Featured Colleague: William Jefferson Builds Peaceful Pathways, Equity and a New Brand of Leadership at ValenciaShare
By Claudia Zequeira
As administrative manager, PJI community, William Jefferson is responsible for ensuring entities work to identify the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion within their various sectors and organizations. He does this by asking open and honest questions that challenge leaders to widen their perspectives about conscious and unconscious bias so as to bring about equitable change. But there was a time William, who goes by Will most of the time, wanted to be in law enforcement.
“I wanted to be a U.S. Marshal,” said Will, who holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethune Cookman University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.
“But at one point, I just said ‘that’s not for me.’”
Instead, Will’s interests turned to public administration, and, more specifically, to affecting policy in very concrete ways.
In the early days of his career, Will worked as a human resource assistant for the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office. He also held roles as an investigative analyst for the Office of the Attorney General and as a financial examiner for the Office of Financial Regulation, both in Orlando.
But it was not until joining the Children’s Home Society as a grant writer and project manager, where he was responsible for securing funding for multiple community schools, that he started to feel passionate about being part of deep, transformational change.
“I wanted to see things come to fruition as opposed to just saying ‘here’s a report,’” said Will. “As a grant writer I was able to see things being constructed … and after a while, I thought ‘my real passion is advocating for people.’”
At the Peace and Justice Institute (PJI), an entity charged with creating inclusive environments both within and outside the College, Will said he saw a perfect opportunity to do just that.
“In the job description, it said ‘You can be a pathway to peace,’” said Will. “And that attracted me to Valencia,” he said.
As community manager, Will is responsible for developing those very pathways. Among his functions: creating and delivering programming that identifies equitable practices and safe spaces for dialogue that promote peace and justice. He also teaches both groups and individuals how to implement those efforts.
“Will Jefferson is a gift to PJI and Valencia College,” shared Will’s supervisor Director of PJI Rachel Allen. “His passion for people and commitment to truth make him a person that people are drawn to. Whether he is working with colleagues, community members or young people at his church, Will brings all of himself and gives abundantly to others.”
Will shared that College President Sandy Shugart, whom he said he admired for his leadership style and for being someone he could learn from, also drew him to the College in 2017.
Additionally, he said that he appreciates Valencia’s “community of care” and its willingness to embrace new ideas.
“What I like about Valencia is I get the opportunity to work in a diversity free-thought community with talented professionals,” he said. “I haven’t had a conversation with faculty and staff that has not challenged me and motivated me.”
At Valencia, he is particularly proud of serving on Team Equity, part of Valencia’s recent efforts to examine and improve equity practices within the College, and of serving on the College’s Learning Council.
“The greatest reward of being there is to have my voice heard by leaders; to have conversations with senior team and managers throughout the College on the importance of the work that we’re doing … on equity, diversity, inclusion and community resilience,” he said.
In addition, Will said he is proud of having served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Central Florida and to sit on Mayor Jerry Demings’ MLK Initiative as a PJI representative.
Will also sees Valencia as a place of immense value because it’s “where the community can come and reinvent themselves.”
And he is particularly inspired by the impact PJI can have on experienced and young professionals within and outside the College.
“We’re training leaders, community members and professionals … places all over the world are looking at PJI, looking at the work that Valencia is doing … it’s a wonderful opportunity to be a sounding board, a resting place for so many.”
In his free time, Will loves to spend time with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3. A third child is on the way and due in April 2021. He enjoys singing and participating in his church, where he is a minister.
Will also counts fishing, which he learned from his father as a child in Palm Beach County, among his favorite past-times.
“It’s the ability to meditate. You get to sit in silence,” he said. “It’s just peaceful.”
Know of someone doing great work at the College, who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.