Today we’re celebrating a leader who is making others better as a result of her presence and making that impact last in her absence.
Meet Jamellah Terrell-Irenonse
What is your role? And how do you currently work with girls?
Residential Services Coordinator at Mercy Housing. Mostly, I work on stabilization of housing and connecting to services. I also run intergenerational groups to build self-esteem, serving young mothers who have young daughters and addressing generational trauma and poverty. I’m instilling in them the belief that they’re young enough to make a change and you have people here who will walk beside you through that change.
What social-emotional learning skill have you found yourself using a lot recently for yourself and for the girls?
I’ve been really trying not to be the strong friend. I’ve been being vulnerable and honest. I think especially as women, and women of color, we’re forced to be strong. When I check in on the girls and women I work with, I’m giving them permission to feel — it’s valid. It’s so valid right now. And that’s for me as well, I’m learning. I’m empathetic and sometimes I feel I have to not be emotional in my work. The gravity of what I see in the Tenderloin can be overwhelming. Accepting that this is reality is hard sometimes. So to create an environment around me that’s comfortable for [the girls and women I work with], where they feel they can be. If I can let myself be vulnerable, they have permission to feel, too.
What was your biggest takeaway from Power ColLABorative that impacted your work with girls?
How much time have we got? I’m going through my MBA program right now and whenever I’m talking in my groups I’m telling them — this is how we can do social-emotional learning in corporate America. The biggest thing for me from training was the healing environment. Being in training, it was like everything disappeared because I could fully be there. I’m always in these trainings and I’m looking forward to lunch — I wasn’t looking forward to lunch for once! The way that a healing centered environment was set up and facilitated was transformational for me. We’re having a “competition” right now to set up healing centered office spaces. I was so big on us redecorating our community rooms and making them welcoming, making them feel like people live there. It’s now become a refuge for our people, for our children.
Who has helped you step into the power of your voice?
I have a really good friend who’s an entrepreneur and has an in-home supportive services company. She has a quiet, strong personality and she’s into alternative theories of thought. About 4 years ago, she started this transition into this new version of spirituality and I wasn’t sure about it, but now I see that what she’s comfortable doing now is speaking the truth. And how powerful it is to speak the truth. She’s changed my perspective on victimhood and healing, and what it means to speak up. I also really listen to the Hood Healer (Imani Cohen) on Instagram. We get so caught up in presentation that we lose our message in being heard or telling people what they need to hear. I ride with her. She speaks to the hood in a way the hood needs, and we hear her. I used to water myself down, worry about how people would digest me, and I think I wasted a lot of time in my life trying to make myself digestible. But it wasn’t the truth. So she’s really been inspirational for me, her platform has really inspired me.
What would you want other adults serving girls to know right now?
Children are valid. That mentality that children should stay in their place is not true. Children have a purity to them, and we get jaded by our experiences. To sit down and talk to a child is the purest form of celebrating life. Have a kid explain to you what they’re seeing and what they’re experiencing. We don’t speak up as we get older, we soften ourselves. I love that children will say, “You’re not nice” if someone isn’t being nice. And it’s true! They’re not being nice! I would like for more children to have space to be able to say to their parents, “Listen, I have something to say” and be heard. So many systematic issues are taking away our childhood. I wish more girls would see within themselves that the goal is not to be influenced by everyone else — there are so many rituals we have lost that are so important and significant. Teaching children at an early age to honor themselves and speak is so valuable.
I wish more girls would see within themselves that the goal is not to be influenced by everyone else — there are so many rituals we have lost that are so important and significant. Teaching children at an early age to honor themselves and speak is so valuable.