Jamella Lee is the Vice President of People and Culture at Jumpstart.
I was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in Seguin, a small rural town about 30 miles to the east of San Antonio. One of my fondest childhood memories is my mom taking my siblings and me to get a library card. In my mind, having my own library card was the equivalent of having a bank card loaded with an unlimited amount of money to purchase books. And while, in reality, the library card was free and allowed me to access books for free, the educational value of the library card was limitless.
Growing up, we used to spend our summers in Columbus, Ohio, with my mom’s family. I remember my grandmother saying, “Even though I have not physically travelled the world, I’ve lived all over the world through books.” I have vivid memories of her and my great-grandmother reading the newspaper at night and of her resting, reading books by her favorite authors. It was through being immersed in literature-rich environments and having my own library card that I developed a love of books, libraries, book stores, and now my e-books app on my iPhone. And, as to be expected, my favorite pastime mirrors that of my grandmother: reading books in the comfort of my home and in cafes, on the train, and in the airplane/airport when I travel.
It is my love for reading, writing, and children that led me to Jumpstart, and it is the organization’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through culturally competent programming, developing a diverse, inclusive workforce, and other initiatives that keeps me excited about coming to work each day.
It should also not be a surprise that many of my favorite poems and books have been written by people of color, including Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Paul Curtis, Mildred Taylor, and Faith Ringgold, to name a few. It is through their writings that I relate, connect, and deepen my perspective of life. Each of these individuals have made me contemplate at one point or another becoming a children’s book author, especially given the paucity of books with characters that look like me. And while I have yet to write a book, I eventually decided to obtain a master’s in education with a concentration in language and literacy to support children and young adults in their literacy development. It is my love for reading, writing, and children that led me to Jumpstart, and it is the organization’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through culturally competent programming, developing a diverse, inclusive workforce, and other initiatives that keeps me excited about coming to work each day.
I will forever be grateful to the phenomenal women in my life who nurtured my love for reading. Their legacy will extend beyond their and my generation as I am inspired to pay it forward as an aunt, educator, and citizen in a world full of opportunity to impact young lives. As someone once said, “If you can’t pay it back, pay it forward.” And so, since I can never pay back my mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother for this passion of learning they ignited in me, I will pay it forward in my work at Jumpstart and in the countless other ways that I continue to live out my life’s works.