An interview with Dr. Jasmine Parker
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your strengths story! Can you share a bit about your background?
Sure, and thank you for inviting me to share aspects of my journey and support others on theirs. I’m a native of Dallas, TX though I like to consider myself a global citizen. From a young age, I was always interested in law, civil and human rights, and examining how to support people to have their very best life experiences. Innately, I lead a life of service for the betterment of the human condition. This led me to study American History, human and civil rights, intergroup dynamics, schooling, and activism efforts and strategies focused on cultivating an equitable and just society.
Formally, I received my Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership with a focus in educational History and law from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Arts degree is in Educational Policy with a focus in Constitutional Law, a Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a minor in Sociology. I obtained legal education and training at Indiana University-Bloomington: Maurer School of Law.
My schooling and enrichment experiences have paved the way for a unique career journey. I have worked in various capacities in higher education, from student affairs, academic affairs to faculty and administrator. Since 2015, I have provided cultural competency, personal leadership coaching, college access services, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) under my banner Parker Educational Consulting, LLC. I provide offerings and support to national sports teams, non-profit organizations, public media, higher education, and PK-12 school districts, respectively. I know that staying grounded while remaining open to the unfolding of life has allowed me to continue experiencing new and exciting things that I am constantly learning from and am grateful for. I take nothing for granted.
You have accomplished a great deal already. What are some of the obstacles you have had to overcome in your journey? Do your strengths impact your drive or determination in any way?
Thank you so much. For every success, there are almost always obstacles that were overcome. I have experienced quite a bit of pushback and challenge in workspaces, which I believe is due to my age, gender, and race. I began teaching at the undergraduate level at the tender age of 24 years. That’s not the age you expect your instructor or professor to be. I’ll never forget one of my students who stayed after class just to inform me that we were the same age. As a professional staff member at another institution, I once had a colleague accost me in the hall, grab my arm than say, “Oh Jasmine, I thought you were a student. You look just like an undergrad!” The encounter left me very unsettled. I questioned what would make a person feel entitled enough to physically invade their space and grab them. Then, I internalized and began to question how I might make myself appear older. This encounter, and so many others like them, led me to question my place, my sense of belonging, and consider how others saw me. I foolishly went to the hair salon and had about eight inches of hair cut off so I could look older and more professional. Years later, I think of that moment in my life and laugh. I was struggling with my professional identity. I am much surer of myself now as I value and know how I am.
My strengths in being an achiever have served me well professionally. Career achievements have been met in some part due to my strengths in being strategic and thoughtful about what to say yes to and what to say no to, being deliberative—specifically assessing risk through intuition and discernment, and in my harnessing my relator and relationship building qualities. In fact, some opportunities have presented themselves to me through the relationships I’ve cultivated throughout the years.
While being an achiever who takes personal ownership and responsibility for that which I commit to has allowed me to get things done without compromising quality, other strengths have helped me in times of difficulty. Futuristic ranks high on my report (it’s #9). This strength, especially when coupled with strategic, allows me the space to envision, innovate, create, then draft robust and nuanced plans for organizations. Last summer I was tasked with developing action steps to guide Berklee College’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work and commitment in response to the murder of George Floyd. As a futuristic and strategic thinker, I considered a multitude of growth areas and how intertwined they were with one another. Then, I drafted action steps alongside rationale to explain why those areas and goals should be tackled.
You’ve described yourself as a “transformative strategist.” I love that! I know that culture change is hard work, maybe the hardest work, yet you have had many successes. Why do you think you have been successful?
I wholeheartedly believe that my contributions to the successful shifting of cultures and mindsets are based on my understanding that it takes a community of people dedicated to inclusion and justice. It also includes people who want to transform culture for the better and a shared and collective commitment to sustaining the work rather than believing it lies with one person. I first begin this work by getting to know community members individually. This allows me to learn their strengths, desires, and needs. By and large, I like to think I simultaneously leverage my Connectedness, Relator, and Maximizer strengths, which leads to group buy-in and shared responsibility.
I was curious about Self-Assurance, your number 6. It is an influencing theme and a bit less common. As a woman of color, how do you experience your Self Assurance strength? How do others experience this strength?
Self-assurance is a big quality of mine! I use the word quality in relation to self-assurance because the strength speaks to an attribute that influences others while grounding the self. It takes a great deal of personal work to learn, love, and value oneself. Lots of years of honest self-talk, positive affirmations, challenge, exploration, et cetera have helped to shape my understanding of myself. This level of internal work can be leveraged in support of others and their journey to explore further and discover themselves.
When I was living and working in Los Angeles ten years ago, I decided that I wanted to go skydiving. I wanted to experience the feeling of flying like a bird. As a kid, that was the superpower I always dreamed of having. To me, birds had ultimate freedom. As someone who has always had a spirit of exploration and the need to feel both secure and untethered—some may call this testing the limits of one’s abilities—I sought out to skydive. In my excitement about the activity, I couldn’t help but share my plans with my cousin. Soon, she was equally excited and committed to going skydiving with me. The experience was thrilling! Jumping out of a plane 9,000 ft. above Calabasas, California on a beautiful sunny day allowed me to see the mountains, ocean, and greater LA. I enjoyed a near one-minute tandem, or free-fall, jump. Because of my calmness and active presence at the moment, my diving coach and partner allowed me to take hold of the parachute to redirect it so I may take in the expansive scenery. Minutes later, I landed on my feet and immediately wanted to do it again! I wanted everyone to feel what I felt: free. For me, skydiving was a definitive exercise in liberation. My cousin had a very different experience, however. While my excitement influenced her to step out of her comfort zone to try something new—adventurous even—she became terrified about the tandem jump, and ultimately, her fears overcame her. Though she jumped, she was unable to enjoy the experience. She floated down—head bobbing—yet grateful. She kissed the ground and thanked God for keeping her alive.
What I learned at that moment is that the quality of self-assurance can certainly become infectious, but it alone is not strong enough to transform the mindset of others. As a self-assured person, I recognize that harnessing the quality of self-assurance can positively encourage others to seek, explore, and engage. Ultimately, others may only find joy in their lived experiences if they make a conscious effort to meet themselves. One may only tap into their strengths of courage, trust, and assurance if they afford themselves the privilege of seeking and welcoming the journey—wherever it may take them. To be self-assured is to consciously know that the journey is what matters and often much more than the destination.
What sometimes gets misconstrued about the self-assurance quality (by those who do not rank highly in the strength) is that it is conflated with being overconfident, a know-it-all, pompous, overzealous, and arrogant. This is not true. Self-assurance means that a person exemplifying this quality will persist despite fears and anxieties. They will trust themselves, their abilities, beliefs, and circumstances enough to go after the things they set their minds to. Self-assurance breeds commitment to and belief in self, which lends itself to fearlessness. The other misunderstood aspect of self-assurance is that just as those ranking high in this influencing and self-confident quality know their value and own their voices, they also know and name their shortcomings. Self-assurance is both an intentional practice and a life-long journey. It is hard yet necessary work to own and affirm the fullness of oneself, yet I commit to this every day. Thanks to being very self-assured, I trust myself, my capabilities and am a firm believer that things always work out as they are supposed to.
People who thrive as self-assured individuals feel a deep sense of liberation and independence, including independent thought. While we may foster connections and form sincere bonds with others, we prioritize looking inward rather than outward for approval. Ultimately, self-assurance is about trust and self-affirmation. To lead a self-assured life is to trust yourself, know your capabilities and worth, and assign yourself high value rather than seeking external validation or approval.
One of the things I always talk about in workshops is Strengths Bias—a tendency to favor specific strengths over others. Or pre-judge one of the 34 strengths, or worse, pre-judge someone because of the strengths label. I always take a soapbox moment to talk about the value of cognitive diversity on teams and how we must fight against bias. I want people to stay curious, assume positive intent, and see differences as an advantage. Given your extensive career driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, do you see any way that Clifton Strengths ties in?
Absolutely! Several CliftonStrengths can and should be leveraged to establish inclusive and responsive communities. Empathy, for instance, is the bedrock of inclusive community space building as are Connectedness and Relator. Strengths to leverage to encourage the diversity of thought and perspective are Input, Analytical, Communication, and Learner. Strengths that allow the fullness of each person’s humanity to be seen, valued and welcomed are Includer, Significance, and Restorative. When combined, the latter three themes can address and dismantle systems of oppression that silence, erase, and marginalize people based on their perceived or self-identity.
Jasmine, you highlighted some logical tie-ins for certain strengths that can help foster inclusion. I’d really encourage people to think about how any of their top five strengths can create a sense of belonging and move their organization’s diversity strategy forward. And we all have different strengths and all are responsible for co-creating our communities.
Also, I’m thrilled you have joined us as a facilitator for the latest installation of the “Embrace What’s Next” program for women! What made you say yes to co-hosting with me? And who is best suited for this program?
I’m equally thrilled! I jumped at the opportunity to co-facilitate with you because I love to coach people by encouraging them to tap into their higher, greater selves. It gives me joy and is so fulfilling. Also, I fell in love with the CliftonStrengths test and the personalized report. Reading about my personal attributes and growth opportunities only made me stronger and better, and I wanted to help others feel that for themselves!
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this incredible experience.
Learn more about Strengths Now and our team.