Moving forward seems to be a major theme in JJ Townsend’s life. From teaching the next generation of Jackson’s leaders to advocating for projects that will advance our community to being an avid runner, JJ is always putting his whole heart into moving himself and his community forward in one way or another.
Growing up on the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast, JJ was awakened to the spirit of community resiliency. “I always wondered why it takes something like a hurricane for us to be reminded that we’re all in this together,” he says. “I saw firsthand how people went out of their way to help others. It made me realize how solidarity and cooperation are needed to solve our collective problems.”
While studying business marketing and public relations at Ole Miss, JJ was very intentional about gaining real, hands-on experience. This led him to start a student-led consulting agency his sophomore year, which provided free marketing and PR services for many local businesses in Oxford. By the time he was in his last semester, however, JJ was ready for a change. He decided to join Teach for America and was placed at an elementary school here in Jackson.
“I absolutely love it. I am so lucky to get to teach the future leaders of Jackson how to read, write and think critically,” says JJ. “I’m definitely the teacher that goes through a box of Kleenex during the fifth grade graduation ceremony.”
However, JJ realized he could make even more of a difference in the Capital City other than through teaching alone. “When I moved here to teach three years ago, I met so many people who were passionate about this city, and they all had an idea or a story to tell,” he says. “A common thread in the conversations I had was that they needed a megaphone through which to share ideas, galvanize support and raise money for their ideas to become a reality.”
And thus, Citizenville was born. Citizenville is a nonprofit crowdfunding platform for neighborhood projects that will make Jackson a better place to live, work and play. The goal of the platform is to make ideas accessible and spark action by connecting community projects to grant-makers, businesses and individuals who want to fund them. “It is for any Jacksonian who wants to be a part of it,” says JJ. “It’s someone sharing an idea and other people getting involved and helping to fund the projects.”
Although the platform isn’t set to launch until late February, JJ couldn’t be more excited about the work he’s doing and the possibilities Citizenville will open up once live. The group is already actively seeding the initial projects that will be submitted on the website, and the future looks bright for both the platform and the city. “I’ve had the chance to meet so many incredible people and organizations across Jackson who are doing amazing things and are so passionate about the Capital City,” says JJ.
JJ acknowledges that being from Mississippi has heavily influenced his passions to educate and to develop an organization like Citizenville. “I fall asleep at night dreaming about the infinite possibilities for Mississippi,” he says. “There’s a deep pool of problems we face in this state, but that’s the exciting thing about living here. It opens up opportunities for innovation.”
Visit CitizenJXN.org to learn more.