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Posted By Joe Hamilton


Jesse Miller is the Executive Director for Girls Rock St. Pete, a volunteer-led movement to support girls, women and gender-expansive folks through music, mentorship and social justice. For 25 years she has worked at the intersection of art and advocacy, supporting those on the margins. Jesse developed the Heart Gallery of Tampa serving local foster kids to improve their quality of life and to secure loving adoptive families. She has served on 28 boards and committees locally and abroad supporting youth, the trans and queer community through social justice and the arts. This work has garnered awards and exposure including the Today Show, Oprah, The Tampa Bay Lightning Community Heroes, and Business Woman of the Year. Jesse and her wife KJ are doting aunties and educators with a fierce love of St. Pete.

Years in St. Pete


Organizations involved in

Girls Rock St. Pete, One City (Ugandan Women & Families), Leadership St. Pete, Shine Mural Festival, and Allendale Equity & Justice Center.

What gets you out of bed every day?

Coffee. My wife usually makes it, and it’s the cornerstone of our happy marriage. Also, the potential of building community. Nothing is more exciting than a group of passionate, mission-driven folks working together to solve problems and make St. Pete a better place to live. This collaborative work can be so creative and complex! It keeps me interested in learning.

Why St. Pete?

I’m from the Midwest, lived in the Pacific NW and other towns and cities, including Tampa for over a decade. St. Pete is still weird and small enough to make change on a grassroots level with meaningful contributions but diverse enough to learn and collaborate. While I love St. Pete, there is much work to do. Like most American cities, St. Pete has a tough history to reckon with. Creating a town where everyone belongs is the work for everyone, not just those at the margins.

What is one habit that you keep?

My people know that I am not one for routine! Instead, I meddle in a variety of potentially habit-forming activities and thus, my life is littered with banjos, kayaks and half-used journals. It’s the truth. I am a holiday-focused person, however. I love traditions (the weirder, the better). Like, on Christmas, when my folks are here from Africa, my whole family walks to the nearest gas station in our pajamas to buy lotto tickets. I don’t know when this started or why we keep it up, especially since we’ve never won any money.

Who are some people that influence you?

Like many before me, I would say my mom has been the single most significant influence. They call her Little Debbie as she is wee but a force to be reckoned with. She fights for the equity of women, children, and families in Uganda, where that fight is constant. She has sacrificed much to live with the people she serves and went from an upper-class Florida cul de sac to a Ugandan village, is frequently without power or water. She has survived countless malaria bouts and various flesh-feasting, egg-laying insect invasions. She saves lives and gives people hope – big (yet so tiny) shoes to fill.

What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?

Girls Rock is as much for the volunteers as it is for the campers. All these remarkable women who needed this camp when they were kids come together to make the futures of the next generation a little bit better, a little safer and more supportive than the world they grew up in. Breaking the trauma cycles and supporting the healing of others is the work of radical love. It’s nothing short of transformative. Yet, almost every woman I know in this work has some sort of imposter syndrome – I have it answering this question right now, actually. But, our vulnerability can also be our power. Also, happiness is my/your birthright. I spent a lot of time trying to prove I belonged, fighting for a place at the table only to find it was my damn table to begin with. Prove it to yourself first, and the rest will be less of a fight.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?

Done is better than perfect.

What’s next?

July 22 is our big concert at Jannus Live and is a high-voltage, family-fun time for all! Turns out, St. Pete really needs Girls Rock Camp. We are bursting at the seams and have a wait list. So, we are growing from our one week of summer camp into a full year of programming for youth AND adults – like Ladies Rock Camp. We’ll soon move into the Allendale Equity and Justice Center to support our expansion and collaborate with other justice-centered organizations.

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