Faced with bullying during his freshman year in high school due to the color of his skin and his sexuality, Jordan Anthony Killebrew was told by his dad at an early age that “only you can find your own happiness.” Jordan not only took his dad’s advice to heart, he took it a step further. Not satisfied with only taking care of his own happiness, Jordan, a very committed leader, has made a concerted effort to instill a sense of happiness in his friends and in the larger community. He’s done this as communications officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation and also as a leader of the Come Together Initiative, an organization that does implicit bias education for all kinds of groups, including the Santa Barbara Police Department. In addition, Jordan founded Project I.V. Love, which helped raise over $50,000 for the Love and Remembrance Garden in Isla Vista.
“Project I.V. Love was a gift from my heart,” the convivial Jordan tells me. When the tragic shootings of May 23, 2014 occurred, Gauchos from all over the U.S. began texting and calling him to find out what was going on. “The day after [the shootings] I had so much energy,” he recalls. “As an artist, I felt we needed to create a memorial to make sure something like this never happens again.” He reached out to the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District and started to get donations for the project, which was completed within a year. It consists of six public benches — one for each of the victims — designed by UCSB art students from Professor Kim Yasuda’s I.V. OpenLab course. Jordan personally designed David Wong’s, which is made out of steel and reclaimed wood.
The Come Together Initiative was born a year ago. Last July, Jordan and a few of his friends organized a candlelight vigil in response to two recent fatal police shootings of black men — Philando Castile outside Minneapolis and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. Afterward, Lizzie Rodriguez from Restorative Community Network requested a meeting with Santa Barbara Chief of Police Lori Luhnow to discuss the challenge of implicit bias. As a result, Chief Luhnow asked the group to offer training to sergeants and other top officers of the Santa Barbara PD. “That was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done,” says Jordan of the experience. “Growing up, I’d been told to stay away from police.” The initiative then got a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, with Just Communities as their fiscal sponsor. Westmont College Assistant Professor Carmel Saad, an expert on implicit bias, is also part of the initiative, which is currently working on training the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
Jordan — who is tall and athletic — was born in Los Angeles. He went to Pasadena Junior High and then moved to Bakersfield, where he attended high school. “During freshman year I was jumped,” he shares. “I went into a depression.” But following his father’s guidance, he went out to seek acceptance, and by his senior year he was president of the student body at his high school in Bakersfield. He then matriculated at UCSB beginning in 2006. He started out majoring in biology, but then he switched to the arts. In both his junior and senior years, he acted as a resident assistant in his dorm. Jordan loved the experience of developing a community in which people had each other’s backs. This past summer he attended the wedding of two students who started dating while they were under his supervision. “I love meeting people and helping others,” he explains. “Thanks to my past experiences, I’m able to step into someone else’s shoes and … see things from different perspectives.”
I ask him how it feels to be gay and African American in Santa Barbara. “It’s hard,” he responds immediately. “Many times people have told me they forget that I’m black. It makes me sad. I’ve always felt I was never black enough. I felt like I didn’t belong, like I don’t fit in. I’m never enough of one thing. There are certain stereotypes that people have of queer people. I have to be better than anybody else. My mistakes ring harder than anybody else’s.” As a way of exploring these feelings with others who might share some of the same issues, Jordan recently spoke about “visibility” at the Pacific Pride Festival.
Jordan Anthony Killebrew — wonderful role model and community leader — answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Double standards. Especially in leaders. As a leader it is important that you hold everyone to the same standard because your leadership style will be mimicked. I am amazed at how often this occurs and how it can damage team morale.
Who do you most admire?
Beyoncé and Obama. I chose two because they have quite a bit in common — their work ethic. Regardless of what has come their way, they have handled every situation with hard work and poise. I strive to attain that type of focus.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” This always makes me laugh. Peace of mind is my idea of perfect happiness. That is tied to understanding who is contributing to your life and who perhaps is hindering your life. I used to think everyone had my best interests at heart, but I have learned that letting those hindrances go has been the most uplifting and encouraging reprieve.
What do you like most about your job?
Community. The goal of every decision made at the Santa Barbara Foundation is to uphold and put community first. For me, I have an abnormal love for community that stems from my childhood and from when I was a resident assistant at UCSB. In my current role as a communications officer, my passion for our community is fulfilled every day. It’s quite magical.
What is your greatest fear?
Aliens. Yes, I know. I have to blame my parents for having me watch E.T. at such a young age. When they purchased it on VHS, I would “secretly” throw it in the trash to get rid of it, and much to my surprise it would reappear in the movie cabinet every day. I thought E.T. himself was taking it out of the trash. Even now as an adult, I tread lightly when I watch alien films.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Having money in my bank account. I feel so lucky. There was a good amount of time that I was indifferent to my worth and what I can bring to the table. And now in my late twenties, I feel so fortunate to have that learning experience because in that indifference I learned just how valuable I am and attained a job that reflects that value. To have money in my account so that I can buy groceries (mostly avocados), pay bills, and even socialize with my closest friends… It feels like a luxury.
What is your current state of mind?
Love. My birthday, 8/5, is shared with my one of my best friends, Molly, and we had a #RomptheBoat-themed Land Shark. All 40 of us were dressed in rompers, onesies, overalls — but most important, they all expressed so much love. That matched with the best significant other in the world and my family. I feel so supported and loved.
What is the quality you most like in people?
A drive. I am a very passionate person, and when I see someone that is passionate about their goals, it is infectious and inspiring.
What do you most value in friends?
Oh, my friends! My friend group is quite an exhilarating group. We call ourselves Team Turnip, which stemmed from our love of music and festivals and has grown into something quite grand. We genuinely value each other’s differences, developing deep connections, listening and growing with one another. I value them so much because the Turnips taught me how to be a better friend and person.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Kindness. I do my best to make every person-to-person encounter as personalized as possible. I am very clear about this and sharing joy. When I walk to work I share a smile; when I order food I am jovial with the waiter. It’s important to me to be kind — we need more of that behavior.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Sorry.” I say it too much, even when I am not at fault. I do it when I am nervous to try and relax tense situations. Over the past year, I have been actively working to cut back on the “sorry.” Other overused phrases: “YAS,” “NAH,” and “no worries.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
Can teleportation be a talent? I would love to teleport. I like going to places and having new experiences, but I just don’t care for the act of travel, so if I could teleport — ah, that would be amazing!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I tend to run very hot, which often [causes] perspiration [to develop] in all the most flattering places. Haha. I would love (especially during the summer) if I could run a bit cooler so that my outfits still look cute by the end of the day for happy hour or evening events.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Learning to choose happiness. It’s not that easy for me. I have struggled in the past with depression and navigating our community as a queer person of color. What I am most proud of is the ability to find my happiness, because when I am happy the possibilities are endless to do the most for our community.
Where would you most like to live?
A house that I own. It’s always been my goal to own my home and personalize it just the way my partner and I like. Ideally it would have a garden, a large yard, and tall hedges around the perimeter. This is a dream I will get eventually.
What is your most treasured possession?
Oh, this is hard. I am a minimalist in the truest form when it comes to physical possessions. I don’t own much. Wellness, mobility, and a gym membership would be the closest answer. I work out at Santa Barbara Gym and Fitness, which allows you to key in at any time. This is clutch for me because I wake up around 4:30-5 a.m. every day. So I go to the gym at that time; this is my zen. That time is for me to prepare myself, work out frustrations, and strategize to find my happiness for that day.
Who makes you laugh the most?
York Shingle. My partner will go out of his way to make me smile. He is silly and allows me to be silly too. I love that man.
What is your motto?
Use your resources. When I founded Project I.V. Love, it was because I was compelled to do something more. I had the resources to do more and I acted on them; it just took a little bit of work.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Trayvon Martin. He has a special place in my heart. He is one of the reasons why I work so closely with the Santa Barbara Police Department, Just Communities, and Dr. Carmel Saad of Westmont and the Come Together Initiative to educate our community on our implicit bias.
On what occasion do you lie?
To surprise friends. My friend Melissa lives in the Bay Area, and I have often lied to say I cannot make it to her birthday events up there. I work very closely with Molly to surprise her and so far we have gotten away with it three times! It’s all in good fun.