Reflections from Leadership: A Discussion with Denise L. Jackson and Myeisha Peguero Gamiño
Chief Communications Officer Myeisha Peguero Gamiño met with Senior Vice President, Human Resources Denise L. Jackson to discuss Black History Month and the importance of history to understand oneself, their wide-ranging careers at multinational companies, which led them to the mission-driven work of Pacific Clinics and reflecting on their shared interests in community service and the value of giving back.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
GAMINO: To begin, Denise, what’s the most important part of Black History Month to you?
JACKSON: The most remarkable thing about Black History Month is that in 2023, as a nation, we still need months to remember the history and accomplishments and achievements of people of color, genders, diseases and the like. I would like to envision a future when we honor and recognize the achievements of all groups year-round.
GAMINO: Is there a moment in Black History of particular importance to you?
JACKSON: No educational institution taught me Black history, so I find myself having to do the work myself. I don’t know what’s most important to me because I don’t know enough yet! However, I am drawn to reflecting on the perseverance of Black Americans during the prevalence of slavery and the strength and faith needed to survive – and thrive.
GAMINO: That is an important highlight. Likewise, I recognize that history is still happening now. Seeing Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown sworn in less than a year ago was very special.
Looking back, I continue to learn about Black History and my own history. My great-grandfather, Oscar Holden, the Patriarch of Jazz, ushered the musical genre into Seattle, nurturing generations of listeners and musicians.
Is there a Black historical figure that has inspired you, and why?
JACKSON: Melissa Hemmingway. My great-great-grandmother is unknown to most, but she inspires me. She was the child of a Black woman named Patsey and her enslaver. She was a young woman when she was emancipated and eventually moved from Mississippi to Chicago. She never learned to read or write. Her photo hangs in my office, and I feel her presence even though she died decades before my birth. I’m inspired by her because she would not have believed my life: owning a home, a car, having resources, and the level of responsibility in business that I have. I think about what she endured, and it gives me strength, pride and purpose, and reminds me of my responsibility to future generations.
GAMINO: How can life-long learners continue to learn about Black History Month year-round?
JACKSON: Life-long learners are typically curious. My journey to learning about Black history was driven by reading. One story led to another, whether in music, literature, theatre or film. I recommend not confining oneself to learning during a single month but continuing to explore on a regular basis. To understand one’s history is to understand oneself.
GAMINO: I just started “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times” by Michelle Obama. What are you reading right now?
JACKSON: I am reading a book entitled, “Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom,” by Ilyon Woo. Based on the lives of Ellen and William Craft and played against the background of 1848 leading up to the Civil War, the Crafts escaped their enslavement by traveling from Macon, Georgia, to Boston, Massachusetts – Ellen dressed as a man and William as her slave. Riveting!
GAMINO: You’ve had a rich career history spanning four decades. Before working at Pacific Clinics, you held leadership positions at Neiman Marcus, the Walt Disney Company, and other publicly traded organizations. I, too, came from large international and national companies before working here, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Kroger Co. What brought you to Pacific Clinics?
JACKSON: Prior to working at Pacific Clinics, my work had to do with supporting the bottom line and shareholders. I desired to work in an altruistic environment. Mental health had long been a passion of mine, and the opportunity to work at Pacific Clinics presented itself.
GAMINO: Mental health is essential. We’ve had the great opportunity to partner with stellar Champions of Mental Health® like Actress, Author and Activist Jenifer Lewis, six-time WNBA All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist Chamique Holdsclaw, and Entrepreneur and former NBA player Metta Sandiford Artest, who openly share their stories and seek to eradicate the stigma associated with mental health.
I have been fortunate to be able to focus my career and life work on advancing important missions and improving the lives of others. Have you always been driven to help people?
JACKSON: That would be a resounding yes! In my 43-year career, every job I ever had was focused on helping people.
GAMINO: On that note, were you interested in human resources at a young age and what prepared you for this work?
JACKSON: As a young person, I didn’t even know about human resources. Human resources found me. During graduate school, I worked in commission sales for Neiman Marcus and was very successful. I was asked by the HR department to conduct training for new salespeople, and I soon began working as a corporate trainer. My organizational development studies were conducive to human resources, which launched my career.
GAMINO: What is the most rewarding part about human resources?
JACKSON: Human resources is a wonderful cacophony of art and science, and I enjoy innovation and problem-solving. The intersection of those two dynamics facilitates driving business solutions and enhances the employee experience.
GAMINO: If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of career advice, what would you tell her?
JACKSON: Every career decision has a cost. Make sure you understand the price before you commit. For example, selecting a job that could result in spending less time with loved ones or relocating from a city you enjoy.
GAMINO: While we may not have the gift of sharing advice with our younger selves, we do have the opportunity to help others. I know that giving back is important for both of us. I serve as a city commissioner and on nonprofit boards including the African American Board Leadership Institute and the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Los Angeles.
How do you give back?
JACKSON: Currently, I am a member of the board of trustees at Westmont College, where I chair the Diversity and Global Engagement Committee and am a member of the Personnel Committee. My lifelong passion is education in general and higher education specifically. Elder care is also an area of interest to me, and I serve as a trustee for Monte Vista Grove Homes, a 13-acre community providing independent living, assisted living and memory care to its residents.
GAMINO: In addition to serving on boards, I know that you care deeply about mentoring. I am grateful for my mentors. Tell me more about why you are so passionate about guiding others.
JACKSON: I am the beneficiary of the life lessons of some remarkable, successful human beings resulting from mentoring. One can never repay a mentor for their contribution to one’s life, so you make yourself available to the next generation to pass on the knowledge and wisdom.
Mentors have spoken raw truths to me, challenged me personally and professionally, supported me when I was unsure of myself and taught me things only time and experience impart. These relationships catapulted me to new levels of career opportunity as well as self-confidence. I owe my mentors a debt of gratitude, individually and collectively for the vistas they introduced to me. Absent mentors, I would not have achieved the success I have experienced.
There is an indescribable rush when someone you are mentoring shares that they took advice or a tool you gave them, used it, and it worked! It reconnects me for a moment to the person I am so grateful for, reminds me of how far I’ve come, and makes me want to help more people.