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Jessie Smith — Advocating for Those with Disabilities

Jessie Smith, client service manager, is no stranger to volunteering and working with others to help better the community, having volunteered for the Junior League of Little Rock. She brings that drive to USAble Life's Inclusion Council. She says, “Being a member of the Inclusion Council is important to me because I feel a strong need to represent and give a voice to those with mental health issues and learning disabilities.” It's a cause near and dear to her heart, having first-hand experience with mental illness and having two children diagnosed with dyslexia. Jessie says, “It's important to me that these individuals have a voice at the table.”

She sees the focus of diversity and inclusion as bringing people (including co-workers) together from different backgrounds who have different perspectives and experiences. Together they can collaborate to create a culture, inside and outside the workplace, where everyone feels embraced, no matter the differences. Jessie would like to teach others that “diversity is what makes us different, whether it's gender, age, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation, and inclusion is a sense of belonging and being socially accepted.” Jessie believes, “When a person is included, they feel that their values are respected, and their voice is heard.”

If Jessie could host a lunch and invite three people — past or present — she would invite Simone Biles, decorated gymnast; Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and author; and Sir Richard Branson, investor, business magnate, author, and philanthropist. She's inspired by each of them for their battles with mental health issues or learning disabilities. Jessie is especially moved by Simone and how she stood up for herself when she dropped out of the women's gymnastics team finals at the 2020 Olympics for her mental health. Jessie says, “I see her as one of the most powerful females of her generation. She's breaking barriers for women and mental health acceptance.”

The LGBTQ+ community also inspires Jessie. “The LGBTQ+ community is always evolving and accepting no matter one's race or how they identify,” Jessie says. She continues, “We could all stand to take a lesson or two from the LGBTQ+ community on what it really looks like to be accepting of a person and their differences. I believe it would make the world a better place.”

When it comes to the world, Jessie says that if there were one thing she could change, “it would be to end the negative stigma around mental health and learning disabilities.” She believes that those with mental health issues or learning disabilities are often seen as being less intelligent. Jessie sees it another way. She says, “Those with mental health issues or learning disabilities have an amazing ability to tap into parts of their brains that others may not, flexing different areas of the brain.”