Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Not your average politician: a look into Jessy Gregg

September 15, 2021
<p>New East Lansing Mayor Jessy Gregg in front of her store Seams Fabric on August 22nd, 2021.</p>

New East Lansing Mayor Jessy Gregg in front of her store Seams Fabric on August 22nd, 2021.

Photo by Thomas Ruth | The State News

Being the new mayor of East Lansing is just a sliver of Jessy Gregg.

She is a business owner.

She is an artist.

She is a mother. 

When Aaron Stephens filled the role as mayor of East Lansing in July 2020, he asked Gregg to be his Mayor Pro Tem. A position she accepted so long as Stephens promised her he would not quit. So, when Stephens resigned from office almost exactly a year after assuming the position, Gregg said she was struck with stress as she was shoved into the role of mayor.

She is the owner of two businesses: Seam's Fabric, a sewing shop in downtown East Lansing, and Warrior Goddess Training Academy, an online fitness community. 

Gregg said she loves serving and inspiring the public. Her job as mayor and city council member requires a lot of her attention and energy. With the borderline nasty emails and other various responsibilities, city council is the trouble child of the rest of her current roles, she said.  

In order to understand how Gregg landed in local government in the small town of East Lansing, and what makes her your not-so-average politician, it is best to follow her steps in chronological order. 

Life prior to Politics

In 2000, Gregg graduated from Hamline University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. At the same time, she worked at a costume shop as her work study — where her love of sewing was born. 

She worked as a professional artist, selling her wall art-style quilts at various street fairs. While she loved pursuing her interests as an artist, once she became a mother, Gregg could not sustain keeping up with both her kids and her life in the art studio. She had to make a choice.

"I was a little bit lost," Gregg said. "Motherhood is a very overwhelming experience, just coming to terms with the fact that I had to think differently and have different priorities."

After her third child was born, Gregg had a feeling that she needed to take her personal health in hand, as having three tiny humans that were dependent on her and attached at her hip proved to be a daunting task.

"I needed to keep up with them and stay healthy to be a part of their life for as long as possible," she said.

Her physical fitness history prior to having kids was non-existent, so when she took up running for the first time, she found it to be a difficult yet freeing experience. She quickly decided to sign up for a marathon and spontaneously started a Facebook group called Warrior Goddess Training Academy to help people find pace partners so they wouldn't be lonely on runs.

"I'm me, so I gave it a super bad-ass name, which attracted a lot of attention," Gregg said.

With "inspirational" quotes like, "Sweat is your fat crying," Gregg found the fitness community to be a toxic environment, especially for women.

"You shouldn't feel obliged to exercise out of some sort of sense of duty," Gregg said. "You should feel inspired to exercise because you love your body and you want to take care of yourself."

According to her LinkedIn, the group is still active. 

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Intro to politics

Gregg took her passion for helping other people with her into politics. 

Following former President Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 election, Gregg said she felt devastated.

"I really felt like things had been at least drifting in an acceptable direction," she said. 

Gregg said she had felt like she understood how government and politics work — so, Trump's victory blindsided her. As a result, she jumped into political organizing in a way she had never done before. Her inspiration, passion and "cheerleading" personality allowed her to be an organizer within her circle as she continued to educate herself about the political process. 

Gregg said she decided the easiest way for her to get involved would be to get local. Gregg signed up for E-boards and was on the Ingham County Parks and Recreation Board for a couple of years. Later, she joined the East Lansing Arts Commission and attended city council meetings, which she also reported on for East Lansing Info. 

Similar to how she decided to run a marathon shortly after getting into it, Gregg said she was pushed to run for city council to succeed former council member Shanna Draheim. 

"(Draheim) and Sen. Sam Singh pushed me out the door and became my organizing team for my campaign, and so here I am," Gregg said. 

Despite the fact that Gregg's shop Seam's Fabric just opened six months prior to the election, getting the green light to run for council was an opportunity Gregg had to attack and make the best of. 

On Nov. 5, 2019, Gregg received the most votes of all six candidates, securing herself a spot on the city council. 

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Thrust into leadership

In March 2020, just four months after Gregg was elected to city council,  an accusation of excessive police force arose in the community. Two months after the accusations surfaced, George Floyd’s murder brought more attention to nationwide protests regarding police procedure and inequity.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic had just swept the nation — a problem the council, as well as the world, is still working on. 

As if police reform and a pandemic were not enough to tackle at once, on July 14, 2020, then-Mayor Ruth Beier and Councilmember Mark Meadows resigned mid-meeting, putting Gregg and a 23-year-old Stephens in the hot seat. Stephens took over as mayor, and Gregg as pro tem. 

Gregg said this period was "the most stressful three months of my life." 

Just as things appeared to settle down, Stephens dropped the bomb on Gregg that he would be going to Harvard to pursue his master's degree and that Gregg would have to step up as mayor until the next election. Even if she loses her mayoral bid, Gregg still has two more years to serve as a city council member.

Gregg said she takes pride in herself and her council as they stray from the typical council image. Being an unusual group of public servants during this unusual time has received positive feedback from the community. 

Gregg's skin is getting thicker as she becomes increasingly more comfortable with trusting herself when making decisions. 

"You can do whatever you want, but do it genuinely and with truth and service in your heart, and you'll be okay," Gregg said. 

"Taking care of yourself and really understanding that you cannot continue if you are not well and doing what you need to do to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy," Gregg said. "Just look yourself in the mirror, be honest with yourself, tell yourself that you're doing it for the right reasons. Be confident in your own judgement, and as long as you're true to yourself, then you'll be doing the right thing."

This article is a part of our Sept. 14 print issue. Check out the full issue here.

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