Jessica Dunn: Amplifying Texas voices
Jessica Dunn has always known exactly who she was and what she wanted to do. Born in New York City and relocating to Oklahoma at a young age, she was always looking to make positive changes in people’s lives. Now located in Texas, Dunn is now the proud new Chief Executive Officer of Leukemia Texas. You may have recognized her from her extensive and amazing work with organizations like the American Red Cross, the Dallas Stars Foundation, and the March of Dimes.
Jessica’s advocacy began at a very young age. With the positive influence of her mother, she was always standing up for those who needed a voice. When Jessica was in the fourth grade, her residential town would perform birthday balloon releases, where many balloons would be released at once into the sky. Jessica did not want the town to take part in the release because the resulting pollution would harm the local bird population. At that moment, she vowed that one day she would be the one to speak her mind and make the changes necessary to protect vulnerable populations, and that is exactly what she did. Jessica has never looked away from those in need, even when elected representatives and people in charge left them behind. When Jessica was in high school, she and her classmates competed in a statewide tournament where she placed in the Fashion and Merchandising competition. Jessica’s placement allowed her the opportunity to compete at the national level in Orlando, Florida. However, her trip would have needed school sponsorship, for which she was told they were not planning to allocate any funding. Instead, the school chose to fund – in full – a brand-new football stadium. Jessica was taken aback at the destruction of this opportunity, as she knew that a national placement would help the school’s reputation. This taught her that the higher-ups do not always make the greatest decisions, or even the right decisions. This resonates with her to this day.
Jessica’s humanitarian work has always been one of the most important things in her life. Knowing very early in her life that she wanted to help people, she began working for the American Red Cross during the devastating aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Jessica has always believed that passion is the most important thing when it comes to non-profit work, as it can be physically and emotionally taxing. Though passion is imperative, Jessica also emphasizes the importance of mental wellness in the non-profit industry. The emotional strain that can come from non-profit work – and every field of work – can distract oneself from their own mental wellness. Jessica is a purveyor of putting mental wellness at the forefront of one’s mind. Mental blocks can make non-profit work extremely difficult, though for Jessica, it’s not the only thing. Women in the non-profit industry can find it difficult to be taken seriously by their male colleagues. Stereotyping is a hardship that Jessica has often had to overcome. During an interview, Jessica was questioned about who would watch her children while she was away. She was flabbergasted upon hearing this, knowing very well that her male colleagues would not have been asked the same question. Additionally, upon being called into an office, Jessica was questioned about what she was going to do about her hair, which at the time was cut short. She was told that her haircut at the time made her look too “motherly.” Something as simple as hair became another thing that no one would question her male colleagues about.
These stereotypical blocks did not stop Jessica from pursuing her passion for changemaking. Having to defend her choices as a woman – as a person – did not prevent her from continuing to move up in her career in non-profit management. In November of 2018, Jessica and her sons began a petition to reconstruct Highway 380, which crosses between Collin and Denton County. Due to the jurisdictional limitations, there was never any law enforcement activity on the highway making sure the roads were safe. Jessica did not accept lack of leadership as a viable reason to not make changes to this dangerous area. She had friends of hers spread her petition on Facebook, which now has over 12,200 signatures in total. Additionally, she helped mobilize people to share their stories and rounded up volunteers. Jessica was met with unwanted comments about how there should be a man as the face of this movement so that people would listen to their message. Unphased, Jessica took the struggle to a mayor pro-temp in one of the local cities in the area. Eventually, the issue gained traction thanks to public mobilization efforts; however, people in power decided to allocate all the credit for organizing to themselves, and not to the public. This did not discourage her from keeping up her fight.
Jessica believes in the power and importance of self-perception and assurance. After years of experience with non-profit work, she hopes that people feel comfortable enough to come forward about the issues that are important to them. Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard, and this is one of the pillars of passion. Years of facing down difficult projects have not extinguished Jessica’s desire to make change. For her, representation matters. Jessica promotes the great importance of “fully understanding and being supportive to other women, especially [so] that they know that they’re not alone.”