Perhaps in large part due to the creeping ooze of social media seeping into every corner of life, it’s easier than ever to be an armchair activist or pastime pundit and lob barbs of criticism from the comfort and safety of a bubble floating in the ether of anonymity.
For others, however, that’s not quite good enough. For them, it’s much more important to physically be in the mix, take an active role in the dialogue and be a driving force of positive change.
In her work life as well her personal life, Jessy Gregg falls firmly into the latter camp. The East Lansing resident understands that the most crucial act that can be taken to achieve goals is simply being present. It’s what led her to start her own business, run a successful campaign for public office and found a fitness support network.
“I do a lot of panel-type discussions for young groups … and I always say the first step is showing up. And perhaps the most important step is showing up,” she said. “Once you do that, you’re halfway there. People tend to listen to the voices that are in the room with them, so if you want to have a voice in your government, if you want to have a voice in your community, you need to get in the room. There’s no one preventing you from doing that. All you have to do is show up. That’s always been part of my personality. I like to be the person in the room.”
This month marks the two-year anniversary of Gregg’s venture into entrepreneurship. Having nurtured an interest in costume and clothing design in high school, Gregg gravitated back into fiber arts after college, creating quilted wall art for local galleries and street festivals before opening Seams Fabric on Grove Street in East Lansing in 2019.
“The story of the store is partially circumstance and partially passion. Passionate circumstances,” she explained. “I’m located next door to another textile art store called Woven Art. They have been in downtown East Lansing for about 16 years now. It’s on its second owner. I started working there as a sales clerk before I had kids. I’m friends with the previous owner, and the current owner and I used to be co-workers there. When this space next door to her space opened up, it seemed like an unmissable opportunity to create a kind of incubator for woven art. We refer to ourselves as the East Lansing Textile District.”
The same year she started Seams Fabric, Gregg took a second, perhaps even larger, step that expanded her community involvement, launching a campaign to run for the East Lansing City Council. Gregg said part of the decision to seek public office came through the encouragement and backing of outgoing Councilwoman Shanna Draheim; however, she also viewed the run as an opportunity to raise an underrepresented voice.
“I think East Lansing is in an interesting period of economic development, and having someone in small business on the City Council — especially a creative industries small-business owner — I think is a unique niche,” Gregg said. “Small retail is pretty dicey right now. When people talk about having pride in the towns they grew up in, they’re usually not talking about the chain stores. They’re usually talking about the small businesses that have that individual personality attached to them.”
Gregg was elected in November 2019 and named as mayor pro tem last September. Much of her time on the council has been addressing the social and economic challenges facing the city from the coronavirus pandemic, but Gregg said she approaches her public work listening to her conscience and understanding that her motives are pure in every one of the votes she casts.
“As long as I can look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You are doing the right thing from where you understand it, and it’s not from a malicious intent, and it’s from a genuine desire to do good,’ then that’s all you can do,” she said. “One foot in front of the other.”
Measuring intent behind every step forward also led Gregg into a life of fitness and helping others achieve fitness goals as the founder of Warrior Goddess Training Academy. She started the fitness group after finding the health and mentally therapeutic benefits of running after becoming a mother.
“I was dealing with the transformational part of motherhood, where you realize life is never going to be the same as it was before you had children,” she said. “I was looking for a way to take my own health under control and reclaim a little bit of time for myself.”
She soon was hitting the 3-mile mark on her runs. Then 6 miles, which once seemed impossible. If she could do 6 miles, why not 26.2? So Gregg began training for a marathon.
“But I also run very slowly, so it was long and a little bit lonely,” she said. “I thought maybe if we started a social group in the area, people could match up their paces and run together. Basically, I started a Facebook group to connect people who wanted to get together for exercise accountability, training, etc. It took off much more dramatically than I thought and became a social support network for people who were wrestling with their own ideas of health.”
Now at roughly 1,300 members, Warrior Goddess Training Academy has evolved from a fitness group into more of a support organization based around encouraging members to invest in themselves and celebrating every milestone an individual achieves.
“It’s a fitness and accountability group, but it’s really not based in some model of what fitness looks like,” Gregg said. “We try to meet everybody where they’re at and encourage whatever small success each person needs to be celebrated in that moment.”