The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Jason Wallace, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office on Fathers, Men, and Boys in Washington, DC.. Wallace was appointed by DC Mayor, Muriel Bowser in December of 2018. Wallace leads the vision for the agency to address the disparities that adversely impact men and boys of color in the District of Columbia. He ensures that through advocacy, community engagement and information sharing; a solution-oriented approach is developed that addresses the issues of fatherlessness, educational disparities, economic opportunity, health and well-being as well as rehabilitation and reintegration.
Prior to joining of The Mayor’s Office, Jason was the Director of Volunteer & Community Supports at Martha’s Table, where he led overall strategy as it relates to volunteer recruitment and retention for 18,000 volunteers. He also led its historic 14th street location while managing emergency supports programming that provided over 425,000 meals and 60,000 clothing items yearly for children, seniors, homeless, and economically disadvantaged residents.
Before joining Martha’s Table, he was the Founder and Executive Director of Community ONE, Inc., an experiential learning non-profit that exposes at-risk children to interesting careers by playing interactive games.
In 2008, he served in The White House under President George W. Bush in the Office of Freedom Corps which promoted volunteerism by encouraging people to answer The President’s Call to Service. He joined President Bush’s travel staff shortly thereafter where he remained until the end of the administration.
Soon after, he was appointed by President Barack H. Obama to create, plan, and execute detailed messaging trips on behalf of The President, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and HUD Secretaries Shaun Donovan and Julián Castro. Since his start in politics, he has traveled and worked in two presidential administrations, with seven presidential families, over 25 foreign leaders, CEOs, members of Congress, senators, governors, political candidates, celebrities, and more.
He has received his BA from Howard University and has had the honor of being awarded the “Key to the City” by the Mayor of his hometown, San Bernardino, CA, for his personal successes and dedication to community service.
During his free time, Jason enjoys volunteering, motivational speaking, and performing stand-up comedy. He lives in Ward 7’s Deanwood neighborhood with his lovely wife Theresa, newborn son Jackson, and dog Sadie
Jason is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in leadership and public service.
We caught up with Jason to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
In the 3rd grade, our entire class wrote a letter to The White House / The President and when I received a letter back, I knew I wanted to work at The White House. The mission to public service is something that I believe most children have, if you ask a kid what they want to do and they don’t know, they typically say they don’t know but also say that they want to help people. Over the years with the demands of life, we lose sight of “helping people” for the sake of “helping people,” and that’s something that has always been a focal point for me. Whether I’m working in federal or local government, non-profit or private sector, using my time where I can make an impact on people is my purpose. My life’s work has been focused on providing opportunity and hope for our youth and families in underserved communities.
Who inspired you to get involved?
My father is an inspiration to me. His resilience through tough times and ability to impact people drives me every day. My continued motivation comes from my son, he’s too young to have a concept of what it is I do now but it’s great to know that when he gets older he’ll have a Dad that he can be proud of.
How do you define a leader?
I define a leader is someone that is team-oriented and is unafraid to do the “dirty work”. A leader should never ask of someone something they are not willing to do themselves. My goal as a leader is to empower everyone that works with me to do bigger and better, no job lasts forever and if I can put a colleague or an employee in a position to succeed after our time together – I jump at it. That’s a leader to me.
What projects are you currently involved in?
In my professional capacity – The Mayor’s Office on Fathers, Men and Boys is currently working on several initiatives. One I’m most excited about is an initiative to support men who are met with challenges regarding visitation and custody. It’s important for both parents to be in their children’s lives so we, along with a few DC based law firms, plan to assist in that process with paternal rights workshop. We are also working on Season 2 of our highly successful initiative and web series, The Manuscript, in which we partner with Facebook DC to change the stigma around mental health support for men in communities of color.
We’re also working on new ways to support mentorship between men and boys in the District. In some cases, training High School students to mentor elementary school students and in other cases, connecting people to amazing organizations doing great work that have a gap of volunteer support.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
I remember I would read all these books and watch “what time a leader wakes up in the morning” or “why X CEO wears the same outfit everyday” content trying to be like them, until I realized that they were simply being themselves. “Leader” is not a one size fits all and authenticity is a very important part of leadership, if not the most important. Authenticity will convince people to follow you and your mission. When you show up authentic you create the space for others to do the same.