Get To Know Jillian Hanesworth - NGU Board Member
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month has dual meanings to me. It represents time being set aside to celebrate and acknowledge Black contributions to society as well as the resilience of the Black community. However, it also represents a harsh reality that Black history isn't always treated like American history just like Black Americans aren't always treated like Americans. February can't be the only time we think about Black history so this month is a reminder to me to always learn and teach the history of my ancestors. To remember how this Country treated them then, how it treats me now, and how important it is to dig3esr all of it so I can fight for better.
What moments in Black history are meaningful to you?
All Black history is meaningful to me but a moment that stands out right now would be recently seeing the poet Amanda Gorman recite at the Presidential Inauguration. This was significant because I'm a poet and seeing a young Black woman speak to the entire country and challenge us to be better was incredible. To see someone who looks like me, doing what I do on such a huge platform was amazing.
Can you talk about one or two of the many contributions that Black individuals have made in the Buffalo community?
There are so many amazing Black trailblazers in Buffalo. When I think of notable contributions, I think about "The Challenger" which is Buffalo's only Black-owned newspaper. This newspaper shines a light on things that matter to my community. They celebrate us consistently and that is needed in this city.
Can you talk about a moment you experienced racism or discrimination in Buffalo?
I couldn't even count the number of times I've experienced racism and discrimination in Buffalo. It's not a secret that Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the country. I know how it feels to be pulled over for driving while Black and accused of a ridiculous act (like stealing my own car for example) but I'm blessed to have family and mentors who help me respond and combat these racist acts. Everyone doesn't have a network of people to lift them up, or the ability to advocate for themselves and learn their rights. That's why it's important that I use my experiences to build relationships with my community. I can help them survive the pain of prejudice through my career and my art. That's why I do what I do.
How do you think having Black leaders and staff members impact an organization’s success?
Diversity in leadership is crucial for success in every industry. Having Black leadership and board members will not only improve morale but also create opportunities for creativity and innovation. It brings a unique set of experiences to a company and can strengthen the company's ties to the community. With that being said, diversity is dangerous without equity. Too many companies go on recruiting campaigns to hire Black employees and they usher them into unsafe and uncomfortable environments. This can be very traumatic and hard to recover from. Diversity and equity are a package. You can't have 1 without the other.
What work needs to be done to make Buffalo a more equitable and inclusive place for Black individuals?
I think the first step would be honesty and accountability. We have to be honest about the experiences of Black folks in Buffalo. We have to be honest about the 33 demolishing and separating Humboldt which was, at that time, one of the most prominent Black neighborhoods. We have to get real about white privilege and start challenging allies to educate and organize other white people. We have to realize that justice is justice. So racial justice is housing justice, and criminal justice is economic justice. We can no longer pick and choose what kind of justice other communities deserve. They deserve it all. Lastly, we need to uplift leaders that have a clear plan to break the current system of white supremacy and oppression. There's a lot of work to be done but we can do it! We just have to want to.