The People Who Inspire Series: Jessica Reese
The People Who Inspire series highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.
Today’s post features Jessica Reese: “peacemaker”, poet, and International MBA student at The University of Memphis. Jessica made headlines as an undergrad student at Oakland University tutoring and mentoring students at Pontiac Central High School, and also as vice president and founding member of RED COW-(Revive, Experience, and Dream. Change Our World): an organization created to expose the college community to social and political issues through campus involvement, community service and academic enrichment.
Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your educational training/career interests?
I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Oakland University. I am currently pursuing an International Master’s in Business Administration (IMBA) at The University of Memphis.
What led me to this? I always thought of myself as a business-minded person, an entrepreneur. When I was in elementary school I dressed as Bill Gates for “career day” because he was laid back, casual, and an entrepreneur. Even when I was in high school I had a “hustle” selling chips, juices, candy, etc.
So, it was natural that I went to school for business. However, I knew that it would be better to find a specific field. This led me to embrace marketing because that was the discipline I felt would give me the room I desired to communicate with people, be creative, and not be glued behind a desk. I need to be able to engage!
Do you find any differences being a woman in your field?
Well, most of my experience are educational or internship related, but I do see some differences. There is still that question: Why is there still a lack of women managers when we may dominate the workplace overall? The differences aren’t always flagrant, but they do matter when you make a mistake or when the pressure is really on.
As a woman, I feel that I have less room for error in the business world. I have to be more compelling, more assertive, more “man” to get the respect I desire. The whole “glass ceiling” fear is still in tact.
Furthermore, I think there is a difference in how we are looked at when it comes to work/life balance. It’s like a double-edged sword. We are expected to keep that balance while still being powerful and earning respect. At times I feel that if a woman doesn’t have it all together, they are looked at as if they have nothing together. Especially when you are competing for a prominent position. Everything counts at that point.
I am not saying it is always intentional, but that difference is still there.
Do you have any issues that you’re interested in working on in terms of social justice/equity?
One issue I am pretty passionate about is the higher education of underprivileged youth. I am sold out on the power of education in general, but this is one issue that I think requires much light.
I still feel that youth from inner cities that want a chance at a quality education have it harder. Their transition from high school to college will pose challenges that are unique to students from more privileged backgrounds. We should continue to work towards bridging that gap.
What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?
Now, even though I am entrepreneurial spirited, I LOVE working in teams. I get this sort of adrenaline from idea sharing and receiving people’s input. In one marketing class we were assigned to create a restaurant that put a dent in the obesity epidemic.
That was by far my favorite class and project and I loved working in my group. They called me “the peacemaker”; I really enjoyed keeping the balance. I get something out of working with people, all people, from different backgrounds. It’s fun to see what people have to bring to the table and how it influences the whole.
What aspects are challenging?
There are two specific challenges. One, is earning the respect of men while being a woman in the realm of business. Leading men as a woman is a whole new task in itself. You have to take your personality a couple of notches above what it truly is to be more commanding. My general nature is peaceable, so when it comes to having to be assertive and “put my foot down”, I find it quite challenging.
Secondly, it’s a challenge to find work that touches your own heart. More and more, I find that as a need. When you work for a company you are definitely under the impression that you are working towards someone else’s goals. That is just the reality. What is harder is to find work that touches you. Money does not always mean fulfillment; so it is a challenge to view your work as something that will truly make a change or difference when working for a corporation.
I know that you write poetry, can you tell us more about your work?
My poetry is honest. I love telling stories. My stories, your stories, someone’s story that we haven’t met before. I have to get it out. I write in order to correct my wrongs. Mostly, I write about love, African-American history, experiences unique to women, and just the beauty of life.
I also like to write songs so cadence and style is very important to me. If you read my poetry you will see that each one has a certain rhythm. I seldom write a poem that doesn’t have some sort of unique style or flow. I want you to be both entertained and inspired.
I am looking forward to publishing a collection.
You traveled to India recently. How did that come about?
Yup. As mentioned, I am working on my International MBA. A program requirement is to study in a country of which you speak the native tongue. So, students traveled to Germany, Peru, Japan, and I traveled to India because I am only fluent in English!lol So in a way, India chose me, as opposed to the other way around.
What was your experience like?
Man, talking about my experience could take the two something months I was there but I can key in on a few things. For one, it was pretty life changing. So much that I could feel myself changing, and I scared myself. My worldview opened up. It made me look at America in a different way; like how absurdly privileged we are as far as wealth, safety, and health. Since I was in an exchange program I got to meet people from all over Europe and some parts of Asia. It was fun to do this!!
I was able to travel a little with them and see some of Earth’s beauty that will forever remain with me. Some of the landscapes in India as well as the people are unbelievably beautiful. Then, you will see some things that your mind could care to stay away from, such as extreme poverty, slums, and living that us Americans would consider to be barbaric.
Things like children releasing themselves (for a lack of better words) on the side of the street because the toilet system is so sub par. Or, worrying about your food because the preparer didn’t follow sanitation guidelines to your standards. Or, humans treated irreverently while crossing the street, but if a cow comes by, traffic is sure to halt. That’s India. A host of complexities.
Like I would be pissed off at India, and love it the next minute. It was because I couldn’t figure it out. Like, how come you won’t kill the cow when the baby is starving? Or, why do you think I am rich because I live in America?? Like, I am black…in America I am the poor one! lol These are things I said in my head.
Nevertheless, India is a very spiritual and enlightening place; so you just have to respect their many beliefs and traditions. There is definitely much to be experienced in India. Good, bad, and beautiful. This interview can’t do it justice!
Do you have any advice for others who would wish to travel?
My advice to travelers is to ensure that you are very well prepared and make sure you build a sturdy comfort zone. I will be the first to admit that I can be a very impulsive person. I go on “instinct” sometimes. You can’t do that when you travel. You have to set up “home” somewhere while you are there or you will be totally lost. I was too curious, too ready, not prepared. I ended up getting ill and it made me a bit depressed.
In retrospect, I guess you could say I took things for granted. Never do that, know your limits. If you aren’t that super strong person, tread lightly. And always, always, know this: You are expected to adapt to their culture, never the other way around. People are willing to learn from you, but you’d better be ready to adapt to them. Consistently having that mindframe would have made it easier during those rough times.
Take the time needed to develop your personal care kit. Learn everything you can about the culture, identify those things that you think you may have the most trouble with, and prepare yourself accordingly. If you do this you can really enjoy yourself, not just have fun.
What/who inspires you?
Three things: One, is my faith. The other is seeing people who are passionate about making a change, following their dreams, and doing good in the world. The last is art; it always puts me in my creative zone.
Who inspires me? Well Maya Angelou is my “go to” woman. She is just so wise, passionate, and beautiful. Plus, she has done a lot of the careers I’d like to do one day. Whenever I get down on my goals or down on myself, I like to read her. Or just conjure her up in my head lol. I got to hear her speak at OU one day, and it has affected me since.
What have been the keys to your success so far?
1. Not being afraid to do something “random” or different from what I would choose for myself.
2. Treating people well, and seeing them as humans first.
3. Never giving up. Taking the lesson or blessing from each experience and moving on.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It was a pleasure to be able to partake in this interview with you. The only other thing I would say is: take your own time and be happy anyway.
To check out some of Jessica’s creative works of poetry, you can visit her website, PoetryLoveMusic at poetrylovemusic.wordpress.com
If you know any People Who Inspire that you would like to be featured in the series, just fill out the contact form here.
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW