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Interview: Jack and Jill of America National President Danielle Brown on the Importance of Increasing Youth Leadership: “The Time Is Now”

Jack and Jill of America Danielle Brown 

Jack and Jill of America (JJOA) is a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty. The organization’s emphasis is on stimulating the growth and development of children through educational, cultural, civic, recreational, health and social programs inspired by mothers.

 

Members and teens from 247 chapters representing 33 U.S. states conducted 252 congressional meetings during Jack and Jill of America, Inc.’s (JJOA) 7th Biennial “On the Hill” Legislative Summit that was held Sept. 25-29. An 81-year-old national non-profit organization dedicated to developing youth into leaders through cultural, civic and social experiences, JJOA kicked-off the conference with a Legislative Advocacy Day at the U.S. Capitol with 1000 of its teen delegates holding 66 meetings with the U.S. Senate and 186 with the U.S. House of Representatives. On Sept. 26, JJOA teens met with 147 Democrats and 103 Republicans to say “The Time is Now” to act on key legislative issues: Voter Registration; Equity in Education; and Gun Violence Prevention and Safety.

 

 

Empowering our youth to take pride in civic, political and advocacy engagement is at the forefront of our organization’s mission and core values,” said Danielle Brown, National President, Jack and Jill of America, Inc.“And last week1,000 of our teen delegates demonstrated the will, desire and commitment to independently meet with 150 of our congressional leaders to raise their voices and exclaim, The Time is NowNow is the time to enact legislation, which will make the United States a safer and more equitable place to live and thrive.”

 

 

During the “On the Hill” Legislative Summit, JJOA and its philanthropic arm, Jack and Jill Foundation,  also launched a scholarship endowment, with a goal to raise $2M collectively. The HBCU “Close the GAP” Scholarship Fund, has a purpose of providing seniors attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), with an unmet financial need and are unable to graduate – an emergency gift.

 

“Each year college students with only one or two semesters left cannot graduate due to small unmet financial needs,” said Brown. “Students attending HBCUs will have an emergency gift to pay tuition balances. The outcome is simple – we want students to graduate! Jack and Jill is not just committed to our children, but all Black youth.”

 

With the goal of increasing the number of students graduating from HBCUs, students in good standing who are close to finishing their degrees will qualify to have their remaining tuition bill paid in full courtesy of the Jack and Jill Foundation’s HBCU GAP Scholarship.  The $2 million endowment will begin with a collaboration with the Foundation over a 10-year period – $100,000 annually – into a scholarship endowed fund for students attending an HBCU.

 

Additionally, Jack and Jill of America joined the national voices of those advocating for policies and practices that would better protect communities of color with its first-ever The Time is Now: Gun Violence Prevention and Safety Rally.  More than 1000 teens and parents donned in orange – the color for  National Gun Violence Awareness – spread the conversation about gun violence prevention and safety through a live stream of the rally and social media conversation using the hashtag: #jjgoesorange.

 

 

Legislative and community advocates from civil rights attorneys, journalists, media commentators, authors, political strategists to activists – all staunch champions of the organization’s mission to nurture future African American leaders – supported JJOA’s “On The Hill” Legislative Summit throughout the week by participating in townhalls, workshops, keynote addresses, online engagement and more. Representatives of Black Excellence included: Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA),  Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Dr. Anthony K. WutohDr. Gregg Carr, Allison SeymourStacey Samuel,  Sophia Dennis, Nupol KiazoluNaomi WadlerBenjamin Crump, James Clark, Bria Smith,  Tyah Roberts,  Kemba SmithBakari Sellers, Shermichael SingletonValerie Jarrett, Donna Brazile, Yolanda CarawayLeah Daughtry and Minyoa Moore.

 

I had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Danielle Brown, National President, Jack and Jill of America, Inc., to share more about this years’ summit, and how parents and schools can encourage more youth leadership in our communities.

 

Danielle Brown, National President, Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Danielle Brown, National President, Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

 

 

 

Makeba: One of the highlights, many highlights of this year’s summit was the teens getting the opportunity to meet with those legislators on Capitol Hill. Tell us how can teens be more involved in social advocacy in their own communities and how parents in schools can support their endeavors?

 

Danielle Brown, JJOA: Well, first and foremost it begins with what is the cause. And of course, Jack and Jill is about children and it’s getting passionate about that issue. And then understanding what that issue is and then determining a couple of things. One, how is it that you want to be able to communicate in your voice? And then more importantly, what actions, what outcomes are you looking for? So, with our children, what we teach them is what is the issue? And I’ve said that before gun violence was one, equity in education, voter registration.

Then it became personal. In other words, how has this issue affected you in your life or someone that you know? That’s what you speak on. And then more importantly, what is the ask? When we went to Congress, it was about asking about for certain bills or for them to support certain things in order for us to continue to have that voice. But anybody can do it. And really all politics is local. So, we start locally where they are. And then we ask them to go to their state houses and repeat what they’ve done here in Congress when they go back. Because many of these issues can be forthcoming in those areas in which they live. So that’s what we teach them, and I tell any teen they have the ability to do that too. Just don’t stifle their voice. Every voice should be heard.

 

 

 

Makeba: What’s your advice for young people to stand firm in their advocacy against social injustice and for gun violence prevention, particularly among their peers? Because sometimes that can be a little difficult for teens to do, especially in this day and age.

 

Danielle: Well, first of all, you’re absolutely correct. We know with gun violence that our black children and teens are 14 times more likely than white children and teens of the same age to die by gun homicide. We also know that that [gun violence] affects them and how they feel about when they’re going to school.

I can tell you, I’m a product of the Civil Rights from my parents and it started with the youth. It was the youth that went into the Woolworth and set at those tables and decided that they were going to be in the beginning of that fight. It’s nice to see that our children are passionate about it as my father was when he marched on Washington. So I think that they have it and I think when their conviction is to their people around them, is to then again, make it personal so that they understand how this affects them, why we need to do it now. As the name of our summit is, The Time is Now, the time is right now. And that is the way our teens talk. And it’s funny. The way I’m talking to you, they’re even more passionate when they talk to me. They want it done now. And when they talk to their peers, it’s the same way.

 

Danielle Brown, National President, Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

image credit: facebook/JJOA

 

I haven’t yet come across a group of teens who are not as passionate as I am about those things. So much so because I think it affects them differently. When I went to school and maybe when you went to school, I didn’t worry about somebody coming in with a gun trying to kill me. I didn’t have to worry about going into the store, somebody coming in and killing me. These things did not happen. However, they are a reality for them and that reality scares them so much that they’re saying if you as adults can’t make the change, we’re going to continue to walk and talk until it gets changed. And that may be until they vote. Which is also why voter registration is high on our list. Get them to vote, continue to vote, start early because they know that they can be the change and make the difference.

 

 

 

Makeba: You and your organization are working diligently to raise awareness for increasing voting in America. Now as national president of the nation’s oldest African American family organization, can you just share with us in your own words the importance of African American teens, 18 and older registering to vote?

 

Danielle: I’ll tell you what my mom used to tell me. If you don’t vote, then you can’t see change. She also used to tell me, “If you’re not going to vote, then don’t complain.” Because every vote counts. And I can’t see that any more than my children. I have two children who are over 18 and I instilled that into them early. And I remember when they turned 18, they couldn’t wait to vote. And I’m so grateful that I told them, at 52 years old, I’ve voted in every election except one. And that’s because I was in labor. So I tell children, you don’t have the opportunity, especially African American children, with everything that’s going on with us, sometimes 1965 feels a lot like 2019. In order for us to see change, real change, especially where we’re going in the country, they have to vote. So that’s what I would tell them.

 

 

 

Makeba: We all remember our first time voting, how overwhelming that can feel for us. What tips do you have for teens who will be voting for the first time?

 

Danielle: First of all, you need to know what it is that you’re voting for. Understand your issues and look at the candidates and say, “Do these candidates represent what is important to me and the issues that are important to me?” If it’s climate control and you look at them and you say, “Who is for climate control? What will they do?” More importantly, hear the plan. But don’t just hear the plan. See how they’re going to implement the plan. Is there a possibility of that change? And as they begin to look at those politicians, I think it becomes quite clear based on what that politician is standing for, do they stand with me or are they against me? And depending on what that looks like, then it becomes pretty clear on who they need to vote for.

 

 

 

Makeba: Parents play a huge role in the child’s voting process as well. So can you tell us what ways that parents can support their teens before, during and after voting?

 

Danielle: I think it’s just what I said before. It’s really helping them to understand what politicians are standing for. And more importantly, what will they potentially implement? It’s interesting that you said that because I have three children, two of which or of voting age and it’s interesting how the philosophies that I had as a child and the things that I instilled with them, that they don’t always see eye to eye. But what I am very encouraged by my children is that what they stand for and what it is that they want to see, they are very staunch in their belief. And what I like about that is that they’re also asking those questions. As a parent, that’s what you want to instill in your children. Ask questions. Just don’t take what you read on the internet, particularly since our kids can be influenced so much. Don’t have that be the bottom line. Make sure that you get out there and if you have the opportunity, ask the questions of those politicians. Look them dead in the eye so that you’re able to see from them what it is you believe that they can do.

 

JJOA Eastern Reg Leg Chair takes triplet sons On the Hill (image credit: Facebook/JJOA)

 

Makeba: JJOA plays an integral part in increasing teens’ leadership roles in their communities. How can teens who are passionate about voting and understand its importance encourage their peers who may not feel the same way to register to vote and to actually go vote?

 

Danielle: Well, all you have to do is look at the past elections and then you have to look at the election of Al Gore and Bush. And I remember that, and I was of that age. I remember that election like it was yesterday in the sense that it was just a margin of just a few, a couple thousand, couple hundred thousand, that if they had voted, it would have changed everything. Look at some of these states. It was only 10,000 votes, 9,000 votes was the difference between that in that last election. And every time I look at a child and they say to me, “Oh, I don’t think I want to vote,” I said, “You could be the decider. You don’t know where your vote will stand, but you’ll never know if you don’t vote.” So you have to vote because your vote has the potential to change.

And when it doesn’t change and you hear that it was that close, the margin, if you had just voted, imagine what the world would look like today. So that’s what I tell kids all the time. And we tell that. And I also tell my children, as I tell the other kids, it’s peer to peer. Although sometimes they listen to adults and sometimes, they don’t, but they do listen to their peers. And I know I’ve heard my children, overheard them talking to their friends and giving them that spiel. I’m like, “Oh, they actually do listen to their mother.” But they do tell their friends, “Hey, we have to make the change.”

And I have seen something, and I tell them all the time, I’ve been through an awful lot in my life. Donald Trump may be new to them and the politics of where we are and the things that we’re going under at the moment. But one of the things I tell them is that this is an opportunity for you all to have that moment to see that the time is now and that you are our future and the decisions that you make are going to affect our future. I’ve seen something in them over the last couple of years and that is this ability of taking on that onus. They feel it and they understand it and I think you’re going to be surprised in this election. You’re going to see so many more of them come out and they’re going to vote. And I think you’re going to see them really start to define what those issues are.

In the last election, they were kind of getting there. But I’m seeing more and more, not just of the teens of Jack and Jill, but other teens starting to define that. And I think that’s going to make a big difference in this election in terms of how people determine who and the fact that they’re going to vote.

 

 

 

Makeba: For parents who are considering having their teen join your organization, tell us how involvement in Jack and Jill of America can play an integral part in youth development across the nation.

 

Danielle: Well, let me tell you, one of the things that I love about Jack and Jill, and I have to say I love about Jack and Jill. I’ve been in for over 20 years now. The more I’m in it, the more I love it. And that’s one of the things which is the core of who we are. And that is that we really teach leadership skills. So we teach our children, as our edict says in one of our prayers, to think, to choose and make decisions. And I think that that has a lot to do with the types of things that they decide to do. We give them responsibility early, we encourage them to run for leadership. We have many opportunities and then if they don’t win, that’s okay. We put them on committees. We constantly are challenging them.

I have a saying that my grandmother used to say, ‘The parents’ job is to get their children comfortable in uncomfortable situations.’ Jack and Jill does an excellent job of that. But we try to take the same lessons that we do for our children and we give it to all children. We do that through the community service and our philanthropy work. So, it’s not just what we do here. It’s what we encourage other children to do, which is why on Thursday we announced a two-million-dollar gap for them for historically black colleges, because we understand that children don’t graduate from college for as little as $750. In our mind, that is unacceptable. So, we are deciding to put and start put on our walking shoes to make sure that we can make a difference so that everyone who wants to become a leader, who needs to become a leader can become a leader.

 

 

 

For more information about Jack and Jill of America, Inc., visit www.jackandjillinc.org and engage in the online conversation on Facebook (@jackandjillinc) and Twitter (@JackandJillInc).

Jack and Jill of America (JJOA) Danielle Brown National President

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Makeba Giles is a Digital Content Producer and Founder of Faith Health and Home, a digital space with information and resources for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being to help families live an inspired lifestyle.

faithhealthandhome@yahoo.com

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