The following statement is from Matt Zone, senior vice president at Western Reserve Land Conservancy and director of the Thriving Communities Program:
“It deeply saddens us to announce that Jacquie Gillon passed away on August 24 due to complications from an ongoing illness. She was 65.
“For those of us fortunate to spend time with Jacquie, what was immediately obvious was how much she cared. She asked about your family, she sacrificed for her community, she gave all her efforts to her work, and she always showed up with a smile. She was a poet, an activist, a community leader, a politician, an advocate. She grew up in Cleveland, first in the Glenville neighborhood and then in East Cleveland. She remembered watching the news footage of dogs attacking peaceful Black protestors fighting for equality and civil rights in the Jim Crow South. It remained an influence on her for her entire life.
“Jacquie attended Shaw High School and then went on to Hiram College where she graduated in 1978 with a degree in communications. She knew immediately how she could put her education and experience to work. She dove into local advocacy, appointed to the former East Cleveland City Commission at just 23. She went on to serve three terms on East Cleveland City Council focusing on community development, youth, environmental policy, and safety and law enforcement.
“Jacquie then spent 19 years with Neighborhood Centers Association and Neighborhood Leadership Institute, co-facilitating and mentoring 29 classes of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland. Partnering with Environmental Health Watch and the Earth Day Coalition, she was involved in environmental education through the Sustainable Cleveland Partnership. She joined Western Reserve Land Conservancy in 2014 and served as our manager of community engagement and diversity, leading the organization’s DEIJ Committee. Jacquie’s work focused on urban projects throughout Cleveland.
“In 2019, Jacquie told Freshwater Cleveland that, ‘I want to make sure that people recognize that a leader is only as important as the people who are working with them, and we endeavor to be a collective and not a hierarchy. And for African-Americans, it’s particularly important. The civil rights movement was not successful because Martin Luther King was the leader. There were many leaders with him. So yes, ideally you always have that one person who convenes everyone as a focus, but we have got to come together and work collectively in Cleveland.’
“In 2020, Jacquie was chosen as one of Crain’s Cleveland Business’ Women of Note. In 2017, she received the Trailblazer Award from the Cuyahoga County Section of the National Council of Negro Women. In addition to her work at the Land Conservancy, Jacquie was also co-chair and co-founder of Black Environmental Leaders, a network of resources and data tackling racial disparities and reintroducing underrepresented populations to the land. Gillon furthered her green-friendly cause as a leader at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Slavic Village, where she spearheaded tree plantings and blight removal.
“In 2010, Jacquie published a book of poetry titled Anointing In My Hands. She shared a poem from that book, called “In the Light”:
In the Light
We are journey renewed
We are traveling wise and wonderful
Spirit-filled and glowing
Facing darkness and lifting light
Gentle spirit all knowing
Gives us one tenth showing
At a time
Don’t forget the mission traveler
No omission lessons learned
Practice and teach
Inspire and preach
Drop the pretense
Times are intense
Wrap love around words
Take a journey
Flow through trouble
Flow history through darkness
Into the light
Take a journey
Sing sorrow soothing
Choose words building
Don’t forget the lesson traveler
God’s road map unfolds
Take a journey
“I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with Jacquie and call her my friend. Her spirit and memory will always remain in our hearts, and in the hearts of the thousands of lives she touched during her time on Earth. Cleveland is certainly made better because of Jacquie, and she will be missed.”