Gail is the proud wife of Ronald Plant and mother to three beautiful daughters, Sanahji, Zoraya, and Jaylah. Gail’s family is one of her most joyous and proudest accomplishments. Her parents, ages 80 and 79, reside in Philadelphia. Gail was raised in urban Philadelphia and attended the Philadelphia public school system for her middle and high school years. Gail received her Bachelor’s degree from Drexel University in Computer Information Systems. Immediately following graduation from Drexel, she began her career at a local company where she recently celebrated her 25-year anniversary. Gail received her Master Degree in Leadership Development in 2015. In 2015, Gail ignited her passion of event planning and launched Michellaneous, her very own Event Planning business. Also, in 2016, along with her business partner, she launched a non-profit called Young Ladies in Waiting; serving young ladies and middle school and high school teen girls in PA, NJ, and DE.
Gail and her family have lived in the Conshohocken and Plymouth Meeting communities for 14 years. She was drawn to the area for both the school district, level of diversity, while getting to enjoy the suburban yet city-like town. The many shops and stores in close proximity was a familiar feel to her childhood in the city.
In her life and her time in this community, Gail has committed herself to serving others. “I have an intentional passion to give back. I use the word intentional on purpose—it is part of what I feel is my responsibility and my purpose on this earth. Whether that’s time, money, activism… I’m in.” Gail states this quality comes from both her upbringing as well as her spiritual background. She is drawn to serve, and does so in many ways: Leader and Deacon at her church, running for a position on the Colonial School Board, being a parent to three daughters, and a co-founder of the CAARSEA group where she helped plan and host a virtual townhall with the Plymouth Police Department, among many other tasks aimed at bettering her community.
When asked about her vision for the community Gail responds, “My hope is unity. For the community and for the country. My hope is that all residents of the colonial area are afforded equal opportunities and are treated with equality in all aspects. I want to see people acknowledging and accepting each other for who we are, where we can truly get to know one another. I want to see a community that is a judgement free zone, where people acknowledge their biases and take action to address them. Where people can have a dialogue where there’s differences, yet recognize our similarities. That’s what makes us a diverse and united community—the differences exist but when we embrace dialogue, we can agree to disagree on certain things; and still walk away having a shared responsibility to our community.”
Oftentimes acts of racism are covered up or hidden, which makes it impossible to address the real issues. Gail uses the metaphor of a football player trying to tackle another: If there is a player standing in between, you can’t get to them. However, when they are visible, you know exactly where your target is; thereby allowing for you to be more capable of accomplishing your overall goal of tackling them. In other words, it’s impossible to work against racism if it’s not being exposed. We all have to play our part.
While Gail feels it’s important to expose racism in the community, she also describes the importance of noticing biases within ourselves individually. She shares a personal experience recently where she noticed a yard sign advocating for a particular political candidate, and immediately began to make assumptions on what that person’s beliefs are. She recalls telling her husband of her desire to have a conversation with these people, in the hope of better understanding them and how they disagree. She shares how these types of conversations require courage on both sides: A willingness to speak and a desire to listen.
When we dialogue with others who have different color skin than ours, grew up in a different culture than ours, or face different socioeconomic obstacles than us, it is only natural that our differences will be highlighted. Some folks may attempt to bridge a connection with others by ignoring the differences, for example, when some well-meaning white people claim to ‘not see color’. The belief here is that ignoring diversity is the way toward unity. In contrast, Gail believes strongly that diversity is a crucial link to a sense of unity. She shares, “For me, unity doesn’t mean we all think alike; it’s actually opposite, because we all have diverse backgrounds and thought leadership, when can bring our resources to the table for a better chance to accomplish unity. With unity we can respect one another for who we are as human beings, something we all can relate to and understand.”
We discussed the obstacles that Gail sees in our community in meeting that goal. She shares that while the opportunities may be there, not everyone is afforded the same access to them. Gail has been witness to People of Color, and specifically Black people, in our community targeted for certain activities like crime, where others may get a slap on the wrist. She has observed this happen in a local store where she witnessed a store manager harassing and threatening a delivery person of color, a young Black man. Gail advocated for the Black man and attempted to deescalate the store manager. She recalls, “I was trying to understand where this store manager was coming from, why was he harassing this young man. Both sides need to have the dialogue, and he wasn’t willing to have the dialogue.” Although Gail stepped in, it shouldn’t fall only on our citizens to keep our neighbors of color safe. Gail would like to see different authorities in the community, such as the police department and the mayor, show up in these leadership roles. “All in these leadership roles are paid to serve the entire community and not a select few. As residents and citizens, we have the right to demand equality, we need to use our voices and our talents/skills to motivate change.”
Another obstacle Gail sees towards achieving unity is the common fear of failure. We will all fail at something in some point of our lives, it’s the courage to get back up and keep moving forward that will make the difference between surviving and thriving. She shares, “There is a lack of tolerance of failure which causes people not to try something. When we learn from our failures, we grow individually and collectively, let’s strive for progress over perfection. Gail encourages her community to advocate for action without the fear of failure: to learn from our mistakes and to use what we learn to move forward, even if that movement isn’t a straight line. In order to learn what works, we also have to be willing to see what doesn’t work.
I asked Gail what she hoped her community knew about her. She responds, “I am a Black Christian woman who is a strong advocate for diversity in the whole person.” Expanding, Gail shares how she grew up in a Black community attending a mostly white school. She left this school after 6th grade and transferred to a mostly Black school. Even though she was in the Black community, it was a culture shock for her, experiencing a different style of teaching and thus a new way of learning. In the future, she hopes people do see her Black skin, but also see everything else about her and know that everyone has their own unique story. “I am more than a mother. I am more than a wife. You have to be willing to talk and then learn.”
Not long ago, one of Gail’s neighbors sadly passed away. Gail recalls this neighbor and his wife being the first to welcome her and her family to the community. They talked with him often and enjoyed each other’s presence in the neighborhood. After he passed away, Gail was reading his obituary and learned that they attended the same high school. “A missed opportunity,” Gail says, “It was amazing. I shared it with his daughter. I wish we could have talked about that, but it just never came up.”
A warm example of how two neighbors who may appear different on the outside, had years of rich conversations and a shared history. When we have conversations with our neighbors and listen without judgement, we no longer feel they are strangers. There is a sense of safety to be gained. We don’t have to be the same in order to feel connected.
When Gail leaves this earth, her aspiration is to have inspired all to open their minds and embrace all that God has planned for themselves, the community, the country, and the world.