In 2004, The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF) launched Jane’s Fellowship Program (JFP) to support the leadership development and capacity-building of grassroots leaders in Pierce County. The JFP Graduate Network consist of 87 fellows from 8 classes that have participated in the program, and class 9 is underway. JFP engages leaders who are interested in expanding their skills, broadening their networks and exchanging perspectives with other local leaders. Recently TRFF caught up with a few JFP graduates to highlight the diverse group of leaders who have been through the program and where their journey has taken them post-fellowship.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Dionne Bonner, Class 8 (2019 – 2020)
What city do you live in?
What community work are you invested in right now and what are its intended impacts?
I’m working with three local Black artists Kenya Adams, Gwen Jones, and Charles Taylor and we are planning the creation of a mural to be painted in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This project is a collaboration between the City of Tacoma’s Human Rights Commission and the Tacoma Art Museum with funding support from the City of Tacoma, the Tacoma Arts Commission and Tacoma Creates. The reason for creating this mural is to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history. The goal of this project is to draw from Tacoma’s history and imagined futures. The Artwork will be painted directly on the concrete of the Tollefson plaza during the summer of 2022.
It’s my priority to hear directly from local Black residents and raise awareness throughout the community about ways to get involved with this mural project. We’re producing posters that can be displayed at businesses or organizations as a statement of solidarity for unity towards racial justice. In addition and as part of this work I believe and will champion the notion that marginalized communities should be in control of archiving and protecting their history and cultural footprint. Our contributions to society are far less documented, valued and displayed prominently or as normal parts of everyday life and environments, in tandem with the historical observation of black life and culture yearly there should be a heightened awareness of my culture’s impact on the world and our struggle for equality.
How has your community work evolved since you participated in the fellowship?
Jane’s Fellowship provided a path for me to see, with more clarity, the reasons I’m passionate about uplifting communities. The time allowed me to focus on interrogating my leadership style. Since we came out of the fellowship at the beginning of a global pandemic many of the community integrated art projects I was planning had to be reimagined. And this led me to innovate, change the scope in progress. This forced metamorphosis brought challenges, breakthroughs and pitfalls and all of it advanced my creative thinking skills. And now as I step out in faith believing in myself, I have a deeper sense of confidence rooted in acceptance, joy and being who I am, completely expressing and elevating the causes close to my heart.
What would you tell someone interested in applying for the fellowship?
I’d say apply always! Because the application process in itself is a practice in seeing your victories and re-energizing those passions you have to make an impact in the world. And the people you meet during your fellowship will challenge and inspire you to be your best self.
How would you describe your experience with JFP using 3 words?
Purposeful. Enlightened. Shift.