God Is A Much Better Driver Than I Am
What if? That thought comes to mind when I consider what my life could be. What if I didn’t live in a particular city, or attend a certain high school? What if I had chosen a different career path or traveled a different road in life? What if I had never applied action to my dream? What if God didn’t choose me to be paired with His vision?
I will be the first to admit that my life has been anything but simple. For the most part, it has been full of winding roads and quite noisy at times. The love and encouragement of my mother, grandmother, and others surely help to soften me; I surely miss my grandma. Yet, the storms and shortcomings I’ve endured have done their job and toughened me a little.
I have learned that my peace lies in the space between the good times and bad times, and for me to enjoy and experience peace, I must work for it. I have also learned that life will get tough, and when we get knocked down, God doesn’t expect us to stay there. There are lessons in all experiences, and getting up and trying to get it right again is part of God’s lesson.
There was a point in my life when I didn’t know if I was coming or going. With every move I made, it was the wrong one. There were also times when I would move or react to whatever thought came into my mind. Again, that turned out to be the wrong thing to do. My point is everything I had done, I did it without seeking guidance from God beforehand. I was driving my own ship, yet I was going nowhere and fast.
While I made a mess of my life, God was there, like He always has been. He allowed me to make those bad decisions and provided grace to ensure I would survive them. During the times when I continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, God continued to cover me because there was a lesson that I needed to learn.
Despite everything I have experienced thus far, God has been right there with me. When it appears things aren’t moving fast enough, I know that God is governing the speed at which things are happening. When we get in God’s way, we block Him from blessing us. Get out of God’s way and allow God to drive. You might just learn that life is a lot easier from the passenger seat.
It’s Music, Love and ServiceBy Terry L. Watson Photos Provided by James Lonnie McFadden
James Lonnie McFadden III of Kansas City, MO, is a second-generation Jazz guy, as his father, James “Smiling Jimmy” McFadden, was a great tap dancer during Kansas City jazz’s heyday (the 1920s and 1930s).
James attended Lincoln High School and Penn Valley Community College; however, his musical, dance and entertainment education mainly came from his father. James says, “My father taught my brother and me a lot about the history of Kansas City jazz. We learned about people like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Count Basie at an early age. We also learned about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, “Pops and Louie”, John Bubbles and Baby Laurence.”
James is partnering with The Ambassador Hotel in Kansas City, MO. In 2020, Paul Coury, the owner of the Ambassador Hotel, invited James to partner with him to open a jazz club on the lower level of his hotel. James says things went so well that Paul decided to name this jazz club after him, Lonnie’s Reno Club. “As the world was recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, I was invited to perform in the parking lot of The Ambassador Hotel. Paul was there the second night I performed and invited me to his table. He soon took me inside the hotel and showed me the vacant space on the lower level. He explained that he wanted to open a (1920s, 1930s / Prohibitions style) nightclub. He asked me a few questions about that era and if I could visualize something like it. Paul liked my ideas and enthusiasm as we both imagined the same kind of venue. And the rest, as they say, is history.
At Lonnie’s Reno Club, History Class & Kansas City Jazz is on full display. Lonnie’s Reno Club pays homage to the famous Reno Club of the 1920s & 1930s. James shares that the original Reno Club was located blocks away from their present location, at the corner of 12th and Cherry in Kansas City. Lonnie’s Reno Club is a one-of-a-kind venue. James says, “The experience starts when you drive up to The Ambassador Hotel. You are greeted by a gentleman to valet park your car, and then escorted into The Ambassador Hotel. You are guided to the circled staircase leading to Lonnie’s Reno Club. When you reach the lower level, you are greeted by a host or hostess and given a complimentary glass of champagne, all while being escorted to your table. On each table is a very elegantly stylized menu with fixed dinner prices. The show comes with a three-course meal and dessert.”
James shares how he appreciates the opportunities life has presented him. “I live in a constant state of gratitude. From my teenage years, I have always wanted to play music for a living, and for over 50 years, I am thankful to say that is what I do,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by classy entertainers, musicians, and actors like Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Nat “King” Cole, Marvin Gaye, and of course, my father. Amazingly, I have the opportunity to walk the same path they did. I am truly grateful.”
While things have been great for James, he shares his career has come with some unbelievable moments. “I think the most profound incident in recent years was when he accepted an offer to perform in the parking lot during the pandemic. That experience ultimately led to me performing in a nightclub named after me,” he says. As a professional entertainer/musician, there have been a few challenges and obstacles that James has encountered also. “There is no cookie-cutter way to make a living as a performing artist. I believe my love for what I do and a relentless desire to do it and a certain level have enabled me to continue my lifestyle.”
If all entertainers and musicians could share a journey like the one James has, who knows where the world of music would be? What began with a conversation has grown into him having his name adorn one of Kansas City’s brightest jazz houses. While some might call it luck, James calls it purpose, as he believes that he is walking in what he purposed to do.
As James looks forward, his goals are very simple. “I desire to be the best that I can be and give the best performance that I can give on any given night. I realized that my ability to play trumpet, tap dance, or sing alone would not make each night’s performance great. It takes more to make each night great,” he says. “Still, my ultimate goal is to create or facilitate a fun evening of live entertainment for everybody every night.”
To learn more about James Lonnie McFadden III, please visit his website.
I desire to be the best that I can be and give the best performance that I can give on any given night. I realize that my ability to play trumpet, tap dance, or sing alone would not make each night’s performance great.”
Way” Latitude Training Center
ThingsBy Terry L. Watson
Tiawna Bryant describes herself as an elite member of the healthcare industry.
The Detroit, MI, resident, and native is a Registered Nurse with over 20 years of healthcare experience. She is a mom, a caregiver to her parents, and a leader in her community. She is also the owner of Latitude Training Center.
Her company educates and trains aspiring healthcare workers in basic nursing services. Her students learn how to properly and safely perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL) for those who are ill or debilitated, need assistance, or can’t perform ADL care independently. ADL care consists of grooming, toileting, feeding, dressing, and helping with ambulation and transfers. Through the American Heart Association, Tiawna is a certified CPR Instructor. Additionally, her students are trained in emergency response care. Latitude’s four-week program equips individuals with job-ready skills, the kind of skills that are transferable and remain with them for life.
Tiawna obtained a degree in Applied Science from Davenport University. She began her journey of teaching CPR in her basement. She later expanded in 2018 with the assistance of an entrepreneurial training program. She continued to grow her professional services to a brick-and-mortar location and added healthcare career training. She says, “My vision for creating the Latitude Training Center was formulated while working as a Nurse Educator at the corporate level. During my tenure, I noticed there was a lack of caregivers to support the growing population of our elders. I also became aware of the idleness of our young adults in the community.” Learning those things propelled her into action.
Tiawna’s love for healthcare happened as a child. “As a teenager approaching high school, my mother frequently showed me the Sunday newspaper. She would show me the classified section and always emphasize choosing a career pathway that was in high demand and offered job stability. Becoming a nurse or an educator would provide that. Both nursing and education struck her interest, and from there, the rest is history.
“My vision for creating the Latitude Training Center was formulated while working as a Nurse Educator at the corporate level. During my tenure, I noticed there was a lack of caregivers to support the growing population of our elders. I also became aware of the idleness of our young adults in the community.”Photos Provided by Tiawna Bryant
Tiawna says she is inspired by the impact she has on her students. “My students look up to me and see themselves as leaders, nurses, caregivers, and educators. When my students ask questions about what direction they should take or how to handle a situation in their personal lives or issues at school, I am amazed and so grateful that I can be a resource. Whether it’s helping someone overcome a hurdle or giving a small nugget of advice, helping with their resumes, or just leading by example on how to conduct yourself and exude professionalism, I am grateful,” she says.
As a new business owner, the challenges never stop, and Tiawna says the one she has faced is learning how much working capital is actually needed to sustain a viable business. “You can have a beautifully well laid out business plan, but without projections and a method for growth and expansion, things can start to look quite different from when your business was just a thought on paper. Working capital is important. Having good personal credit has helped me leverage a lot of the funds that I lacked in my first year of business,” she says.
While the experience has been great for Tiawna, she says she would have done some things in business differently if given a chance to do so. “I would not have put my dreams to the side. When I initially had the inclination to be an entrepreneur, I doubted the timing and ability. The reality is once you have swallowed the idea and it starts to digest in your spirit, it will never go away. I would have started sooner in life and spoken more self-affirming words into the universe to support the thoughts that would have gotten my actions to align with what I knew to be true. Now that I am here and in the midst of it all, I am focusing on the bigger picture.”
Her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be ready for your circle to change and be ready for the naysayers. “Be ready to sacrifice and fight; your vision is your vision. Things and people will come against you that you may never have imagined. It can get rough, and you will ask if this is what I signed up for. My advice is to do as I did. Do your own research and hire professional consultants to help you polish your brand and get your back office paperwork together,” she says.
In the future, Tiawna plans to continue to encourage young adults to invest in themselves and their community. She also plans to continue expanding her brand and enjoy the opportunities and blessings of owning her company.
For more information about Latitude Training Center, please visit their website.
He is best described as a God-fearing man who loves being a husband and father. Those who don’t know him would probably say Stony is arrogant, but he says that’s far from the truth. “If anything, I try to motivate and encourage people to chase after their dreams and to live life to the fullest and with purpose. Life is already challenging, so I try to offer the advice I want someone to give me during times of adversary,” he shares.
Stony Murphy of Pensacola, FL, reflects on what he was told as a child, how he was treated as a black sheep and would fail in life. He has stood on that skepticism and, in turn, used it as a source of inspiration. He credits his mother, Gloria Murphy, for being an excellent example for him to live by. Stony shares that her strong will and determination to raise him, while being a single black woman helped him learn that anything is possible, just as long as he believed in himself.
Stony is a man of many talents. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is a certified Master Barber, Chef, and Graphic Designer. He is a songwriter, entertainer, stage performer, and actor, and just here recently, he was blessed to have his own radio talk show.
Again, Stony connects his successes to the direction and example set by his mother. “I don’t know how life would’ve turned out. I was rebellious, but mom never threw the towel in on me. She continuously reminded me that if I wanted better, I had to do better,” he says. Another one of his great influencers was his grandmother, Roxana Caves. She was the first black woman in Pensacola to own and operate a cosmetology school. At the age of eight, Stony shadowed her whenever she was in her salon, which happened to be attached to her house. By the time he turned ten, Stony was allowed to cut alongside her. Years later, he followed in her footsteps and became a Master Barber.
Today, Stony has firmly planted himself as a staple in his community. Along with his “twin flame”, best friend, and my lifelong partner, Renee Murphy, Stony has created the brands, L&L Smoothies and L&L Art Collectionz. “L&L Art Collectionz is an art that is one of a kind. I never paint the same piece, so when you get a painting from me, you know it’s an original, not a duplicate,” Stony says. L&L Smoothies LLC provides all-natural plant-based smoothies that aid individuals dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and more. Stony and Renee share love in their businesses and how they live. “We have been together for nearly a decade, and I would do it all over again. She is a great mother, daughter, sister, friend, and fabulous wife. Her support, love, and loyalty keep me thriving and determined to achieve any goal I set out to accomplish,” Stony says.
As for music, he acknowledges his uncle Willie Pritchard for inspiring him. He was a writer also and passed the gift of writing down to Stony. His uncle played the drums, shared the stage with many oldschool legends, and allowed Stony to sit in during rehearsals. Art, on the other hand, Stony says, was more of a hit-and-miss hobby. “I would grab the Sunday newspaper cartoon section and draw the characters just for fun. Never once did I ever think that I would gain the recognition of being an artist years later,” he says.
Art holds a special place in Stony’s life. He shares that as a writer and performer, the art of music allows him to tell his story through stories that transform into songs. “I am very transparent and honest when I write my songs. I want listeners to know they are not the only ones dealing with life’s challenges. It’s my way of exhaling, so I can move on without bottling up. My expression of how grateful I am for overcoming situations.” Being a painting artist is just the same for Stony. “I can illustrate my thoughts on a stretched canvas. Painting takes me to a place of serenity and allows me to shake off the stress of life.”
Like most business owners, having a solid support system is vital. Many entrepreneurs go into business with the mindset that family and friends will provide support. Stony says that is not how it goes. “Walking into the unknown is intimidating, so going into a situation with the backing of your immediate circle helps deal with pros and cons in business. I’ve learned to deal with business challenges by praying and asking God to cover my decisions and to surround me with people with a simpatico mindset.”
The future looks bright for Stony. He has launched a new radio show, “2 Tears in a Bucket……Y’all know the rest!” This show is filled with theories, facts, good music, and fun conversations. He also plans to remain ambitious, innovative, humble and focused. “I will stay prayed up and open to new ideas. Building prosperous relationships is my objective from this point forward.” h
New Hope Christian AcademyBy Monica Montgomery
Sisters Kimberly Gegner and Alicia Williams-Clark are setting the standard in private Christian education in the Abington, Pennsylvania, area. New Hope Christian Academy is a private, faith-based school that services kindergarten through twelfth-grade students. New Hope offers small classroom sizes, which maximize personal attention--enabling students to reach their full potential.
“Our courses are designed to promote excellence. We are committed to offering the best and most advanced educational opportunities available. With our individualized, innovative curriculum, students progress at their own pace,” Alicia, one of the co-founders of NHCA, explained.
One primary truth proven over time is that great things are birthed out of need and adversity. Kimberly, a mother of five, wasn’t getting the support she needed for her oldest daughter Mary. “Mary came to our family through foster care and adoption. She was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder). Mary struggled in school. By the time my daughter was in eighth grade, she could no longer function in a traditional classroom setting. She acted out in every way possible, her grades were very low, and it got to the point that homeschooling was my only option. By this time, I had three children—Mary, her older brother, and at that time, a new baby. I knew I had to do something, but I couldn’t and didn’t want to do it alone. So, I called Alicia and told her what was happening, and she was immediately like, let’s do it together,” Kimberly shares. The sisters started a homeschool co-op based out of their father’s church.
During that time, Kimberly was in graduate school at Eastern University, working on a master’s in Urban Economics development. “While working on my master’s degree, I started to conceive of a Christian school that catered to non-traditional students who looked like us and was affordable on every budget. The school would have a holistic approach, focusing on mind, body, and spirit,” Kimberly explained. “This was different from any faith-based schools in Philly at the time.”
Understanding right away that their family wasn’t the only ones who needed the smaller non-traditional approach to education, applying her Economic development background, Kimberly and Alicia built a model of a Christian school that was funded by businesses instead of tuition. With their model in place, the sisters jumped in heart first. Now eighteen years later, the school is thriving and growing simply through word of mouth and having a reputation for excellence.
When the school started, Alicia didn’t yet have her bachelor’s degree, but both sisters received Ed.S. in their specified areas. Kimberly’s is in Educational Leadership, and Alicia’s is in Mathematics Education. Kimberly admits that the idea to open a Christian school was seeded with the vision of the church it was birthed from.
“Vision for the school is aligned with that of the church, which is very social justice oriented. We wanted to create a learning environment that would produce social capital, meaning active and productive community members. These students would help to build their communities from the inside out. Our curriculum isn’t just academics but also focuses heavily on character building. We wanted to make sure that the alumni of our school go on to improve and elevate society as a whole due to having had the New Hope Christian Academy educational experience,” Kimberly explained.
“New Hope Christian Academy is committed to educating each student’s mind, body, and spirit. We believe that the holistic education of children, with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, will build strong people, families, and communities, ultimately changing the world,” Alicia shares. “From the start of the co-op, this has been our vision.”
When the homeschool co-op started in September 2004, it had five students. The following year they had seventeen students. “Initially, it was Kim’s oldest son and daughter and our three younger siblings,” Alicia explains. “We playfully called them the Fab Five because they were the first five students enrolled. But once people saw how it worked for them, word got around. Church members and other people we were affiliated with approached us about allowing their children to join, and things just grew from there.”
The school does very little advertising. Most of their students are word-of-mouth referrals. Part of the reason is that the NHCA experience isn’t for everyone. “We focus on students who don’t do well in the traditional school setting. There is an excessive amount of young black males who don’t excel in the traditional classroom. These students function much better in smaller focused groups where they can receive more individual instruction and move at a comfortable pace,” Kimberly explains.
Although NHCA is a private school, it is certified through the state and works in conjunction with the title 1 school district their students live in. Title 1 districts are known to have students who experience higher rates of economic hardships and childhood trauma.
“This is also why tuition is so low. We were taught that lack of funding should never keep you from making something happen. And in some cases, students may receive sponsorship. That is how we run our school,” Alicia explains.
In the eighteen years the school has been in operation, it has seen rough times, but that didn’t stop Alicia and Kimberly. “When we started the school, we only had five students, so it was no problem to house the school at the church. But when the school expanded, we quickly outgrew the small space the church provided,” Alicia said. “Our biggest obstacle has always been finding a building to house the school.”
At times the sisters had to take on other jobs to pay for facilities so they could hold classes. “Things were so bad at one point that we went without salaries. Thankfully we both have very loving and supportive husbands who believe in what we are doing,” Alicia shared. “We had to use our gifts and talents to keep the doors open,” Kimberly said jokingly. “I sold baked goods, and Alicia used her graphic designing degree to earn extra money for the school.”
At one point, NHCA had to fold into another local Christian school because they had no place to hold classes. “That was really hard, but we didn’t give up,” Kimberly explained. “I went with our students and taught at the new school, while Alicia went and worked a regular nine to five so we could regain our footing.”
One year later, the school reopened, and all of the original NHCA students returned. “The school administrator admitted that she tried to get some of the students to stay, but they weren’t having it,” she said proudly. “They all came back.”
Over the years, the enrollment for NHCA has fluctuated between thirty and sixty students. Currently, they have fifty students enrolled. The school employs seven full-time teachers, three part-time staff members, and one SEL counselor. Kimberly and Alicia also teach. Alicia works with Elementary students, and Kimberly works with Middle and High School students.
The most significant achievement Alicia and Kimberly like to recognize is when they can celebrate their alumni. “We host a New Year’s Breakfast and an end-of-the-year festival for our alumni every year,” Kimberly explained. “We have students who now have their bachelor’s and Master’s degrees who are coming back and working with us. That’s the social capital I was talking about,” she said proudly.
To hold true to its vision statement, NHCA will keep its enrollment at a maximum of sixty students. But they have been asked about expanding. “We have had great success with our students and the model that we use. I wouldn’t want to increase the class size. But we may open a second location using the same model,” Kimberly explained. “We have been contacted by several organizations asking us if we would be interested in setting up schools in areas like ours around the country. We’ve even been asked if we were going to write about what we’ve achieved. I can see us growing to around ninety to a hundred students over two campuses. I think that would be ideal for what we are attempting to maintain. Our current goal is to grow our staff. I used to love being in the classroom, but as I get older and the students seem to get younger, I see myself taking on more of an administrative role. I would be focusing on mentoring new teachers and staff development. It takes dedication, patience, and a calling to teach our children. I see myself helping to cultivate that in new teachers. I want to instill in them the New Hope Way.” h
Smart Technology CorporationBy DorJea’ McClammey
He is described as someone who can make just about, well, anything! Christopher Jackson is the owner of Smart Technology Corporation. Based in Greensboro, NC, Smart Technology Corporation is leading the way in the areas of Precision Machining, Injection Molding, and Assembly Fabrication. They also offer various services, including engineering design assistance, reverse engineering, prototyping, and flexible, short-run production. Additionally, Smart Technology Corporation offers 3D scanning capability and can capture up to two million measurement points for a scanned subject, resulting in a precision of about 1.5 microns, or 0.00006 of an inch.
Christopher currently resides in the Triad area of North Carolina but was born and raised in Warsaw, North Carolina. He grew up playing baseball and was very good, so good that he had plans to play professionally. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Christopher became a victim of a crime that put him in a coma. When he came out of it, he was on disability for three years, and his doctors said he would be 80% medically dependent for the rest of his life. Christopher did not let this discourage him, and he continued to work hard and ultimately regained his mobility.
Now outfitted with a new lease on life, Christoper attended Guilford Tech Community College and received a degree in machinery technology. He also became a machinist and tool maker. After about eight years, he enrolled in North Carolina A&T State University and obtained his Applied Engineering degree. Christopher would later work in various industries, including medical, consumer goods, and automotive, gaining plenty of experience from processing tools, plastics, and materials. Soon he would begin to design his own tools.
Christopher worked as a senior engineer for a company that extruded rubber and helped them launch the X5, X6, and X7 BMW series. He was also working on the new X8 BMW when the Covid 19 pandemic hit, resulting in his being laid off.
At that point, Christopher was so tired of starting over. His wife, Jackie, encouraged him to start his own company, and on the 5th day in October 2020, Smart Technology Corporation was born. “Smart Technology Corporation is a place where we do everything smart. We use the best materials and employ the best people to produce products. Our motto is, “there is no wasted time with Smart Technology”. If you can imagine it, we can make it,” he says.
Christopher has customers from all over, including the medical field, consumer goods, the communication industry, and small and local businesses. “When you come to Smart Technology with an idea, no one is turned away. We can design, develop, mass produce, and market our client’s products. Any plastic or metal products, tools, pieces, big or small, we can make,” he says.
At Smart Technology Corporation, a culture of inclusiveness and teamwork has been established. By having those components in place, the feeling of ownership has been easily embraced by everyone. “I don’t say you work for me. You work with me,” says Christopher. “Having that type of work relationship creates a culture of loyalty within the business.”
What separates him from the competition? While getting certified, Christopher wanted to become a Minority Business Enterprise. That certification gives his company access to connect with other billion-dollar companies looking to work with minorities. By 2025, corporations will aim to do trillions of dollars in business with certified MBEs in America. While there are over 30,000 companies in the same industry, African Americans run only six, and Smart Technology is one of them.
Getting his footing in such an underrepresented industry has come with some challenges. One was obtaining capital funding and resources to buy the equipment needed to operate. With continued research, he was able to create a joint partnership with a company that already had the facility and resources.
Despite the challenges, Christoper highlights his family as the #1 inspiration that keeps him going. He aims to create a legacy for his kids that will give them financial independence. In addition, he wants to leave something as a reminder of who their father was and what he did.
Moving forward, Christopher plans to provide an opportunity to NC A&T and GTTC students affiliated with the applied engineering department. These opportunities include internships, co-ops, and job opportunities. The goal of Smart Technology Corporation is to become a billiondollar company with a true community impact. “Yet, the biggest dream is to be one of the first black billionaire companies in the United States of America or the world.”
Christopher’s advice for future entrepreneurs looking to follow in his footsteps is sensible. “If you want to start your own company, find a mentor, find someone willing to give you information, and how to do and what to do. I wasted time and money trying to do and learn everything simultaneously,” he says.
To learn more about Christopher Jackson and Smart Technology Corporation and all of the amazing services they provide, please visit their website. h
Make Yourself A PriorityBy Terry L. Watson
Nicole Hornsby-Harrison’s mission to help others is rooted in her belief that healing comes through a sound emotional and spiritual foundation. Her passion for the mental and physical well-being of those around her has helped to grow her fitness empire, Creole Fitness.
Nicole owns CreoleFit Athletics and is the Executive Director of the A.G.A.P.E Project, a nonprofit that focuses on her community’s physical and mental health. A native of Amite, LA, she is also a dynamic certified personal trainer, actress, author, Army Veteran, and woman of faith who is passionate about helping people journey through life as their best selves.
As a personal trainer, Nicole offers various services and products, including meal prep consultation, meditation, weight training, boxing, and many CrossFit workouts. She also makes custom blend supplements, waistbeads, and detox drinks. She says her products are designed to assist or motivate those on their fitness, mental health, and wellness journey. Additionally, Nicole is a mental health coach, author, and motivational speaker.
So how did Nicole get started with fitness? She shares, “I have always been an athlete, but I was burnt out on anything fitness when I exited the military. I took a few years off and began boxing and supporting my youngest daughter while she trained as a UFC fighter. I never thought about training anyone, but somehow I started working with one client, and things took off from there.”
Several academic achievements complement Nicole’s passion. She has a master’s degree in criminal justice and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Public Administration. She is married to Rashund Harrison, and they have five kids: Desiree, Kierra, DeAndre, Xavier, and Tiara. They also have five grandchildren: Aijah, Reign, Raelin, Keem, and Kayden.
“I never thought about training anyone, but somehow I started working with one client, and things took off from there.”
Helping people reach their goals and conquer their fears are two things Nicole says she loves to do. Embarking on her own personal fitness journey gave her a sense of empowerment, which she tries to duplicate with her clients. “Working on myself helped me to transform her from an insecure young woman to a passionate wife, mother, businesswoman, and community leader,” she says.
Working on herself is something Nicole learned to do after facing a huge challenge in her life. On the eleventh day of February 2022, Nicole suffered a heart attack. “My life changed in a matter of minutes. I had zero blockages and learned that my heart attack was stressinduced. Since then, I’ve been spreading awareness of mental health while caring for myself. Months following my heart attack, I held my first annual Mental Health and Wellness 5k Run/Walk. I’ve visited five countries and written three books, one memoir, and one journal. I am living now, and I do not take anything for granted anymore,” Nicole says.
Other challenges Nicole has faced include getting her culture to change their relationship with food and fitness. “The younger generation is catching on, but I have a lot of work to do for my generation,” she says.
As a businesswoman and entrepreneur, Nicole remains willing to share information and tips with other aspiring business owners. She says, “Whatever you do, don’t give up. Run towards your fears and invest in yourself. If your friends and family can shop at Walmart and Target and not question their prices, then they shouldn’t question yours. Do not allow family and friends to depreciate or devalue your product and service. Real friends won’t ask for discounts or freebies, they will support you without hesitation and won’t mind paying.”
Be on the lookout for a future brick-and-mortar location for CreoleFit Athletics. Nicole’s vision does not only include a gym but also “ninja warrior” type obstacles for those who love to push themselves to the limit. She also plans to spread mental health and wellness by promoting her memoir, Pruned, and her journal and recipe book, Pruned By June. Her annual “It’s Ok Mental Health & Wellness 5k Run/Walk is scheduled for July 2023. Please visit their website to learn more about Nicole Hornsby-Harrison and CreoleFit Athletics.
Jeanice Sherai, LLCBy Terry L. Watson
Photos Provided by Chris Kelly
Jeanice Sherai Durrah of Spartanburg, SC, loves her family. She says that most people who know her instantly make a connection to her family, as she readily expresses how she cherishes the time they spend together.
Jeanice is also a woman of God and a Believer in Jesus. She is the wife of Victor Durrah, Jr., and together they share a daughter, Victory Jeanice Durrah, whom they profess as the love of their lives. “She is a combination of both of us in the most grace-filled and compassionate way that only God could do,” Jeanice says.
Professionally, Jeanice is a Certified Life Coach, Mental Health Coach, and Holy Yoga Instructor. Her brand, Jeanice Sherai LLC, was launched in 2018 and is a mental wellness company that offers privately booked Christian-based yoga classes to small/ large groups, nonprofits, schools, and more. Their mission is to promote whole minds and present moments in every life encounter. “Our vision is to see a world free from anxiety and depression,” Jeanice says. She has worked with autistic adults, at-risk teenage girls, and women, helping them to walk into the life God has promised them. Through her Leadership Workshops, she utilizes a specially crafted curriculum called ThinkBIG.
Jeanice is a business owner and full-time corporate employee. She has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science Degree, a Master of Business in Finance, and a Master of Information Systems in Computer Security. She’s a Certified Life Coach, Six Sigma Green Belt, Guided Christian Meditation Specialist, Mental Health Coach, and Holy Yoga Instructor. She has also authored several books, including “Decide Today is Your Day: 21 Affirmations Guaranteed to Change Your Life”, and “Goal Digger: A Goal Setting Workbook”. Another book she has published is “31 Days of Faith: From Familiarity to Freedom, “ co-written with her husband, Victor. Other books published by Jeanice are “How Do You Know When It’s God?, and “Victory Smiles”, a children’s book about her daughter and also co-written with my husband. She also hosts the podcast, The Better in Ten Show, and is a YouVersion™️ Bible Plan partner.
Jeanice was featured as the Opening Speaker at the Dear CLT Brunch in Charlotte, NC. She has also been a featured writer for Forbes, Boss Babes, and She Wins Society (formerly known as Women By Choice). She is also the Co-Founder of Queen of the Mountain, an annual retreat inviting women to unite to be restored, release what is heavy to God, relax, and draw closer to God in their season. “I love helping people relax. I believe that it’s needed. God gifted me with a talent that allows people to enter my space and walk out free of anything heavy they may have been carrying.”
Jeanice became certified as a Holy Yoga Instructor in 2019, and in January 2020, she started her business. “In the two years prior, I felt God leading me to transition from a woman who was writing about her pains and hardships and coaching women in that place to a woman who had been freed and helping women learn how to relax and enjoy this freedom. This birthed my vision,” she says.
The benefits of yoga are extensive and often not considered when it comes to its major impacts on our health. “When we think of freedom, we often connect it to wealth but not health. Yoga contributes to eliminating anxiety, fighting depression, lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, lowering blood pressure, increasing our sleeping patterns, protecting our muscles from injury, and so much more. Like many other African Americans, my family history consists of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I not only wanted to help us choose intentionally to relax, but I desired for those I encounter to understand that freedom is also directly connected to our choices concerning our health,” she says.
Loving people and serving God while doing so is her signature. She says she finds inspiration from her parents and is motivated by their faith, encouragement, and hard work. “They have indeed been an example of how to operate in life. The values instilled in me and the foundation set by them will carry me for a lifetime,” she says.
Running a business can be challenging, and Jeanice has faced a few herself. “When creating a business, you may want to be validated by the wrong things. You can allow this to be a measuring tool concerning your success, but man can not measure what can only be understood Eternal. I’ve overcome these challenges by shifting my perspective from those things in the world to the One that called me.”
Her advice to others who may follow in her footsteps is to keep going. “There is no destination. When you reach one goal, it will never be enough, you will always want to go bigger. So enjoy the journey.”
Moving forward, Jeanice plans to continue to serve others. “I want people who look like me to live long, healthy lives and not just live, but indeed be able to enjoy it even in their senior years.,” she says.
“Like many other African Americans, my family history consists of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I not only wanted to help us choose intentionally to relax, but I desired for those I encounter to understand that freedom is also directly connected to our choices concerning our health.”
Shifting The Culture Gene Blackmon & CJ BrinsonBy Monica Montgomery - Photos Provided by Mykel Media Company
Gene Blackmon and CJ Brinson are two individuals working to make a difference in their community. Each has chosen to use their experiences, gifts, and talents to influence those around them. Their paths have taken them on different journeys but have brought them to a common place where their goals align.
Blackmon & Brinson are both fathers raising their children in a world not designed for their success. With the rise of gun violence, they have decided not just to take a stand but to help facilitate a change. Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition is the collaboration built to shift the culture from the escalating violence we see daily to a healthy community ready to educate and equip its people to inherit the world they live in.
Gene Blackmon is a newly single father of two who is using his platform as a Master Barber and business owner to mentor and elevate the people in his community. Like most black men, he has layers that make him an influential voice in the community. “I am a father, mentor, teacher, businessman, and community activist,” Blackmon said, describing the different facets that come together to make him the man he is.
Raised on the Northeast side of Greensboro, North Carolina, by a single mother, Blackmon’s start in life was as a statistic. “We lived in a lowerincome area, and my mom was a single mother of three. My aunt was also a single mother of three. They brought us all to my grandmother’s house and raised us there. That’s how they made it work,” Blackmon explained. “This was also during the era when your neighbors weren’t just the people you lived next to. They were like family. And family looked out for each other.”
As with most lower-income communities, there are little or no opportunities for advancement or mobility. Children from these areas are considered to be “at risk.” Being labeled “at risk” puts a target on the back of many young black males, and Blackmon was no different. When he was sixteen, he got into some trouble with the law. “I was charged for a crime I didn’t commit, but I was young and trusted my public defender. I pleaded guilty, which gave me a reduced sentence but left me with a permanent record,” Blackmon explained.
After the smoke cleared, Blackmon was seventeen and needed to make a plan for the future. “I left high school because I felt like they weren’t teaching me things useful to me and my future. I got my GED and went straight to barber college.” Having a criminal record made life difficult for Blackmon at first, but he persevered, and now he owns his own barber college and works to help young people from his demographic avoid the pitfalls that tried to trap him. “I am a barber by trade, but my calling is to help elevate and educate the culture,” Blackmon shared.
CJ Brinson is also a native of Greensboro. Although his journey slightly differs from Blackmon’s, he also sees himself as being called to make a difference in the urban community. “I am a minister, a husband, and a father. My wife DraShonta, and I have three children and a fur-baby,” Brinson shares. “I wanted to become an R&B singer but was called into ministry and community activism.”
Brinson earned an undergraduate degree in political science, a minor in social justice from North Carolina A&T State University, and a master’s of divinity from Hood Theological Seminary. “Greensboro is a city rooted in social justice and community activism,” Brinson explains. “Many people don’t know this, but Greensboro has played a part in just about every move of social justice that has taken place in America. There’s the Revolutionary war, the Civil War, the A&T Four, who were instrumental in the desegregation of the Woolworth lunch counter, and the 1974 Greensboro Massacre, to name a few.”
Living around and being influenced by a rich history of social justice in the Greensboro community, Brinson felt it was a natural inevitability that he be part of the social justice movement of his generation. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Brinson earned his Master of Divinity. “It was while I was in seminary that my political thought met my religious thought, and that’s what inspired me to mobilize my community towards social justice,” Brinson explained. “After seminary, I returned to Greensboro and connected with an organization called Beloved Community Centers. It’s a faith-based group that trains community leaders. I’ve been moving forward ever since.”
As activists individually, Blackmon and Brinson worked to effect change in their community. However, they realized they could become more significant if they joined their voices with others ready to address the major issues facing today’s culture. The primary issue the duo is targeting is the rise in violent crimes in their community.
“Today’s culture has been conditioned to see violence as the answer to every situation. They are being inundated with this way of thinking from every outlet. They have constant exposure through music, movies, social media, video games, and their homes. We want to change the culture by reconditioning people, specifically young people, to see that violence isn’t the answer. Especially when we are attaching each other,” Blackmon explained.
The violence Blackmon and Brinson are discussing results from years of systemic racism, disenfranchisement, and a social media campaign to push the idea that to be seen as powerful or in control; you have to be willing to fight for it physically. And the one who can be the most ruthlessly violent will survive. Thankfully Blackmon and Brinson have a plan to turn the tide of inter-communal violence in their community.
“Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition was born out of a deep desire to resolve intercommunal violence here in Greensboro,” Brinson explains. “Homicides were increasing here in Greensboro, and I knew something needed to be done. So I called a community meeting at my barber school,” Blackmon explained. “We had a major turnout, but we didn’t have a solid resolution to our problem. CJ Brinson was in attendance and started researching national programs that addressed our community’s problems. These programs would help minimize violence from a communal perspective that didn’t involve overpolicing. From that point on, we were on a joint mission to shift the culture of our community away from the rising violent crimes.”
“We call it intercommunal crime instead of “black on black” crime because this kind of violence isn’t just happening in black neighborhoods. It’s happening in communities around the country,” Blackmon points out. “We want to get away from the idea that poor black communities are the only ones dealing with this issue.”
Blackmon clarifies that the Coalition is not activism but the community coming together to work toward a common goal. “Activism and Establishing Safe Cultures are two different things,” he explains. “Establishing Safe Cultures is the community coming together to shift the culture from one plagued with violence to a peaceful one that opens the door for more opportunities.”
The Coalition plans to shift the culture through education, mentorship, social and emotional development, and career readiness. “These workshops are designed to arm the community’s youth differently,” Blackmon shares. “We will show them and teach them that there is a better way to handle conflict. They need to know that everything doesn’t have to escalate to violence, especially when the escalation stems from something deeper.”
On February 26th, 2023, Establishing Safe Cultures Coalition held its first set of Culture Shift Workshops. One hundred girls and boys ages seven to twelve were invited to participate in this monumental experience. “The kids are going to have instruction and mentorship in personal development, financial literacy, and conflict resolution,” Blackmon explained. “There will also be group exercises for the body, mind, and spirit.”
The Coalition has been working on getting state funding to make the program sustainable. The desire is to have students meet twice weekly for instruction, training, and social-emotional development. But until that happens, the Culture Shift Workshops will be held quarterly. “Ideally, we want to have regular contact and training for the students, but without funding, that’s not possible. But we had to do something. We couldn’t allow things to remain as they are.”
Because of the efforts of Gene Blackmon, CJ Brinson, and the other members of the Establishing Safe Culture Coalition, the community of Greensboro doesn’t just have a plan of action; they have action. Working to combat years of cultural violence and disconnect won’t be easy. Still, Blackmon and Brinson exude a contagious confidence that will propel this culture shift well into a restored and unified community.
“We call it intercommunal crime instead of -black on black crime -because this kind of violence isn’t just happening in black neighborhoods. It’s happening in communities around the country.”