A common thread runs through her life, summarized in a single word: service. When a childhood friend learned she was pregnant, Jill took up the responsibility of helping guide her through this trying time. Mind you, this impulse to provide support happened when she was a teenager. During a stage of life typically filled with self-indulgence and vanity, Ms Whitman was prepared to bring light to the dark corner of someone else’s life. Not for the glory, but for the good of her friend.
The words “justice,” “privilege,” and “equality” are never far from her mind or heart. Ideals and buzzwords like these have become a trend of sorts in recent years, causing some to cynically disregard their true meaning. After speaking with Jill, you’re kindly awakened to the reality that she is not making a statement by using these terms. She is simply expressing an authentic desire to create change in her community. Having been brought up in a church dedicated to racial reconciliation, a desire for justice and equality is deeply embedded within her.
Born in Williamsburg, Virginia to Mort and Jenny, along with her brother Marcus, Jill’s father, an ordained minister, was looking for a job and a church in North Saint Louis needed a pastor. The Whitmans packed up everything they owned and moved across the country to join the community. They didn’t know it at the time, but this forgotten part of a city, in a flyover state, would profoundly change and influence their family forever.
It was in this community of Old North that some of Jill’s most formative moments would occur. In a place plagued with so much need and so few resources, even as a young child, Jill began to listen closely when people around her started asking, “Why?”
Why do people who look like me avoid living in a place like this? What makes my community so different? Why does living a few miles North feel so far away from the rest of the city?
For much of her teenage years, Jill oscillated between two worlds. During the day, she attended private school in an affluent outer suburb of Saint Louis. After school, she would return to a community where most residents lived below the poverty line. Daily, she was confronted by the stark disparity and contrast of both surroundings.
After high school, she was ready for a change of scenery. Taking advantage of her dual-citizenship, (her Mother Jenny was born in the UK) Jill found herself living in East London. Going from Old North Saint Louis to London was quite the transition. Even in such a big city, she was surprised by the smallness of this European metropolis. Their use of space, the quality, the thoughtfulness and the craftsmanship of the city are all things she came to appreciate most about her new home. It was here where she developed a love for wandering—enjoying the parks, streets and culture of London through its robust public transportation system.
After six years of studying child development and education, and teaching at a Montessori school in London, she was once again called back to Old North. Despite the challenges, Jill had a clear and unshakable connection to her neighborhood. After living in places as far as Romania, Somalia and the United Kingdom, the entire Whitman family would eventually return to the streets North Saint Louis.
Drawing upon years of experience working with children and their parents, she became an active doula or birthing coach. This endeavour into birth partnership moved Jill into a deeper desire to meet people at their most vulnerable moments. Through intensive studies in social work and involvement in social justice movements, she was able to put names to broken practices rooted in systemic racism and classism and ultimately better understand what is now known as “The Delmar Divide” (a street in Saint Louis that traditionally marks the separation of majority white and minority neighborhoods). Armed with historical context and the power of service, she rekindled a fascination with the physical space, structure and people that make up a community.
In addition to being reunited with her family and friends, she also reconnected with a fellow kid from the neighborhood. Ian, a local master carpenter with a love for the city and quality craftsmanship, would eventually capture the heart of this big-hearted woman.
When you understand all of this about Jill, her life and occupations present a clear and unmistakable pattern. From birth partnership and social work, to becoming an office coordinator at Paradowski, Jill is always taking care of someone. When things get real, when others look away, she will be there offering a hand and a helpful spirit. How lucky we are to have someone with such integrity serve us so well.