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Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney was born in Cincinnati and is a proud graduate of Cincinnati Public Schools: Rockdale Elementary School and Walnut Hills High School. She graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and did an exchange program at Talladega College, an HBCU. She earned a masters degree in psychology from Harvard University and a law degree from Harvard Law School, where she was elected first class marshal of her law school class and gave the commencement speech at graduation.
She owns a multi-media publishing company, Sesh Communications, that includes ownership of the award-winning The Cincinnati Herald newspaper. She was appointed to Cincinnati City Council in 2020, and then elected in the 2021 election. Mayor Aftab Pureval appointed Jan-Michele Vice Mayor, chair of the Healthy Neighborhoods Committee, and vice chair of Public Safety and Governance. She has been an active volunteer in many organizations including chairing two NAACP Freedom Fund Dinners, chairing the YWCA’s Racial Justice Breakfast for several years, and serving as a member of the Walnut Hills High School Alumni Foundation, The Seven Hills School Board, the Greater Cincinnati Association of Black Journalists, Women’s City Club, Center for Independent Living Options, and other community organizations. She is married to former Ohio State Senator and Minority Leader Eric H. Kearney. They are blessed with two children, Celeste and Asher.
In 30 seconds or less, tell us who YOU are.
I am an optimist and believer that obstacles are opportunities to do better and help others over hurdles. I’m not good at taking no for an answer because I know that if one works hard enough and doesn’t give up, there is a yes somewhere. I strive to see the positive in others because we are all connected in the human race.
What is something that most people do not know about you?
Even though I do a great deal of public speaking now, I had a severe stutter as a child and had to take speech lessons for many years. The lesson learned is to never give up on yourself or others.
What are your personal core values.
Character counts: honesty and integrity so that my word is my bond are essential.
Empathy: being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes – is important in being a servant to the community.
Love and passion: love for my family and my city keep me working hard. I want my children and all people to have the opportunity to live their best life.
What is the primary motivation of your leadership?
My parents often recited the verse, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” All around us are people in need, and it’s my job to hear them, listen to them, and then work with them to help to create policies for the betterment of our City.
What has been the cornerstone of your life journey that influenced your personal mission and purpose?
As a Christian, I know that we are responsible for each other. Faith is important, but the Bible says that “Faith without works is dead.” That means not only prayer is necessary, but we must put in the work to create positive change.
Who has had an immense impact on you as a leader? How did this person (or people) impact your life?
My parents always encouraged me to get involved in community work, and my children are a constant reminder and source of motivation that giving up when the going gets rough is never an option. I saw how my husband worked across the aisle and made friends with everyone when he served in the Ohio Senate. He always brought people with diverse opinions to the table. Outside of my family, I look at leaders such as Marian Spencer who was hardworking and feisty but never disrespectful of others.
What piece of advice have you received along the way in your career or life journey that has stuck with you?
My husband advised me to listen to all sides, rather than only hearing those in agreement with my point of view.
What one thing makes you most proud?
When people call me for help because they know that I am here to serve them.
What’s one thing you do every day (or with consistency) to be a better person?
I tell my husband and children how much I love them, and I try to read an inspirational or informative passage from the Bible or another source.
What are a few resources or behaviors you would recommend to someone looking to grow into a better leader?
Listen to the people whom you serve, respect them, and learn from them.
How do you define success?
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, and I am paraphrasing, “Success is knowing that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”
Why do you choose to make the Cincinnati region home?
I love the people here!
In what ways are you involved in the Cincinnati community outside of your professional endeavors?
I am a small business owner, a member of boards of the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, and Via Character, and a member of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership 45 Class – yes, the best class ever!
What do you imagine for the future of the Cincinnati region?
A region that promotes diversity and equity as Cincinnati’s population continues to increase with more job opportunities, investments in tech jobs and entrepreneurship, affordable housing, and our ever-growing arts and cultural experiences.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
A culture that embraces community engagement, diversity and equity for all so that every resident knows that they are important.
Help us elevate, empower, and support our region’s Black leaders today, tomorrow, and all year long by nominating someone for #MakingBlackHistory.