Cancer and Inclusion: Chicagoland DEPLOY Fellow’s Fight for Change

Published: February 2, 2023

Jerilyn poses in front of the Chicago River with her husband and children.

Meet Jerilyn Lim-Leonard, Blue Star Families’ 2022-2023 Chicagoland DEPLOY Fellow. She’s a military spouse, mother of four, and community volunteer. And if you meet her, you’ll find she’s full of joy and positivity.

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What many don’t know is that Jerilyn is also a cancer survivor who has faced racism, judgment, career inequities, exclusion, serious concerns about where to live from command to command, where to send her children to school, isolation, and more.

“Like many of my fellow military families, we battled it alone and privately because we believed we were one in a few,” Jerilyn shares. “Knowing now that we are not and that there are organizations like Blue Star Families that acknowledge that is so encouraging. My commitment to the Campaign for Inclusion’s goals and the fellowship work I’m involved in is very personal, and I intend to use this platform to really make a difference for us.”

Asking New Questions

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Blue Star Families started the Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative (REI), now known as the Campaign for Inclusion (CFI). With thought leaders like Lieutenant General Gwen Bingham, U.S. Army (Ret); Staff Sergeant Charles Eggleston, U.S. Army (Ret); Ingrid Herrera-Yee, Ph.D.; and Sheila Casey serving on the CFI Committee (CFIC), the mission aims to advocate for the unique community needs of diverse military-and Veteran-connected families to enhance military readiness and retention.

The initial objective of the Campaign for Inclusion was to gauge the existing climate for military families of color, which kicked off with the 2021 study, “The Diverse Experiences of Military and Veteran Families of Color.” The study’s findings really helped Jerilyn.

“The findings were an eye-opener,” she recalls. “To know that the challenges my family has faced, in relevance to diversity and equity — whether as a unit or individually for my husband or I — is widespread, that we are not one in thousands but part of the thousands, is humbling. I have come across and been a part of programs that address and work to improve the challenges of families of color, but none through paid fellowships nor that target the military community.” 

Through five pillars (Research & Advocacy, Leadership, Training/Fellows, Collaboration, and Community Impact), the Campaign for Inclusion continues to find ways to change the outcomes for military families of color. Several DEPLOY Fellows within the first cohort (2021-2022) successfully moved on to other Military Service Organizations (MSOs) and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) as part of the program's intention to increase diversity in nonprofit leadership. 

“Military Service Organizations would be non-existent without the military, therefore their talent should be a direct reflection of the community they support,” Jerilyn shares. “Diverse representation is a direct act of inclusiveness. The act impacts morale, morale fosters trust, and trust contributes to retention. Having a variety of individuals with different nationalities, ethnicities, beliefs, and experiences make up the body of an MSO contributes to beneficial and, more importantly, relevant decisions and goals being made. Diverse representation is important because it is effective — the range of ideals and input from a diversified pool of talent is priceless in comparison to a pool of talent who all share similar backgrounds and experiences.”

Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey gathered more data from military families of color in 2022 and the results will be released in May of 2023. This important information will help Blue Star Families and other service organizations focus more on creating and piloting solutions on the ground. 

Joining the Mission

No stranger to the support offered by MSOs, Jerilyn’s family knows just how important their service to the community is. As the Chicagoland DEPLOY Fellow, Jerilyn spends a great amount of time working in her local neighborhoods. 

“Blue Star Families has been a great resource for me throughout my 17 years as a military spouse,” she explains. “I believe in its overall mission and admire its ongoing efforts to cater to the ever-evolving needs of the military community. I am passionate about connection. The volunteer work I do is about connecting my local community to resources that are relevant to their needs. Blue Star Families, to me, is a source of connection and the fellowship is proving to be the same. Through the fellowship, I’d like to connect the families of color in my Chapter with each other, with the civilian community, and with resources that address their specific challenges.”

Follow Jerilyn’s journey in the Chicagoland area through Facebook and learn more about her by listening to the audio recording linked to this story above.

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