart because my heart was with the drama department, and I’m so glad I did.”
Parker Jones attended North Carolina Central University as a Communications major with a concentration in Media Journalism with the goal of becoming a news anchor. While taking theater classes there, she had a reckoning. “What are you afraid of April? Go ahead and change your major to theater. You know that’s where your heart is,” she told herself. So she switched majors in the second semester.
“It changed my life, so much so that going into my third year of college, I decided to move to New York to pursue my dream of becoming a Broadway actor.”
She came close, performing in some off-Broadway shows. She then returned to her safe haven with her Mom to regroup briefly at home in Durham, and moved to Los Angeles with her husband in 2005 to try television and film acting. She booked the Tyler Perry Show in 2015, moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and has lived there ever since. Those 10 years between moving to Los Angeles and now living in Atlanta was a journey, not an overnight success, she admits. She thinks she may have had a total of 30 jobs to make ends meet. Sometimes she thought about giving up. But her faith and people who believed in her kept her going. “God said otherwise. God said no, no, hold on a little while longer. I’ve got something for you. Stay in faith, and stay knowing that you know you were created to do this and I’ve got something for you. Just trust my timing. So the journey was really a spiritual one.”
“I’m just so grateful that God allowed my gifts to make way for me,” she said. She’s a testament to gifts that keep giving. While she nurtured her career, she also had loved ones– always her Mom and others– who hoisted her up. Her daughter and her husband—who told her they weren’t leaving LA until she got what she moved there for—reminded her not to give up when she considered detours..