This year, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is celebrating its fifth birthday. Established in 2013, the Policy Center is the outgrowth of the girls’ reform movement that began over 15 years ago. When we opened our doors to engage the community and advance the rights of girls, five incredible women were instrumental in our foundation. In honor of Women’s History Month, we kick-off our Fabulous Five Series by highlighting Dr. Sherry Magill and her unique contributions to the Justice for Girls Movement and the Policy Center.
Having grown up in the deep south of Alabama, Sherry Magill recognizes the pre-Title IX climate of the country for sparking her desire to advance the rights of women. “The blatant discrimination of society made me a feminist,” she said, recalling her barred participation from sports activities, and a male college professor saying that women did not warrant gender equality. “I came into adulthood at the height of the women’s movement. I came of age when women were demanding rights.”
Magill became involved with the Girl Scouts at the age of six, which she also merits as an introduction to feminism. Her parents were both in public service: her mother a nurse and her father in the Air Force. As a child, she was surrounded by a deep care for the community and public good, which is a commitment she carried with her throughout her education. Magill graduated from the University of Alabama with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in American Studies, and continued to Syracuse University to earn her PhD in the same concentration. She met Lawanda Ravoira in 1993, which is where her involvement with justice involved girls began.
Magill has been the President of the Jessie Ball duPont fund for the past 26 years, which promotes and engages vibrant communities by improving their systems to support a strong civil society. Throughout the early ‘90s, she also served on the state board for the PACE Center for Girls, which is where she forged a friendship with Ravoira, who was the CEO and Chief Executive Officer of PACE Florida for 14 years. Working with Ravoira, Magill learned about the disparate treatment of girls in the justice system.
When Ravoira presented Magill with her plan to open a center for girls and young women in the justice and child protection systems, she was immediately on board. As President of the duPont Fund, Magill was involved as a funder of the Policy Center from the beginning. She oversaw the fund’s distribution of two $500,000 grants to open a national center for girls impacted by the justice system, which was a third division of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD).
The NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women opened in 2009, gathering remarkable success in the development of cutting edge, research-based curriculum, providing training and technical assistance throughout the country and establishing the National Girls Institute for the federal government. It also pioneered the development and implementation of research-based direct service programs for girls in detention and elementary schools. However, a different structure was necessary in order to expand the work in the direction needed to bring about systemic and lasting reform positioned to transform how Duval County and Northeast Florida responded to girls. When Ravoira presented the opportunity to transition the NCCD Center to the Policy Center, Magill embraced the idea without hesitation. “I bought into the vision and showed the trustees the importance of the work,” said Magill, who served as the inaugural chair of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center’s board.
Throughout her years at the duPont Fund, Magill has had her hand in many community and not-for-profit projects. To guide her work, she considers two questions: “How do we advance the common good?” and, “What is our obligation to it?” These questions were at the forefront when she renovated the Haydon Burns Library from 2013 to 2015 and transformed it into the Jessie Ball duPont Center, the non-profit pulse in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. The building is a gathering place for philanthropy, and Magill envisioned the center to have a collaborative nature. “You can’t force people to get along,” she said, “But you can create spaces where they find each other.”
And find each other they did. The community Magill hoped to build within the structure has undoubtedly come to fruition, as the Jessie Ball duPont Center now houses 18 local non-profits, including the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. “New stuff, new ideas and new relationships were born,” she said, noting the communal aspects of the building. The facility provides tenants with conference spaces and common areas, boasting state-of-the-art technology that makes engaging and energizing the city of Jacksonville—and the work of the Policy Center—that much more effective.
“If you dig deep into the background of American reform movements, they all start at the local level,” said Magill, expressing her intentions for the duPont Center. “I have a deep interest in the civic life of a place, and nonprofits build community by serving as organizations that tend to the common good and health of the community.” Her work as a lead funder and advisor to Ravoira, as well as her creation of the Jessie ball duPont Center, has made much of the Policy Center’s work advancing the rights of girls not only possible, but impactful across the city, state and nation.
In June, Magill will be stepping down as President of the Jessie Ball duPont fund, leaving a lasting legacy of philanthropy and civic engagement in her wake. When asked about her legacy, she responded: “I hope I’m remembered for my deep belief in the not-for-profit sector. We need to invest in it.” Through her innovative thinking and valuing of our mission, Sherry Magill has helped the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center show our community and state how to See the Girl.