Cultivating Leadership Skills in Young People

with Danielle Brown of Jack and Jill of America Inc.

According to a recent study, half of U.S. high schoolers feel unprepared to meet the demands of college and the workplace.

Danielle Brown, National President of Jack and Jill of America Inc., joins host Sheila Hyland to discuss how her organization is developing the next generation of black leaders.

Posted on:

Mar 04, 2019

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: The National Center for Education´s statistics reports that more than 56 million students were enrolled in elementary and secondary schools at the start of the 2018 school year. Advocates say that students often graduate without having learned essential life skills to meet the challenges of everyday life. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me to discuss efforts to foster financial literacy and public speaking skills in children is Danielle Brown, national president of Jack and Jill of America. Thank you for being with us, Danielle.

Brown: Thank you for having me.

Hyland: So Jack and Jill is actually been around since the Great Depression -- 81 years now.

Brown: That´s right.

Hyland: Why was it founded, who founded it, and why is it still relevant today?

Brown: Oh, great question. We were founded in 1938 by Marion Stubbs Thomas in Philadelphia. And it was started by 20 courageous women who actually were all friends and lived around each other. And the purpose of them starting it was that they wanted their children to be able to have bonds and friendships. They understood even then that most of those women were educated, and they wanted their children to be around other children who were moving in the same opportunities that they wanted for their children, which was for them to be leaders and for them to see others like themselves. Of course, in that time, the depression was really hard because there wasn´t a lot of opportunities. So they started working in small groups to bring them together to be able to teach them little things along the way.

Hyland: And so you´re still teaching them those things today. But there are a couple of areas that you concentrate on at Jack and Jill that you feel the kids aren´t getting enough of an education in the regular school settings. And one of them is public speaking. Why is that so critical to the success of the program and to these kids?

Brown: Well, we understand fundamentally that -- especially where our children are between the Millennials and whatever else the new names are that they come up with -- that our children aren´t able to articulate the types of things that we want them to be able to articulate. And, more importantly, that communication is key. And so being able to public speak allows you to have those skills. So we start very young. We start with various programs that all of our regions have that start them to be able to be able to speak. And then beyond all of that, that they´re able to use that, particularly for social change whenever they decide to stand up for their rights.

Hyland: And that´s really the goal, too.

Brown: Mm-hmm.

Hyland: And the other element is financial leadership you teach them. Why, again -- why is that so important, and what aren´t they getting in school as far as that goes?

Brown: Here´s what we understand. We know that African Americans have about a 1.1 trillion buying power in this country. We also know if, depending on what you read, that the dollar only stays with us for about six hours in our community. And so we want our children to understand all the elements of financial buying power. We want to understand that they can be entrepreneurs and what does that look like. We can understand what it looks like to be able to invest their money. We have opportunities for them to work within the stock market and understand what that looks like. We want them to understand that they have the power to make real decisions and that those decisions that they make can benefit their own community. So we work very hard with them on those things.

Hyland: And you are a shining example of the Jack and Jill organization. You are a legacy.

Brown: I am.

Hyland: Tell me about how you grew in the ranks in the company and your experience when you were a child.

Brown: Well, first of all, as a child, it was just extraordinary. I loved it. I tell people I think I understood what Jack and Jill was as a child, ´cause I had a lot of friends. But I didn´t know what Jack and Jill was until I went to my first teen conference. In our organization, we have a teen conference on an annual basis. Our teen conference is run by our teens. And they are elected by their peers. I remember going to my first teen conference and being in that room, and seeing all of these peers that looked like me, and yet they were running the meeting. I had a real opportunity to be... I was so elated, just seeing people that looked like me having gone to a school where people didn´t look like me, and they were running everything. And so when I began to work with those kids and be able to see where they were going, as I grew in the organization and then came out and went to college, I had friends. I had friends from all over the country who had been in the organization. And even today, as I walked into your studio, I ran into someone that I was with in Jack and Jill with. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. It gave me a sense of pride. It gave me a sense of not feeling that I was by myself, that I wasn´t the only minority that was in the A.P. class or in the honors class, that there were other people all over the country that were just like me, and they were striving to do what I wanted to do. I didn´t know that there was anything else other than college until I went to public school in my senior year. And I got there, and I came home to my father, and I said, "Dad, are you aware that there´s something else you can do besides go into college?! You can go to trade school!" He said, "But for you, that´s all there is."

Hyland: Right, right!

Brown: Jack and Jill was that sense of that commitment that told me that I was going to be able to excel, and not only excel, but to do it well. And whatever I did, I knew that I had my parents´ name behind me, but I also had the organization. I carried my chapter´s name behind me. And I wanted to represent well. Then, as I got married, I had three children -- I have three daughters. I then came in as a legacy member, and I started to work right away in the organization. I knew that I was devoted and committed to the ideals and the mission of it. And slowly but surely, I went from chapter president to various positions. And now I´m the national president of the organization. I have been in for 20 years. So that´s a long time. I came in in 1998. And two of my children have graduated out, and I still have one who´s in high school. And every one of them has benefited in a way that´s immeasurable to me, so I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Hyland: You give a lot of those kids hope. Danielle Brown from Jack and Jill of America, thank you so much for joining us.

Brown: Thank you.

Hyland: And thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫

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