Jeffrey Hillman / by Michael Falco

Who is Jeffrey Hillman?

Jeffrey Hillman was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, and frequently moved while growing up. His family was in the lower socioeconomic class where basic needs were a struggle to obtain while his father and mother worked a series of generally poor-paying, blue-collar jobs. He and his siblings were raised in an Evangelical Christian household which prompted him to seek his first postsecondary degree in Theology. He began questioning his views on society, religion, and race after living in Haiti where he worked assisting a medical mission. He would go on to become a paramedic and work in the prehospital medical field for over twenty years. During this time his views continued to change and evolve as he served those in his community. Recognizing he needed to do more, he returned to school and completed his undergraduate degree from Siena Heights University. He then went on to complete his Master of Public Administration degree with an emphasis in Nonprofit Administration and Leadership from Western Michigan University (WMU).  He currently works as a Doctoral Research Associate and is in his second year of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation program at WMU where his research interests focus primarily on the values surrounding social betterment. He currently resides in Kalamazoo with his wife and is an at-home dad for their school aged children. His sister Barbie, brother Nathan, and mother Mary were all interviewed for this project.

Excerpt from interview with Jeffrey Hillman by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: How did the paramedics that you worked with, the EMTs who worked with you, respond when they would be called to the white community? There was a different way they would interact with the white community in these other communities?

Hillman: [10:25:47] I think there was less assumption that they were on Medicaid or they were like, “Oh, they’re on Medicaid” – so it was considered a bad thing. So when responding to Caucasians, responding to white populations or white neighborhoods, I think they were more relaxed. It was that automatic assumption you were going to be safer for some reason. And even to a certain level, I would imagine I did it. I know I did. It was just less assumption that they were a leech on the system, or, “Look, I’m going to take them to the hospital and I’m going to be the one paying for their medical bill.” It was like, “Oh. They’re white, so they probably have a job, and they probably have insurance.” So they’re taking care of themselves, whereas these other populations I have to take care of them. That seemed to be definitely a way that we approached it.

Q: Talk to me about your arc of experience over the fifteen years with that culture and how you felt about it in the beginning, and any change that you felt towards that culture as time went by.

Hillman: [10:27:20] The arc of my experience within being a paramedic and in how that changed, I definitely bought into it to a certain level. I may have contributed at times. You know, just fitting in or whatever the reason. I certainly didn’t speak against it at times. I think as I became more educated, as I chose more education, I was like, “Oh, wait a minute. This isn’t okay.” As I did more personal reading to try to look at people differently, move away from dehumanizing.

I had a moment probably about seven or eight years in as being a paramedic where I was probably angry. I was angry a lot. And I knew I had to change. Either I had to get out of the job or I went into somebody’s house and they were not the best housekeepers. And I was walking in and I was kicking their stuff down the hallway. And I was angry. I don’t know why I did it. But I was angry and I was just kicking their stuff down the hallway. It’s like, “Oh, great. Another nasty house. Another dirty house, bugs, whatever.” Probably swearing a lot at the time, as well.

And I knew I had to change something, that I get out of this work or I find something else to do. So I ended up finding something else. Within the company, there was a position open. I was able to move, but with that, I became kind of this quest of how do I change what I’m doing, because the way I’m going right now I’m not in good shape. I’m angry and frustrated. So I started to try to make purposeful movements towards how do I view this differently. It took some time. It took some time.

Interview Transcript