Unlikely Friendship: Michelle & Jessica
Jessica Dunleavy, 37, and Michelle Black White, 53, of the Junior League of Louisville (JLL).
“We had daily calls that touched our core — she became someone I could trust.”
“Our conversations helped to digest the experience of the [Racial Equity] Challenge.”
Nothing bonds two unlikely gals together like a shared mission.
Voluntarism and female empowerment might be what brought Michelle Black White, 53, and Jessica Dunleavy, 37, to the Junior League of Louisville (JLL), but their shared commitment to service and social change is what tied them together. A project became their glue.
Michelle, JLL’s current president-elect, says that despite the fact that the organization is made up of hundreds of women, it is oftentimes difficult to really get to know anyone on a personal level, especially during the social distancing of 2020. Michelle had worked with Jessica, the current president, for four years in several capacities, but over the summer, with the spotlight on Louisville after the Breonna Taylor case, the two developed a strong relationship out of their commitment to honest conversations about racial injustice.
“This year, our relationship dove into the deep end. I’ve always respected Michelle’s work,” Jessica says, “but this summer everything turned upside down.” The Junior League participated in a 21-day racial equity challenge, and the president and president-elect went through the journey together. “It was a very vulnerable time to realize our responsibility and what we have done. It forced us to be honest and vulnerable. We had daily calls that touched our core — she became someone I could trust.”
Jessica says that the equity challenge opened her eyes to her own privilege and her tendency to remain “colorblind” when it came to racial issues in Louisville. “The challenge taught me the harm in that approach, that not using my privilege to speak up was causing harm. It helped that we came from different generations and experiences to build a united front for the League.”
Although diversity, inclusion, and equity have been a focus of JLL for a while, Michelle says her nightly conversations with Jessica helped her unpack a lot of the topics brought up there. “Jessica and I were able to discover that by not acknowledging our own implicit bias we were doing a disservice. My white privilege was something that I wouldn’t have been able to talk about before. Our conversations helped to digest the experience of the [Racial Equity] Challenge.”
After the tensions of the summer, the two women are now the closest of personal and professional friends. “Michelle is a great coach. I relied on her for helping to figure out where to start when I had to attack a major project,”
Soon, Michelle will take over the presidency of the JLL, and she knows she will lean heavily on her friend. “We compliment each other. I’ve asked her to be my personal board of directors.”