In honor of Black History Month, GG+A is celebrating members of our team and the ways that they, as Black Americans, enrich our community with their insights and perspectives. Today, meet Jessica Allen Bernthal, Writer and Content Strategist.
Who are your greatest influences? Do you have any role models?
My family has been a strong influence. I come from a large family with seven siblings, and my parents also come from large families, so I’m always meeting new relatives at our reunions. One thing my parents have modeled consistently is how to persevere through adversity, and they both had very challenging lives in different ways. On a more positive note, my dad is a Black American and my mom is from Liberia, West Africa, so there’s a deep West African cultural identity I inherit from my extended family, a rich legacy of professional and academic success, and a fascinating immigration narrative on my mom’s side. My dad is a retired sociology professor, so I grew up around higher ed and inherited an intellectual curiosity when I was young. Last but certainly not least, faith has been a foundational part of my life and upbringing.
What is the best advice you have ever received? What are some words of wisdom that have had the greatest impact on you?
Something that sticks with me and is evidenced by the Black experience is the reminder that “you can do hard things.” It’s one of the cornerstones of growth mindset and a phrase I find myself telling my children often.
What do you value most about being a Black American?
Black people across the diaspora have contributed so much to art, literature, culture, the sciences, government – really to every sphere of influence you can imagine. There is a legacy of overcoming, a gravitas, and a spirit of ingenuity and innovation that is a transcendent part of the Black experience. And there is also a spirit of generosity and a love for family and community that permeates the Black tradition.
How has being a Black American shaped you personally and professionally?
I am always aware of my Black identity, and knowing I’m representing the Black community makes me very intentional about how I present myself and interact with others. I guess you might say it’s like an invisible weight that adds pressure but also builds strength. I am proud to represent Black culture – to be a professional woman who isn’t ashamed to wear her natural hair, and to showcase parts of my African identity whenever possible.
Do you have a favorite Black author or book about the Black experience that you recommend?
There are so many Black authors I enjoy! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes beautifully and cogently about Black feminism. (Her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is a must watch.) James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” is still one of my favorites, tackling questions of race, identity, faith, and self-discovery. I never grow tired of reading Black poetry: Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde – these are voices who speak to the Black experience both past and present. I also highly recommend Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway. It’s an elegantly written memoir from Pulitzer-prize-winning Poet Laureate.
How do you like to celebrate Black History Month?
I never limit myself to just the month. When I was younger, my dad would make us watch movies and documentaries so we could understand the fullness of the Black experience, from the ugliest parts to the most inspiring. As adults, my siblings and I laugh about it, but all of us still watch Black movies and documentaries on repeat on MLK day and during Black History Month. Plus, I read books about famous Black women and men in history with my children and support Black businesses as much as possible, all year long.
Learn more about Jessica and her role at GG+A.