Shortly after Kaylyn Hill accepted a management position at an Amazon fulfillment center in Ohio, she asked herself how the company could use its size and scale for good. Hill specifically looked at how Amazon could partner with communities to help correct systematic inequality—which she understood on a personal level.
Hill took what she learned and took action—both inside and outside of work. She created a newsletter for her teammates about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She launched DEI-focused affinity groups for Amazon employees. She approached management about the lack of diversity in roles like hers and offered ways to fix it. For all that effort, Hill understands that there is much more to be done, and that she personally is driven to do, to help change the inequality she sees and has experienced.
Hill is now taking the next step thanks to the MLK Memorial Foundation’s Social Justice Fellows Program, which was created in 2020 with support from Amazon Web Services (AWS). The fellowship helps rising social justice leaders advance their work, by equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need to support social change movements from protest to policy change, in line with the activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’d been trying to mesh together my work in diversity, equity, and inclusion at Amazon with an element of social justice,” Hill said. “I instantly knew this was an opportunity I wanted to take part in. It excited me—career-wise and impact-wise–so I applied and was accepted.”
Future leaders of social justice
The eight-week program brings together 50 fellows between the ages of 18 and 35 to focus on advocacy, community organizing, and public policy. The fellowship includes peer-led engagement sessions, mentorship opportunities, and lectures with some of today’s leading voices on social justice, including Alicia Garza, Bakari Sellers, Angela Rye, and Roland S. Martin.
As part of their year-long partnership with the MLK Memorial Foundation, AWS hosted learning workshops focused on building a personal board of directors and storytelling essentials. The courses were part of the Memorial Foundation’s multiple learning approaches to engage fellows in an intentional process that equipped them with the skills and knowledge to enhance their leadership capacity. Hill said learning from AWS experts was “invaluable” and helped her launch a web-based show in Texas—where she now lives and works—to talk to activists, community leaders, and politicians.
“I’m creating a space where the policies and politics of Texas can be put into layman’s terms for my community, and with that, inspiring the next generation of activists,” she said.
Hill, now a program manager for the Amazon Logistics audit team, recently sat down with us for an interview about the fellowship and her time at Amazon. She also talked candidly about how her advocacy work was influenced by the stark difference between her childhood and college experiences.
I finally felt like I wasn’t a sore thumb in the crowd and that there were others just like me. I understood what inclusion meant.
What sparked your passion in diversity, equity, and inclusion?
I was born and raised in Louisiana. The town that I was born into was surrounded by five “restricted communities,” meaning Black people were not allowed to own property in those communities. A lot of members at the church I belonged to were from those surrounding towns, so I was the only Black person in Sunday school.
My upbringing really impacted the way I felt about myself—it sparked a fire in me. When I was a senior in high school, I had an “ah-ha” moment when I was touring the campus of Southern University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, which I ultimately attended. I finally felt like I wasn’t a sore thumb in the crowd and that there were others just like me. I understood what inclusion meant.
After graduating from Southern University, I was fortunate to begin my career at Amazon as an area manager in Columbus, Ohio. The first thing I noticed was that I was the only African American manager on my shift. After an email to the team, I found out I wasn’t the only one noticing a lack of diversity among management. The team was already investigating its talent pipelines as the root of their problem.
I recalled my experience at HBCU career fairs—specifically, the lack of Amazon presence at them. I explained to my team the amount of black talent HR was overlooking by not attending, and I shared a running list of HBCU colleges and programs the team might benefit from. Two months later, the team reached out to solicit my feedback on the HBCU college tour they had planned with the list of colleges I created.
That’s how it all started—in my first week at Amazon, just seeing what I could do. While working as an area manager, I became a DEI trainer and mentor. I launched numerous affinity groups, and even coordinated the first affinity group fair in the Midwest.
Tell me more about your role at Amazon. How do you balance your passions inside and outside of the workplace?
I’m a program manager for AMZL’s Audit Team in Dallas, Texas. AMZL is Amazon’s own delivery service, focusing on last-mile fulfillment. In my current role, I’m spearheading Bits and Bytes, a quarterly DEI newsletter. My team and I wanted to make a fun and digestible newsletter about diversity and inclusion, instead of overly analytical emails that turn people away.
As a mentor, I’m very adamant on increasing the awareness and understanding of emotional intelligence. Whenever I’m doing any type of mentoring, I do a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, or SWOT, analysis and an emotional intelligence assessment. That way, we can walk through things like, What’s your leadership style? What’s your opportunity? How do you handle emotions when they are being projected by someone else? Having that breakthrough with my mentees is huge.
The way that we can gauge if progress is being made is when we see that it's not just Black people organizing together. It starts being something that's multiracial.
How can Amazon and the greater community become better partners in helping end systemic injustice?
First, you relate; second, you inform; and lastly, you invest. First, I'm going to relate with you. I want to make sure that you understand that although we have different experiences, at the end of the day, we have a connectedness in our compacted experience due to systemic injustice.
Second, I’m going to inform you, explaining the experience you had and what it is actually called—“gerrymandering” means this, “intersectionality” means this—and break it down into layman’s terms.
Third and finally, I’m going to invest in you—knowledge sharing to make sure folks get invested. Did you know that you could be a precinct chair? All you have to do is go to a bunch of different meetings and make sure your community starts voting. In one county in Texas, there are over 700 precinct chairs available—knowledge is power!
I'm reading a book called The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza. In the book, she shares her goals to make one collective movement. The way that we can gauge if progress is being made is when we see that it's not just Black people organizing together. It starts being something that's multiracial. When you start seeing genuine multiracial organizations happening from people understanding each other's experience as a collective—that’s when you know progress is being made.