Celebrating the Black Women Leaders Making a Difference in St. Louis
Mar 4, 2021
Even before they knew each other, St. Louis Platoon Leader Jenniqual “Jai” Johnson and Dr. Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels, founder and CEO of PotBangerz, were always in the same spaces. They both graduated from culinary school, and during the Ferguson Uprising in 2014, both were involved in activism and community organizing. In the ensuing years, they have grown a rich partnership that they both describe as “organic, and all love.”
Jai is a trained chef and an Army veteran. A few years after transitioning back into civilian life and moving to St. Louis, Jai was astounded by the service-driven community she found with fellow veterans at The Mission Continues. She participated in our annual Mass Deployment program and eventually took the role of Platoon Leader for the St. Louis Service Platoon.
An essential ingredient in Jai’s leadership strategy, and one core to The Mission Continues’ service philosophy, is to truly listen to the people you seek to help. Jai has found strength and success in that approach. “As a woman leader I pride myself on listening to what our partners want and need—that’s the best way to lead. It’s not about what I want to do, it’s about what the community wants from me. The way that I make my impact is by listening first.”
Mama Cat’s leadership is driven by a strong sense of community, empathy and personal experience. “My approach is always to work to lift up those who have the least among us. If your roots are not strong, you cannot stand.” On a personal level, “I go out in the streets with the full knowledge of what people are out there encountering, because I was myself out there at one point in my life. I understand it. I get it. And I think that makes me want to work harder.” She sees an essential truth that “unhoused folks are human beings, and they are worthy of love.”
There exists an added layer of challenge for Jai and Mama Cat for simply being Black women leaders in a culture that often underestimate and overlook their presence. Mama Cat said, “Every day is a struggle. There are doors slammed in my face as a Black woman, so we have to dig a little deeper and push a little harder to get done the things we need to get done.”
“My identity affects the way I move through the world, and it seems I have to work a lot harder to get a lot less,” said Jai. As for how her identity influences her leadership, she said, “I will always be Black, I will always be a woman, I will always be queer. It isn’t something I can take off, nor is it something I want to take off.” As a result, she explained, “I’m always more conscious of my surroundings, I am more conscious of what I say and what I do, because as a Black woman, I don’t get a second chance or the benefit of the doubt. And yes, there are some doors slammed in my face, but there are others that are easier for us to get into than our male counterparts.”
In Mama Cat’s words of wisdom, “Our challenges can make us stronger, or we can wallow in it. Make it your superpower, you know?”
Mama Cat is currently working on setting up PotBangerz’s first transitional house for women, including queer and transgender women—with the St. Louis Service Platoon always at the ready. One of the biggest accomplishments that have been borne out of the leadership and partnership of these two changemakers is the sheer amount of meals that they can provide to the community when working together. Members of the St. Louis Service Platoon are always welcome to join PotBangerz’s on a weekly basis to help provide the people power to prepare, package, and deliver approximately 210 meals directly to unhoused people on the streets of St. Louis. And as a shining example of their partnership, in 2019, the platoon helped PotBangerz cook and serve almost 2,000 meals over Thanksgiving and Christmas combined—Christmas also included delivery of donated books, toys, and clothes.
Together, Jai and Mama Cat are leading real change in the lives of St. Louis’s unhoused citizens. Want to lend a hand? Join one of the upcoming events with our St. Louis Service Platoon or a service platoon in your community.