Imari Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of Parenting Journey, grew up mostly in Clarksville, Tennessee. In what he described as a big town or small city, “My life there was filled with family, neighborhood friends and my church community,” Jeffries recalls.
“Although Clarksville was majority white, it didn’t always feel that way because my social communities were Black and/or rooted in Blackness.”
Raised in a bi-cultural household by an immigrant mother and African American Father whose ancestors were enslaved people, Imari has two siblings: an older sister and little brother. He grew up close with his siblings because although his parents were present in their lives, they both worked a lot to provide for their family.
At an early age, Imari’s family taught him and his siblings the value of working hard – an important lesson that has guided him throughout his life.
“One of the lessons that my parents instilled was the value of doing your best and effort. My family wasn’t concerned about status as much as, it was about feeling like you put your best effort into everything that you did. Hard Work and work ethic was one of the things that was ingrained in me throughout my whole life,” said Jeffries.
As an African-American male, Imari acknowledges that while that message definitely set the foundation for his success, it however put a lot of pressure on him in the face of circumstances that are beyond his control, such as dealing with racism.
“As an adult, I see the good part of having a message like that but on the other end, I understand the emotional toll a message like that can put on us. Especially as Black people, institutional racism can pose real threats to change the trajectory of where we think we’re heading, “ Said Jeffries.
“These issues that are beyond my control help motivate me to work in the social sector because I know how racism and poverty and really affect our lives and how work ethic can’t always help us navigate those racist barriers.”
These issues are at the forefront of Imari’s vision of work at Parenting Journey (PJ). “At PJ, we see how institutional racism and cycles of trauma are real and there’s something that needs to be done about those things in real time.”
“Secondarily, we understand that those things are embedded into our country and we can no longer act like people of color and women are responsible for their own trauma and victimhood. We also have to be boldly anti-racist in our stance to eliminate racist polices that have effected families for generations.”
Another important family lesson that drives Imari’s work was learning the responsibility their family had to do better than the generation before them. “I was taught by my parents that you have to honor the generation before you by working hard to provide a better pathway for your children. This stuck with me.”
This is an important lesson that Imari hopes to pass down to his children as well out of love for the people around them paired with a social justice lens.
“I try to teach my daughters the importance of building community and maintaining healthy relationships with people who have grown with you throughout the times.” An important aspect that Imari incorporates into his social equity work.
“Despite the fact that there are systemic barriers that prevent their success, I want to help them develop a real lense to identify things that will negatively impact them because of their race and gender – and ultimately keep fighting against those things.”
“If trauma can be passed along intergenerationally then messages of positivity and love can be passed down as well. That’s the message I hope to pass to my kids. Love the people around you.”
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Imari joined the Parenting Journey team in February 2017. He brings a wealth of experience from the nonprofit management, community activism, education reform, and social justice sectors to his role as Executive Director. Previously, he was Chief Executive Officer of Italian Home, a behavioral health organization in Boston. He also served as COO of Jumpstart, a national early education organization, and interim CEO of Boston Rising, an anti-poverty initiative. Imari has a strong commitment to giving back. He serves as a Trustee of The University of Massachusetts System, as well as on the Board of Directors of The Providers’ Council and the United South End Settlements. He was also appointed by Governor Baker to the Black Advisory Commission, which he co-chairs. Imari has previously served on the boards of the Appalachian Mountain Club, African American Federation of Greater Boston, Save the Harbor Save the Bay, Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership, The Edward Brooke Charter School, Third Sector New England, and the Elizabeth Peabody House. Imari is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts, Masters of Education, and Masters of Arts. He is currently pursuing his PhD through the Higher Education Administration Program. He enjoys the outdoors with his family, and you can often find him in the Blue Hills Reservation or the Arnold Arboretum.