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Jessica White: Food for Thought

February 21, 2022

Jessica White: Food for Thought

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Julie Larsen Julie Larsen

Each year, Black History Month celebrates the contributions and achievements made by African Americans.

Jessica White began her career with the Wildlife Conservation Society 12 years ago. She has held various positions and recently became the first Black female manager of WCS’s Animal Commissary located at the Bronx Zoo. Jessica is also proud to be the first Black female to manage an all-union staff at WCS.

We spoke about some highlights of her new role.

JLM: Tell me about your career at WCS.

JW: My journey with WCS began as a seasonal employee in March of 2010. Now, I am the Manager of Animal Commissary. We are responsible for ordering, receiving, and distributing animal feed (hay, produce, grain, and more) and supplying it to WCS’s four zoos and aquarium.

I find it interesting to learn about the vast food choices our animals have, even those with a sweet tooth. How do I know this? Our wild animal keeper staff order pineapples for certain animals in their care. I also learned that one of my favorite vegetables, bok choy, is enjoyed by many of the animals in our collection. I appreciate the high standards needed for my department. I work hard to ensure that we meet and exceed all of them.

JLM: How did you find your way to WCS?

JW: The short answer is that I am an animal lover. As a child, I grew up with rabbits, cats, and dogs. I have an appreciation for all animals. I truly understand the importance of their conservation. I can think of nothing more worthy than to work to protect ecosystems and environments and the animals that live in them.

JLM: Describe your typical workday.

JW: My team and I arrive to the office at 4:00 am, and by 4:15 am, bustling sounds can be heard in the service yard as equipment moves feed to the different animal installations. Once all orders are successfully delivered, the team begins prepping for the next day.

I am amazed at how many different hays are used for the animals at WCS. There’s timothy hay, Bermuda hay, wheat straw, and an alfalfa-timothy mixed hay, to name a few. At first, they all looked the same to me, but now that I am more familiar, I can differentiate between them.

JLM: What does Black History Month mean to you?

JW: I celebrate and honor Black history every month because I live it every day.

I wish the conservation field had more African-American representation. Having said that, my personal challenge as a conservationist is getting the word out about just how fragile our ecosystems are. I strongly feel that education is the key.

 JLM: What advice would you give the next generation on conservation and a career like yours?

I taught art in an afterschool program. I always managed to purposefully weave a conservation concept into all my lessons. If our assignment was to draw the African elephant, I would be sure to discuss poaching, climate change, and other challenges for this endangered animal. More programs and information need to be available to younger generations. A possible solution might be to include the idea of conservation in every elementary school curriculum. This will instill a level of empathy that is needed to bring about the changes we need in our world. Whenever I run into one of my former students, I encourage them to consider WCS as a possible career path because it will allow them to contribute to saving the wildlife they admire and to protecting the ecosystems where they live.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month on Wild View, we will be highlighting a cross-section of Black WCS staff members who play a vital role in the success of the organization.

Nikon D5

Bronx, US Map It


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S. Jefferson
February 21, 2022 at 12:39 pm

What an excellent article (and brilliant photography!) It cheered me to see the vibrant colors of the fresh fruit and vegetables juxtaposed against Jessica’s
bright and beautiful smile. As an African American, I love reading about our accomplishments; I feel such pride to see how Jessica moved up the ranks at WCS. There obviously are more great things in store for her in the future! Please consider a follow-up story with additional anecdotes from this young lady. She’s a great storyteller. Congratulations Jessica!! You are clearly one to watch….

Carolyn Jefferson
February 21, 2022 at 12:51 pm

As a school administrator in the Bronx, I found this article to be very inspiring! It has encouraged me to ensure we build upon what our current science curriculum currently teaches. It’s a special treat to see black representation where there is usually not. I look forward to hearing more from Ms. White.

February 21, 2022 at 1:12 pm

It’s nice to see that WCS promotes from within. It’s even nicer to see them showcase their minority talent. The fact that Jessica White is a black female is wonderful. Now, let’s make sure that she’s paid equitably and let that be the icing on the cake.

Gwen Skinner
February 21, 2022 at 3:21 pm

What an inspiring article. Who knew that such care and thought went into what the animals eat at the zoo. Looks like the zoo made a wise choice when they promoted Ms. White to Manager of Animal Commissary.

February 21, 2022 at 3:50 pm

Way to go Jessica White. What a great story, and to be a FIRST by becoming the first Black Female Manager of WCS’s Animal Commissary.
An an inspiring article to let young people know other options are out there in places we don’t consider. Continued success Ms White in opening new doors.

February 21, 2022 at 4:39 pm


February 22, 2022 at 5:29 pm

What a great article and congratulations Jessica on being the first black female to become manager MCS animal commissary in the Bronx zoo with an all union staff, it’s always great to work at a job that you love.

February 28, 2022 at 8:00 am

Representation matters. I’m so happy to see a Black woman in leadership. It shows the rest of us what is possible.

March 3, 2022 at 8:18 am

🥇To The Hardest Worker I Know🏆

March 3, 2022 at 8:48 am

Ms. Jessica. Do you guys ever do tours of the food op? I’d like to see it up close and personal. Why all the different hays, though? and pineapple eating animals!! Do tours – the public will pay to see “behind the scenes at WCS.” I certainly would. Interesting article. I like that you said, I honor and celebrate Black History everyday because I live it everyday. Your a bad a$$.

Barbara Fenner
March 3, 2022 at 8:56 am

Nice. Congratulations Jessica white. And congratulations WCS for recognizing and rewarding her talent. Very interesting article. As an animal lover I love stories from behind the scenes. And it looks like the animals at WCS or well cared for. Two thumbs up.

    S. Jefferson
    March 3, 2022 at 9:00 am


March 8, 2022 at 9:54 am

why combine 2 different hays?

    March 8, 2022 at 10:04 am

    Rolyat, that’s a good question! My guess is that it provides a nice variety for the animals. Maybe the texture, taste and color are different with this combo because remember…animals must be stimulated to thrive. My guess!

Richard Shields
March 8, 2022 at 10:02 am

I actually had my son read this article. I am a black man and I am proud of this black woman’s success in a traditionally white field but what I wanted my son to see in particular is how long it usually takes before one rises to a management position and gets recognized for accomplishments. He is unrealistic were this is concerned. She started with the company in 2010 – that’s about right!

Miles Holmgren
March 8, 2022 at 10:20 am

I appreciate that zoos use some of their profits for the conservation of rare species, and I respect that this employee keeps this issue in the forefront of her mind.

Noah Wilson
March 8, 2022 at 1:38 pm

I couldn’t start work at 4AM. 😳

Turrome Connor
March 8, 2022 at 3:58 pm

Jessica keep helping us as humans understand that this planet is not ours alone.

Wayne Dorsey
March 8, 2022 at 9:20 pm

Go Jessica!!!

March 8, 2022 at 9:51 pm

Goood jobb !!!

March 9, 2022 at 6:23 am

Ms. Jessica White … I don’t know you and you don’t know me –
but we know us.

We are diligent down to the lowest common denominator.
We are deliberate in everything we say and do.
We are aware – like an eagle.
We are always on.

“I celebrate and honor Black history every month because I live it every day.”
(A quote from Jessica White)

“I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
(A quote from Morgan Freeman)

I salute you!!

Barry Simms
March 9, 2022 at 9:49 am

I wish my sweet tooth only caused me to eat pineapples. 😐

Richard Jefferson
March 9, 2022 at 9:50 am

Good stuff! 👍

March 9, 2022 at 10:56 am

🥂 Cheers to Wildlife Conservation Society’s very first African American female Manager of the Animal Commissary and the very first African American female to run an all-union staff!🥂

Mr. and Mrs. Curtis White
March 11, 2022 at 11:01 am

To our Beloved Jessica,
We so admire your ability to manage people effectively and seemingly effortlessly. You have a reserved and beautiful disposition that draws employees to you. We, on several occasions, have had the privilege of watching you work. Your professionalism, confidence, and mild manner are commendable. We appreciate that you do not waste a lot of time mincing words. Yet, when you articulate your expectations, they are both clear and concise, and your directives are given with great forethought. Your patient temperament allows your employees to feel like they are in a safe zone. It is a place where, despite themselves, they find that they are not only willing, but eager to please you—their boss. The positivity you exude accounts for your receiving repeated compliments, unprecedented accolades, and record-breaking statistics year after year, despite patron attendance, inclement weather, or an all-union staff. You were a most admirable assistant manager and will undoubtedly go on to be a stellar manager!
We remember years ago being at WCS’s flagship store and one of your associates casually passed you as he headed toward the exit. Without looking up, you calmly whispered, “Back to work, please.” First of all, we were surprised he even heard you, but then we were amazed at how quickly he turned on his heels and resumed work. We anticipated him complaining or explaining. He did neither. He stood corrected.

Your Dad and I laughed out loud!

What really struck us though, was observing how adeptly one of your associates assisted a frail and feeble patron. We watched her interact and were heartened because your associate went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure she provided the absolute best service to her customer. It was clear that the customer relished the personal attention that you taught your associate to give. The associate had no idea that she was helping a woman who had been given less than six months to live. She had no inkling that she was interacting with her boss’s beloved Aunt Bernardette.

Your Dad and I almost cried!

Jessica, you are blessed with a unique gift; a natural gift that we can attest—you were born with. Before you were able to walk, you taught us early on that it was in our best interest to pay attention when you spoke. You kept your lips contemplatively pursed and you did not speak much; you never showed much interest in loud crying or out-of-control screaming, but when you spoke…we listened.
When your dad and I heard your high-pitched, squeaky voice announce, “I uk” (I’m up), we knew we had mere seconds to spring out of bed and reach you before you attempted to climb out of your crib. We literally fell over each other trying to get to you in time. We threw open the door and stumbled into your room to find that you had already thrown one leg over the crib railing. When you stated, “I wet” we knew we had to rush in before your soiled diaper could be heard hitting your bedroom wall. You calmly made your wishes known and if we didn’t heed your words, we were faced with the consequences.
Of course, as an adult, you’ve applied patience, along with other attributes from your toolbox, and this winning blueprint is recognized and appreciated by all of your employees and employers. This explains unequivocally how, year after year, you are able to turn whatever motley crew you inherit or are assigned to by human resources, into a team of super shining stars. If this happened once, we’d consider it a fluke; twice—a coincidence, but after more than a decade of producing the best teams, this is a pattern—a strategic model that should be emulated by others. What you are able to accomplish is not easy for most people in leadership positions. Your colleagues would benefit from your innate understanding of how to achieve excellence from any employee. There is a distinct formula that you have obviously mastered. Bottle it!
We have told you numerous times that we so admire your quiet strength; it is deafening and a joy to observe!
Mom and Dad

Ruth Shinnar
March 17, 2022 at 9:09 pm

WCS should be proud of employees like MsWhite who are dedicated to the environment and community. After reading about her journey and commitment I am encouraged to continue my family’s enthusiasm for WCS. Thank you.

April 2, 2022 at 7:57 pm

This article is amazing. I’ve read it a few times and I am just in awe. You never cease to amazing me. Keep moving up and breaking barriers! The picture is beautiful, really showing off the “fruits of your labor” Anyone can tell you enjoy your job from the smile on your face. In fact,, your smile makes me smile! Can’t wait to read about the next big thing you do! 🖤💪🏾

Karen Perkins-Hall
September 29, 2022 at 8:56 pm

What an excellent article. So proud to see this beautiful African American young lady doing such an awesome job with such care, hard work and love for her job and for the precious animals. Wishing you continued success. Congratulations Jessica!!