In honor of Black History Month, OIA’s Mission Matters series has a very special issue featuring Leronda (Lucky) Jackson, a local agent in Dayton, Ohio who started her very own scratch, startup agency LFL Insurance Agency located in Dayton, Ohio. We met Leronda at a recent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dialogue Circle in December 2021 and that’s where our journey starts with this fierce, female, black leader both in her community and in our industry.
Leronda started out in the industry about 30 years ago as a CSR in a life insurance agency, which she did NOT enjoy but she certainly earned her stripes. It was with this role that she wondered if she would even stay in insurance, and luckily for all of us, her faith, grit, and sheer determination sent her down a path to do things her way. She sat for her state license, passed, and began to carve out an agency name and location.
It didn’t come easy for Leronda, she was a black woman, trying to build a business in the toughest of economic times for our state and country. There was a recession happening coupled with a housing bubble. When she would talk to potential clients, she found people went from making good money to simply trying to survive, to keep food on the table for their families. It was challenging to find insurance companies that could help these customers. Companies were looking for clients that could keep the maintenance of their homes up to date and her clients were ones that did not have discretionary funds to do regular home maintenance projects.
The most challenging part of her journey was securing great company partners. Everyone kept telling her NO, told her to secure a million dollars on the books and then call them back. She struggled to secure an E&O policy for her business. As she was able to place business with various companies, it was mostly auto and she couldn’t bundle to provide clients with the best possible rates. She made a lot of mistakes, specifically marketing mistakes on missed promotions that would cost her dearly. But finally, in 2005 she was able to start working in a meaningful way with Erie Insurance Company and things started to stick.
Shortly after things started sticking, the United States elected its first black president, Barack Obama. Leronda felt people could finally see African Americans in a different light. Furthermore, the First Lady, Michelle Obama was an excellent role model and example of giving permission to all to be who they are. Leronda felt for the first time that she could wear her hair in braids, do different hairstyles, wear the colors and the dresses she secretly loved. For the first time in her insurance career, she could be herself!
Although this was a turning point in our history, we still had and have a long way to go. Recall this was in 2008 that President Obama was elected, and the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States was still building momentum over the next 11 years!
The disparities among races are still prevalent and sickening no matter where you live in the United States. These disparities still plague Leronda and her business. She often must remind herself of her intelligence, her kindness, and being a good person that serves her community.
It feels like a lot of her clients are marginalized, with agents and companies placing business for diverse clients with poor markets simply because of their skin color. Clients’ homeowners’ policies are subject to higher rates and less coverage and when asked, she discovers no one even visited their home when placing the policy. Leronda has experienced racism in her own office where people come in after speaking with her on the phone regarding a quote and she never sees or hears from them again. She experiences that people are not expecting a black woman to own an agency on Main Street in Dayton, Ohio.
And that is their loss.
Leronda recalls in 2019 the KKK had a rally in downtown Dayton on a Saturday at the Courthouse. Something like this can really tear down a small town and the diversity within but two days later when the Memorial Day tornadoes struck the area and literally ripped the town apart, this was the moment where Leronda could step in and do what makes her so special and unique.
She started her day before the sun came up to see how she could help her community. She drove the trip into Trotwood that usually took her 3-5 minutes, that day took her over an hour and a half. She found a man in front of a pile of debris that used to be his home. He was rummaging for his medication. Leronda stopped and helped him find it. He was not a client of hers but shared that his agent told him that he would get back in touch with him in 24-48 hours. Leronda took out her phone and called his insurance company directly and started the claims process for him right there on the spot and got him to safety.
Later a woman had called LFL Insurance, and although Leronda wasn’t her agent, she was still able to help her file her claim, get her a hotel to stay in, and closed out the call with a prayer of hope and love.
Leronda is a big believer that if you make withdrawals from your community, you must make deposits. We get the sense from talking with Leronda, she has a giant surplus with her community.
In fact, she was honored by Erie Insurance and won the Erie Community Service Award. She is constantly giving back and making connections with her community. Especially the youth in the community. During the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement the local Chief of Police provided her with a couple of names of high school students that wanted to do a walk, so she helped them orchestrate a large event with a very diverse mix of people from the community. She supports many local groups and when asked she will research the mission of the organization and contribute financially if it aligns with her values.
Leronda recognizes she has a platform, and she leverages it to get behind people and what’s important to them. In fact, last March she recognized COVID was greatly impacting black people as data has shown that there are far more black people dying from COVID than any other ethnicity.
So last March, she started a Facebook group called “Black Health Matters” and the group has grown to over 1,600 people. It’s a community of people, coming together to talk about health issues, sharing healthy recipes, how to lose weight, and featuring doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to provide perspectives and tips.
Being a diverse leader, Leronda recognizes the importance and need to surround yourself with people that do not think or look like you do. In her words, “that is how we are going to be successful as a society”. She has recognized that helping others succeed is how we help progress DEI efforts. Leronda feels successful when she can help others be successful. We can all help people progress and help others to feel successful.
When it comes to improving your DEI journey, Leronda has some tips. Be vulnerable, admit that you’re coming up short. That’s when big things can happen.
Leronda recommends going to diverse events, submerging yourself in diverse cultures, pay attention to what is going on around you so that you can communicate and advocate for the issues that are happening. If you’re looking to add diversity to your business, pay attention when you’re out in public. When you receive exceptional service in retail or food, have a conversation with that person and see if there could be a fit for your business. That is exactly how Leronda found her CSR, Troi, who went from working at a nail salon to be being an exceptional professional staff at LFL Insurance.
Leronda’s advice for the next generation and diverse agents – do the work and put in the hours. No one is going to be your client just because. You will have friends and family that you need to win over. Do not take it personally, or let it hurt your feelings if they don’t become a client. Sometimes you need to prove your worth even to the people that are closest to you.
But know, you are constantly on the clock, so do not get trapped in unsavory conversations, or post insensitive things to social media. People are always watching, and they remember. Try to do things correctly the first time, because mistakes can be costly. Hire the professionals like an accountant or bookkeepers, and attorneys, and join your association as they will help you avoid costly mistakes.
In closing, to everyone reading, DEI, building an insurance agency and a life of helping others is a journey. If the one thing I learned from this conversation with Leronda, it’s to pay attention. Pay attention to what’s happening around you, help the person next to you, ask questions, acknowledge that none of us are where we should be, and let’s all commit to doing better.
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