Those who join the fight to end modern slavery often do so when the layers of duplicity that have shielded their vision disappear to reveal the world for what it really is -- a place where the basic right to human dignity is continually repressed for nearly 40 million enslaved people. Such a revelation accompanies the clash of two worlds that cannot coexist; a free one and a hopelessly enslaved one. Jillian Saldana witnessed the grim realities of the enslaved, grossly unequal world we live in at a very young age.
As she grew up, Jillian routinely visited work camps in Mexico along with her family. By visiting these impoverished areas when she was only 5 years old, she witnessed the gross miscarriages of justice that plague this world. In doing so, she was granted with an invaluable insight that most people beyond her years do not come to possess -- she knew she was protected, but that others were not guaranteed the same protections.
Jillian’s story of inspiration does not end there. Jillian grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, CA where she discovered her love for singing and fashion. As early as 12 years old, Jillian started using her voice to reach out to the hearts of others. She confesses, “I knew I was a leader at a very young age. [And] I thought, 'how can I use my voice for good?'” After traveling around the state to sing, Jillian’s experiences eventually led her to pursue an English and Creative Writing degree at California State University where she continued to discover her artistic side.
“I knew I was a leader at a very young age. [And] I thought, 'how can I use my voice for good?'”
After graduating from CSU, Jillian was unsure of where her life would take her. Eventually, she found a job as an Admin for Creative Art at her local church. Jillian was overjoyed to channel her creative side and help revamp the aesthetic image of the church she loved. Her work, however, did not fully collide with her true passion until she began to intern as an admin for Dressember back in 2016.
After seeing a friend participate in the Dressember challenge, Jillian became an advocate who fell in love with the idea of interning for the organization she had a growing appreciation for. She did not let fact that she was 8 years out of college discourage her from applying. Jillian knew this was this an opportunity to transform her prior exposure into tangible passion and activism for change. Perhaps this was her opportunity to fill the shoes of her favorite superhero, Jean Grey from X-Men, whom she admires as a “total lady boss.”
Jillian knew her work with Dressember had promise and meaning. Perhaps that is why, when the non-profit grew, CEO, Blythe Hill, called Jillian yet again to offer her a job with the Dressember Foundation. This time, however, Jillian would not be an intern, but come on board as a part-time Admin Assistant! Jillian recounts, “It’s always a cool thing when a CEO calls you and says you were the person she thought of, the person she had in mind...My life was perfectly set up for this.”
Jillian is in charge of the “behind-the-scenes” work which mainly consists of keeping the website running, managing the accounting work, and contacting those who send emails to the main Dressember email inbox. She meets with Blythe 2-3 times a week and is constantly looking for ways to keep Dressember and its vision relevant beyond the winter season. She stresses that the employees at Dressember “always want to know more. How can we do better? How can we be on a growth trajectory with more employees, more advocates, and more domestic partners? How can we keep Dressember relevant 12 months a year?”
"The employees of Dressember always want to know more. How can we do better? How can we be on a growth trajectory with more employees, more advocates, and more domestic partners?"
Functioning as the “office manager,” Jillian remains steadfast in promoting the mission of Dressember. Her goal for this organization is to not just fill the shoes of a typical admin but to maximize her efforts into raising awareness for the cause year round. She reveals, “the cornerstone of Dressember is that all people have inherent dignity and that they should be honored and valued.” The right to human dignity, she insists, should be promoted at all times; human slavery does not come and go with the seasons, so neither should its advocacy.
The job of freedom fighters is not to be trivialized in the slightest; the fight to end modern-day slavery is challenging and long-fought. Jillian recounts, “I’ve always been a fighter for [others]. But it wasn’t until my 2 nieces were born that I felt this tangible, physical fire in my heart. I thought to myself, You now have 2 little girls looking up to you. How are you fighting for their lives, for their generation?” Jillian’s current job with Dressember allows her to engage in this fight with others. She is now the voice responding to the Dressember general email, the focal point of contact between this growing foundation and the outside world. We're so thrilled to have you, Jillian!
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About the Author
Sarah Beech is a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin who is studying psychology and government. She is most passionate about fighting against the various human rights abuses that occur around us. In her free time she likes to watch Netflix, hang out with her friends, and try new restaurants. Her favorite quote is, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (from A Cinderella Story).