Editor’s Note: To celebrate Black History Month, Kern Sol News is highlighting notable Black leaders in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
“Teachers were the ones who invested in me early on. I wanted to do the same for others,” said Jessica Grimes.
Jessica Grimes has devoted herself to giving back to her community in many ways, one of those being education. From being an English professor at Taft college in hopes of being as impactful as her teachers had been to becoming Dean of Economic and Workforce Development at the Kern Community College District and the Regional Chair of the Central/Mother Lode Regional Consortium.
“I started to sort of see myself as wanting to have a larger impact outside of the classroom. I loved advocating for students,” said Grimes.
Grimes made this decision after having a student who had to leave school to work. She tried her best to get the resources needed for the student to stay. After not being able to, she accepted his promise that he would go back to school at a later date. However, this situation changed her because she felt as if she failed him.
“I’m hoping to be the advocate for the students who have experienced generational poverty and who other people have dismissed as not worthy of being invested in. I want to care for that student. I want that student to feel comfortable and welcome at the community college,” said Grimes.
Community colleges are where she feels she has the greatest chance of doing that because community colleges are truly open to every type of student no matter what walk of life they have taken. She believes education with equity is at the epicenter of economic development.
The urge to make a change doesn’t stop at the colleges for Grimes. She is also the Board Chairperson for No Sister Left Behind. No Sister Left Behind focuses on the disparities Black women face in almost every sector of wellbeing in Kern County such as health, education, and finances.
They focus on being inclusive and helping Black women from every background. They have a program called Higher Education and Empowerment Program in place to help with the over 60% of Black women in Kern who do not have a degree. They have also recently received a grant to help educate the community on COVID-19 and the disproportionate rates of infection and fatalities.
No Sister Left Behind also has Facebook Lives almost every Saturday where they host panels with Black women to address important topics such as the effect of colorism and mental health.
Grimes described the goal of No Sister Left Behind as to provide a safe space for women who generally do not have people advocating for them and to help each other get from one place to another.
“It’s all about; I see you as a sister, I see you as a human being who’s equal to me, and I want you to succeed. Your success is a part of my success and we need to help each other,” said Grimes.
Grimes had always wanted to work in the community but had not found an organization that fully fit until NSLB. Since then she has devoted herself to helping the organization do what it can to help advance Black women in Kern County.
“Jessica is such a powerful force in our organization ensuring its credibility and functionality in our community,” said Glenda Woolfolk, founder of No Sister Left Behind.
Grimes said it was interesting building a sisterhood virtually through a pandemic and they knew the only way to do it was to stay consistent, be reflective, and connect with the community.
“We felt like the need wasn’t going to go anywhere and we needed to basically roll up our sleeves and work together,” said Grimes.
Outside of work, Grimes is a colorful, joyful, and spiritual person who is devoted to learning every chance she gets and bringing joy to those around her. She enjoys reading cozy British mysteries and more serious topics of social issues. She is always wondering why things are the way they are and how change can be brought about.
“I always say that I cultivate wonder… I am incurably curious. I’m researching all the time,” said Grimes. “I just have to admit it, I’m a nerd. I every single night am researching some topic or reading something, constantly sending articles to folks especially Traco, my husband”
Because of the hardships and losses Grimes has faced over the years from losing her mother at 17 then in the last decade losing three siblings and a child, and being diagnosed with a heart disease she has decided to live life as if it is a gift and approaches every day as such.
“I have this sense that because I’ve experienced such trauma and pain I also have a deep reservoir of being able to experience joy. I seek out those opportunities and I cultivate and nurture it,” said Grimes.
She is very protective of this part of herself because while she can not control what happens to her she can control how she responds and moves forward. Because of this, she brings joy to everything around her.
To young Black women trying to find their way in life, Grimes advises them to focus on loving themselves.
“An absolute must is learning to love yourself. It’s just foundational and finding out why you don’t love yourself if you don’t and being your own strongest advocate,” said Grimes.
Grimes said it is important to consistently advocate for yourself.
“I think as Black women we’re not necessarily seen first and we’re not necessarily invested in first so the last thing we need to do is not see our own potential is to agree with what other people have said about us,” said Grimes. “We almost have to be ruthlessly positive, ruthlessly self-loving. There has to be a part of yourself that you offensively and defensively protect.”