When you’re black and born in India, it gives you a global perspective; spending the first four years of your life there cements this worldview. Jametta Lilly, whose parents were both academics, instilled in Lilly a way of viewing not only those around her, but socioeconomic concerns as well. Once back in the U.S., Lilly’s Texan-based family moved to Detroit. Despite this, India never left her – it provided a compelling lens to begin evaluating the world. “So often we forget as adults that we are the sum of all our accumulated experiences,” Lilly says. “I was never exposed to U.S. TV. I grew up on Euclid and Linwood. That internationalism has always been endemic to who I was. I was grounded in the value of who I am.”
After graduating from Cass Tech, Lilly attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, earning a bachelor’s degree in child development and psychology. Weary of the Georgia heat, she came back to Detroit to hone her passion for social justice. This included stints for the Coleman Young administration, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Detroit Health Care Career Center, Dynamic Solutions for Change, Inc. and others. Then, an opportunity presented itself from Detroit Parent Network this year. The organization, according to its website, “has been fiercely committed to ensuring that parents have the information and tools they need to help their own children succeed and to help forge better outcomes across the city.”
Lilly, familiar with DPN’s mission, felt that the organization firmly aligned with many of her own beliefs. She took on the role of chief executive officer. “Given what we see in the city of Detroit, the increasing inequity to jobs, capital, we have got to get very intentional about how do we engage parents,” Lilly says. Part of this strategy includes programs such as Pathways to Literacy, where DPN provides home-based services “to help parents become better teachers and create a library in their home for children.” The importance of this can be traced to Michigan’s “Read by Grade Three Law,” where, according to Lilly, by 2019 as many as 80 percent of third graders in the city of Detroit can be held back a year – “because they are not at the reading proficiency.”
Lilly adds that DPN is also focusing on pathways to education and careers, a partnership that will join community colleges, colleges, workforce development and corporations in an effort to make sure that parents, grandparents and students have opportunities. Lilly is aware that not everyone has had her advantages, but she hopes through her continued work to level the playing field. Much of this work entails connecting parents with resources that they need. This type of work has always driven Lilly’s purpose in life.
“I wanted to work with children and families. I knew that very early,” Lilly says. “I knew I was there not just to work with children, but I had to work with families because children grow up in the context of that. You have to be about change, confronting and creating solutions.” Perhaps most of all, Lilly hopes to change and truly support communities in need, and in the process, honor her parents and the foundation they set for her long ago. “I am of service particularly to those communities that have been disregarded, disenfranchised and marginalized,” she says. “All of us have to struggle for change.”
This article was originally published by Detroit School Talk, October 29, 2018.