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Meet Jessie Redd of Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessie Redd.

Jessie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Wow, where do I begin? Well for starters, I never thought I would be working in a research center that focuses on violence prevention and terrorism. It all started in graduate school when I landed an internship on Capitol Hill and was assigned to take notes during a Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. The hearing was regarding counterterrorism efforts during the Syria refugee crisis and I had no idea what was going on or how serious the issue was.

My mind was blown, I was so intrigued and in awe of how little I knew about the world we live in. I started conducting my own research and made sure to attend all of the foreign relations committee hearings I possibly could to grasp a better understanding of what drove people/countries to commit such horrific acts against mankind and better yet, what can we do to help. From that moment on, I knew that this field was God’s calling over my life.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Definitely not! I graduated from the University of Southern California in 2013 and thought I was ready to concur the world. Ha! I couldn’t find a job and quickly realized that I needed to attend Graduate School. I moved to Miami, FL and enrolled in Florida International University (FIU) to obtain my Master in Public Administration. Miami was an entire challenge in itself, from having zero friends to just feeling out of place. My husband (at the time boyfriend) was living in Leesburg, VA playing on the Redskins, so I would travel to D.C. every other weekend while in Graduate School and working part-time. It was a lot! I began to question my purpose, was I supposed to be a football girlfriend and dedicate my life to my boyfriend and his career or was I supposed to grow in my field my pursue my own career? I struggled with this, but thankfully I had a supportive spouse who wanted to see me flourish on my own and we were able to compromise and make it work.

I graduated from FIU and decided that Miami was not the city to grow in my profession, so I moved back to Los Angeles. Of course, I couldn’t find work for about 4 months and began to question the process AGAIN. I attended so many networking events and career fairs that I lost count. I couldn’t understand why God put me through all of this school that resulted in no job! Looking back, I now realize at the time I wasn’t ready to be in the position I am now. I wasn’t mature enough. God placed me in the right position at the right time and I learned to trust His timing.

Please tell us about Safe Communities Institute.
A little over two years ago, I started working as the Project Specialist in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC. The Institute’s mission is three-fold: reaching people with a new understanding of public safety that hinges on education, awareness and research, and community engagement; advancing violence prevention strategies, policies and research; and contributing to global security in a time of increasing threats. My role is to develop events, coordinate certificate programs, manage the institute’s digital presence, conduct research and oversee the budget.

I am most proud of our ability to educate and bring awareness to issues such as violent extremism through events such as our annual Summit. We just wrapped up this year’s summit on Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE) and it was a huge success! Experts from around the nation discussed surviving extremist violence, the nexus between HVE and digital media, and disengaging from extremist groups. We have also been educating faith-based leaders on HVE and how to protect their place of worship during this unfortunate climate of mass shootings.

Thankfully, my director supports my ideas and I am able to create and plan events as I deem necessary. In the past, we have hosted events that range from Distinguished Speaker talks featuring Representative Karen Bass to hosting moderated focus groups with law enforcement and the community. We also educate local law enforcement agencies on issues that they do not normally learn in basic training, that span from “working with millennials” to learning more about faith-based communities. Our Executive Leadership Program visits the California State Prison, Los Angeles every summer and we are able to interact with inmates and learn about the prison system from a different perspective.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up I was always pretty vocal, I’ve never been afraid of conflict (which can be a good and bad thing). I was an athlete and eventually stuck with basketball, playing up to two years in college. That’s where my love for competition came from, but basketball taught me so much more. It gave me confidence and the courage to achieve anything I put my mind to. It taught me the value of teamwork and it gave me structure as well as a sense of belonging.

My father is Black/Creole and my mother is Irish and Japanese, I never really looked like anyone around me. Although it was a bit of a struggle not really fitting into anywhere, this allowed me to see things from different angles. I was able to connect with black people and white people and it gave me the compassion I needed to do this line of work especially when it relates to law enforcement. I understand the black communities concern of the killings of innocent black lives, but I also understand that not every police officer is evil.

I was raised by a single mother, so I am very independent. I am also my mother’s only child, so she held very high standards for me and the pressure to succeed was intense. Although it was overwhelming at times, I am forever grateful for her tough love. I have a half brother who is 10 years younger than me who just completed basic training for the army and I am so proud!

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Image Credit:

Deirdre Flanagan

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