The life, legacy of advocate Jacqueline Gillon celebrated with Mount Pleasant mural

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Dozens of neighbors, family, and friends joined Black Environmental Leaders (BEL) and Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC) at Henry’s Cleaners, 11601 Kinsman Road, last Monday, Oct. 24 to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Jacqueline E. Gillon with a Legacy Mural Dedication Ceremony.

Gillon, who was cofounder and codirector of BEL, passed away in August 2021, leaving an enduring legacy as a passionate environmental justice advocate, a tireless teacher, a community connector, and respected leader.

“This mural will serve as a tribute to her legacy and all that she accomplished on behalf of the people of Cleveland,” said Matt Zone, senior vice president of WRLC and former Ward 15 Cleveland City Councilperson.

<span class="content-image-text">Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Jacqueline Gillon legacy mural in Mt. Pleasant</span>Ribbon cutting ceremony for the Jacqueline Gillon legacy mural in Mt. Pleasant

Featuring the quote “Just remember that first smile and the next hello,” from one of Gillon’s poems,  the mural was created by local artist Antwoine Washington, cofounder of the Museum of Creative Human Art. He joined Gillon’s family, her pastor, and representatives from BEL at the dedication ceremony. 

Washington, who says his colorful drawing and painting works are inspired by the Black experience in America, worked with Khalid Ali, urban greenspace coordinator for WRLC and BEL facilitators SeMia Bray and David Wilson on creating a tribute to Gillon.

‘I never had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline in person, but I had heard of her work for environmental justice,” says Washington. “I really wanted to make the [mural] something that would be bright and memorable, but also follow my signature practices—with identifiers and bright colors. It’s partly based off of a poem she personally wrote. A lot of what is visually displayed is through her words.”

Henry’s Cleaners owner and operator Eric Warren partnered with Land Conservancy have partnered to turn the vacant lot next to his building into a small urban pocket park. The Land Conservancy also worked with the St. Luke’s Foundation to make the project happen.

Organizers have dubbed the new pocket park the Mtount Pleasant Greenspace.

Land Conservancy communications and public relations director Jared Saylor says Gillon was instrumental in connecting with St. Luke’s Foundation, the local CDCs, and other nonprofits for thus project, as she also did with nearby projects like the Derek Owens Memorial Park, Ubuntu Gathering Place, and Hough Community Greenspace.

“Jacquie was a force like no other, I miss her dearly,” said Zone. “As a native Clevelander, she brought an important perspective to our work that enabled us to create meaningful partnerships with many communities and organizations in the city. Those partnerships have become the cornerstone of efforts to repurpose vacant and abandoned structures, create vibrant urban greenspaces, and reforest the Forest City.”

In 2019, Gillon told Freshwater Cleveland, “I want to make sure that people recognize that a leader is only as important as the people who are working with them, and we endeavor to be a collective and not a hierarchy. And for African Americans, it’s particularly important. The civil rights movement was not successful because Martin Luther King was the leader. There were many leaders with him. So yes, ideally you always have that one person who convenes everyone as a focus, but we have got to come together and work collectively in Cleveland.”

In 2020, Gillon was chosen as one of Crain’s Cleveland Business’ Women of Note. In 2017, she received the Trailblazer Award from the National Council of Negro Women, Cuyahoga Count Section.

Gillon furthered her green-friendly cause as a leader at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Slavic Village, where she spearheaded tree plantings and blight removal.

Gillon attended Shaw High School and then went on to Hiram College, where she graduated in 1978 with a degree in communications. She knew immediately how she could put her education and experience to work and dove into local advocacy—appointed to the former East Cleveland City Commission at the age of 23.

Gillon went on to serve three terms on East Cleveland City Council, focusing on community development, youth, environmental policy, and safety and law enforcement.

Gillon then spent 19 years with Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association and Neighborhood Leadership Institute, co-facilitating and mentoring 29 classes of Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland.

Partnering with Environmental Health Watch and the Earth Day Coalition, Gillon was involved in environmental education through Sustainable Cleveland. She joined Western Reserve Land Conservancy in 2014 and served as the manager of community engagement and diversity, leading the organization’s DEIJ Committee. Jacquie’s work focused on urban projects throughout Cleveland.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.