Jonitka Hall; Co-Chair of the NWF Emerging Leaders Council; Marketing, Whole Foods Market
Interviewee: Jonitka Hall
Marketing, Whole Foods Market
Volunteer Mentor, Neighbor 2 Neighbor
Interviewer: Crystal Jennings, NWFJonitka works in the marketing department for Whole Foods Market and serves as a mentor in a program by Neighbor 2 Neighbor. She also recently served as a Co-Chair of the NWF Emerging Leaders Council and is an active member of the NWF EcoLeaders community.
Crystal Jennings: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as Co-Chair of the Emerging Leaders Council help shape your career?
Jonitka Hall: Outside of networking, it allowed me use my creativity and think outside of the box. One great thing about NWF, although it’s a more established and older environmental organization, is that it definitely fosters innovation in younger leaders and that gives you the courage and experience to take with you to any career.
Part of my job is working with a lot of nonprofits or education classes at Whole Foods Market and having volunteered for NWF for many years, I can point garden grant recipients to endless resources. I also know how to connect with them and I can provide new ways to better serve customers that my store may have not considered before. That’s how NWF has helped me in my career.
CJ: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
JH: Grant writing. Understanding that grant writing is its own analytical type of writing. Coming from a science background and writing a lot of lab reports, I majored in Biology at Clark Atlanta University, I had to review other grant reports and seeing how they were set up helped me to further develop my skills. Collaboration is key and that’s another thing in professional development that I learned from National Wildlife Federation – how to collaborate with an organization that you may have never thought to work with before.
CJ: What are you up to these days? What is your role with Whole Foods Market and why did you choose to work there?
JH: I work in the marketing department and I volunteer as a mentor for an awesome seventh grader at a nonprofit called Neighbor 2 Neighbor. After working for a couple of nonprofits that lost funding, I started focusing on corporations that had a similar believe system as I did. That’s one of the reasons I chose to work for Whole Foods Market. Plus, I like getting a discount on my groceries!
CJ: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
Similar to how there are still commercials for you to wear a seatbelt but it’s a cultural habit. You don’t always need to be reminded to wear your seatbelt. I want sustainable actions and people spending time in nature to become cultural habits, just like wearing a seatbelt.
CJ: What motivated you to begin this path?
JH: I’m a country kid who grew up on well water in North Carolina. My first experience with environmental activism was following hurricane Fran (when I was little kid), which polluted the wells and our water source. My grandparents had to call the city until the farmers finally stopped polluting our water source. You see, anytime it rained too hard or hog farmers decided that they had too much waste, they would throw it in the river and it would pollute our water source. Until we were on city water, we would often have to boil or buy water. It was very reminiscent of the Flint, Michigan crisis and it’s why I have a soft spot for them. That experience was something that definitely put a little fire in me that I didn’t actually execute until later in life but thinking back, that’s the trigger that sparked my interest in environmental justice.
CJ: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
JH: Outside of the Grandfathers of the environmental justice movement, it’s my peers. People like Jomar Floyd and Tony Anderson (also NWF Emerging Leaders Council members) or people who are younger than me. I’m definitely inspired by high school students I meet all the time that are in the movement and doing things every single day to make a difference.
In this age of technology, you can actually reach out to people who inspire you and it’s likely that they may talk back.
Kind of funny story: I was training someone new and asking him about what he likes to do in his spare time. He mentioned that he likes to read and was reading a book by this guy named Van Jones and then he asked me if I ever heard of Van Jones. I was like, YES, I actually have!
CJ: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
JH: I don’t consider where I am now the end all of my career but I’ve volunteered at a lot of places that ended up hiring me, which is why I suggest volunteering at a place and finding out if you like that type of work or not. The staff at the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance in Atlanta definitely took me under their wing and helped connect me. I worked with a lot of small North Carolina nonprofits, a couple that don’t exist anymore, but they definitely put me towards my path.
CJ: Any specific mentors? How would you describe that relationship? What made it work?
JH: Dr. Glenn Johnson. I took one of his classes at Clark Atlanta University and one day I stayed after class and talked to him. He was someone who shared a communication style with me. I’m someone who communicates better in writing, although I can talk and talk for days. I found it to be really important to find someone who has a diverse background and they think in a different “box” than the one you think in. So when people say “think outside of the box,” I’m always like everyone has their own personal box depending on their demographics or personal experiences and finding someone whose box doesn’t look like yours broadens your horizons. However, for the relationship to work you must have a good communication foundation. Dr. Johnson was able to tell me I was over extending myself and in the past whenever I needed guidance or needed to expand my network, if he didn’t know someone he would give me advice as to how to find someone that could help. He recommended some amazing books that helped me set my foundation and my thought process.
CJ: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability in your sector?
JH: In food and agriculture, understand that, no matter where you are, everyone eats. I would tell students and young professionals to use that as a connection tool and be as relatable as possible. Look at the USDA and the FDA and what their practices are and how their changing because you will learn some of the bigger players in the issues. Government agencies are pretty good about pointing out organizations and businesses that they work with a lot.
CJ: How might certification as NWF EcoLeaders make a difference to employers?