Jerrilynn Freelon

Jerrilynn Freelon, Associate Director of Operations, is a teacher, leader, coach, advocate, mentor, philanthropist, who has been active in the Milwaukee community for more than 40 years. She joined her family in Milwaukee after graduating from Alcorn State University, a Historically Black University, where she majored in Economics and minored in Business Management. She is an Alcorn State University legacy. Her grandfather, cousin, and brother also attended the university. She received her MBA with an emphasis in Human Resources and Finance from Marquette University.

She worked at Northwestern Mutual for nearly 40 years in a variety of diverse progressive roles. She acquired a great arsenal of skills, knowledge, and experienced many firsts during her tenure there. It was not uncommon for her to be the only person of color sitting at the table. She prides herself on being a great mentor and coach helping to advance the careers of many. When she retired from Northwestern Mutual, she left a legacy of diversity and leadership programming.

Jerrilynn was born on her family’s farm in Grenada, Mississippi. Her great-grandfather was a freed slave who became a sharecropper and strategically purchased over 200 acres that he left in an estate for his children. Her grandfather who is also a graduate of Alcorn A&M College purchased an additional 60 acres for his family. When she was four years old her family moved from the family farm to the nearby town to expose her and her siblings to better educational and social opportunities.

In the late 1960s, she was part of the Grenada school system desegregation. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and the civil rights team visited the town to march in preparation for the desegregation experience and escort the courageous students on the first day of school.

Her mother and older siblings participated in the march, but she was too young, however, she was able to sneak into the church where Dr. King was speaking to get a glimpse of him and hear his words of encouragement.  That was a proud moment in her young life.  She has vivid memories of overt racism and threats of physical harm to herself and the other students as they walked to the school building every morning. It was during this period that Jerrilynn realized that she was naturally intelligent. Even during those intense, unwelcoming experiences, she continued to perform excellently in school.

Freelon has given back to the community in a variety of ways but most significantly through programs that enhance the quality of life for women and youth. As an award-winning YMCA Adult Achiever, her class of Adult Achievers started the Black College Tour in early 1990 which encourages high school students to explore HBCUs as an educational option. You will frequently see her sitting around the table lending her thought leadership at Board of Directors meetings for nonprofits in our community. She was invited to serve on the Walnut Way Board of Directors in 2017. As part of this appointment, she learned about the great work Walnut Way is doing in the community. This is a natural fit for someone who has worked in this community for more than 40 years. Her passion for developing programming that enhances the quality of life for women and children aligns well.

Jerrilynn is a proud life member of Gamma Pi Sigma Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. She has been a member for more than 40 years and her sorority is one of the vehicles that she uses to give back to the community. She credits her involvement in the organization with teaching her leadership skills and allowing her to practice them in a safe environment. “My sorors saw my leadership potential immediately and allowed me to step into progressive roles in the chapter.”

Jerrilynn also excels at teaching which is one of her gifts. She is a licensed teacher through the Universal Foundation for Better Living, Inc. She also was an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University’s master’s program. As a gift to youth, she taught financial literacy through Secure Futures (formerly Make a Difference Wisconsin). She is also a life-long learner who is naturally curious about many different things including the mind, body and spirit connection, neurology, and psychology to name a few.

Jerrilynn is a philanthropist who gives back to the community financially as well. She donates financially to programs and causes that benefit children and youth like the March of Dime, St. Jude’s Children Cancer Research, United Negro College Fund, and Thurgood Marshall to name a few. In 2018 Jerrilynn established the Annie M. and Bennie W. Johnson Memorial Scholarship through the Sigma Legacy Fund, the 501 (c) 3 of Gamma Pi Sigma Alumnae Chapter. The scholarship is in honor of her parents who were her greatest inspiration.

Jerrilynn is the proud mother of a son, Sadiki, and a daughter Chanel and three grandsons, Sadiki II, Devon, and Cameron, and a granddaughter Armoni.