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Welcoming Diversity At Cracker Barrel Old Country Store , we think a key to our success is welcoming diversity in our company, our country stores, our restaurants, and our communities. ®

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Welcome CREATIVE DIRECTOR

PUBLISHER, CEO ERIC JORDAN ejordan@theconnectmagazine.com PARTNER DR. EDDIE D. HAMILTON, MD, FAAP DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DAWN M. MASON dmason@theconnectmagazine.com MANAGING EDITOR LACEY JOHNSON ljohnson@theconnectmagazine.com PRODUCTION EDITOR C. HUGH SHELTON chshelton@theconnectmagazine.com

Maria Colomy Maria Colomy joins The Connect Magazine with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, print production and web design, along with more than a decade experience in creative direction. Her expertise began in the late 90s while working for a software company in California. With a natural eye for design strategy, she saw an opportunity to rebrand a growing company in order to attract larger clients. Within four years, the company quadrupled in size and her passion for creative direction and marketing strategy was born. In 2003, she relocated to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Nossi College of Art, where she now teaches graphic design, print production, social media, small business and art direction. She spent several years working at a digital media agency on Music Row and now splits her time between her personal clients and her students.  Colomy has worked on numerous multi-faceted projects, assisting countless entrepreneurs and small businesses to realize their start-up dreams. From helping a local makeup artist open a cosmetics store to managing live social media for the Iroquois Steeplechase, her design career is multi-dimensional, rewarding and never shy of stimulating.  Because of her background in marketing, online strategy is a natural fit. Every aspect - from social media presence to the style of an email signature or website is an opportunity to make an impact. She believes that branding is based on trust and consistency, and is an extension of the relationships that exist behind the brand, itself. In short, a brand is about the people behind it, which is why The Connect Magazine is such a perfect fit.  Colomy understands that creativity in business is not mere artistic indulgence, but rather a commitment to effective communication and problem-solving. A compelling creative strategy improves results by presenting a message in the most effective way possible, to the most relevant audience.  This understanding of a bigger picture enables her to generate lasting and effective results for her clients.

CREATIVE DIRECTOR MARIA COLOMY mcolomy@theconnectmagazine.com DESIGN DIRECTOR JESSICA COLEMAN jcoleman@theconnectmagazine.com DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY BARBARA POTTER bpotter@theconnectmagazine.com PHOTOGRAPHER NATHAN ZUCKER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT CAROLYN MCHANEY-WALLER bpotter@theconnectmagazine.com SENIOR WRITERS DR. MING WANG JACKIE NENTWICK JOE SCARLETT KEELAH JACKSON SHAWN WHITSELL TONI LEPESKA CONTRIBUTING WRITERS & PHOTOGRAPHERS EDDIE ARROSSI PHOTOGRAPHY - EAPHOTO-NHCC Summit GRAHAM HONEYCUTT - Empowerment JAMES BANKER PHOTOGRAPHY - GRAHAM HONEYCUTT JOSHUA MACLEOD - Growability/Business ZACH WATSON - JumpCrew DIRECTOR OF SALES ERIC JORDAN REGIONAL PUBLISHERS AND SALES REPRESENTATIVES Help Wanted: Join Our Team ALABAMA FLORIDA GEORGIA KENTUCKY LOUISIANA MISSISSIPPI TENNESSEE VIRGINIA ADVERTISING INQUIRIES advertise@theconnectmagazine.com If you would like to place an AD or write an article for our next issue, please contact Lacey Johnson at info@theconnectmagazine.com

“Putting your business in Clients’ Hands”

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ITH EVERY ARTICLE—in print and online—our goal is to provide the most inspiring and worthwhile information possible. For this issue, I feel inclined to focus on positive behavior. Every day, we have a choice to be positive, or to allow the circumstances of life to weigh us down. When we reflect upon our lives, we often realize how certain situations led us where we are today. Perhaps you remember praying for the things you have now. I know I do. Becoming a successful entrepreneur has been an emotional rollercoaster. I recently had a conversation with a good friend, discussing the obstacles of trying to monetize value while encouraging complete strangers to become the best versions of themselves. I took a minute to ponder the different challenges presented while trying to grow the presence of The Connect Magazine in eight states. My first thought was: What is successful living? Quitting my previous career to launch this publication has been extremely challenging. During the worst times of overdue payments, cash flow problems, nearing deadlines, negative energy and doubts from those closest to me, I never allowed that to taint my positive outlook on my vision of The Connect Magazine. I ponder no longer, for this I know: Successful living is the actual journey of changing lives, hearts and souls of complete strangers. As I look back over the previous three years, the constants are faith, family (my support system) and a positive attitude. People who know me as a person will tell you that my motto is “Trust the Process!” I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Mostly, I encourage all eyes taking in this message to remain steadfastly positive despite the obstacles life presents. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

“Positive thinking is more than just a tagline. It changes the way we behave. And I firmly believe that when I am positive, it not only makes me better, but it also makes those around me better.” — Harvey Mackay The Connect Magazine will inspire thousands of individuals throughout the world. Each person reading these words has already been given a gift. We are all here for a reason, believe it or not. Trust me when I say that strong positive habits can and will carry you far in life - to heights you cannot imagine. The Connect Magazine is not the secret tool to change your life. However, it is a positive platform to assist you in viewing the world more abundantly. I made up my mind several years ago that I will serve and help others while maneuvering through this mystery we call life. I challenge you to be intentional about helping others while remaining positive - regardless of unwanted outcomes. Make an effort to be a blessing to a stranger. That feeling deep inside after being a blessing is the first step to living successfully. Listen to the voice inside your heart while making every decision. For those reading this with a negative spirit, please take five minutes to close your eyes and be still to hear that whisper in your mind. It is there if you listen beyond the fearful chatter. In closing, I declare this my Season of Hope for one reason only: The whisper inside of me is speaking to individuals right now. To Be Continued…………

CEO/PUBLISHER SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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18 Contents Spring 2017 Cover Story 24

Features 18

BALLIN’ IN THE BOARDROOM Sheila Gibson Dribbled Her Way From All-American to Corporate America.

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FROM SIGHTLESS TO VISIONARY, DR. MING WANG IS ONE UNSTOPPABLE IMMIGRANT

38

THE NATIONAL HISPANIC CORPORATE COUNCIL’S ANNUAL SUMMIT WAS A SPRING HIT OF OPPORTUNITY

45

MY MISSISSIPPI BURNING A Tale of Racism & Religious Hypocrisy.

46

ARTIST UPLIFTS COMMUNITY WITH PASSION AND VISION, ONE BRUSHSTROKES AT A TIME

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ENTREPRENEUR, INTERNET SENSATION & REALITY STAR NAJA RICKETTE SPILLS HER SECRETS ON ABUNDANCE SPRING IS THE SEASON FOR REINVENTION BY THE DAILY DOLL Spring is for coming alive and growing out of corners.

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I SHOULD BE DIVORCED BY NOW With the odds stacked against us, this is how we make it work.

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DO YOU KNOW YOUR BUSINESS SEASON Doing the right thing at the wrong time will not produce great results.

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SWITCH IT UP: FIVE WAYS REVAMP YOUR PROFESSIONAL ROUTINE Infuse the freshness of spring into the renewal of your mindset.

The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empowering and impactful stories of entrepreneurs, young professionals, and businesses on the pursuit of positively changing the world, through efforts large and small. 6

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NASHVILLE SCHOOL MAKES HISTORY WITH INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO STUDENT DEVELOPMENT

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Columns 14

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BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, CELEBRITY TRAINER & MILLIONAIRE INVENTOR ASHLEY BLACK IS CHANGING THE WORLD, ONE BODY AT A TIME

THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017

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48

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# 1 N AT I O N A L B E S T S E L L E R

The Cellulite Myth

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IT’S NOT FAT IT’S

Fascia

over

my

was

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before-known secrets to obliterating cellulite and changing your personal health

trajectory! For years, we’ve been conditioned to believe that cellulite is a fat problem,

yet skinny girls have it, fit girls have it, sedentary girls have it, curvy girls have it, older women have it and younger women have it. In fact, 90% of women struggle with it…

you are not alone! Get ready for a radical paradigm shift in health and beauty…discover “Fascia: The Lost Science.”

What happens when you team up Ashley Black,What People Are Saying Not only are my ugly dimples smoothing away, but the way my entire body feels after each international business woman and healthcare revolution session is almost unbelievable! I feel likeleader I’m getting the best workout I’ve ever had. – Nancy Schwartz, Woodridge, IL with bestselling author, Joanna Hunt, who has brought to life I just can’t believe how much this has changed my life! I previously made peace with my the message of some of the most famous inspirational authors flaws and thought I would just have to live with cellulite and all the aches and pain I was having. Well, not anymore. I’m a new person thanks to Ashley! of our time? A dynamic interplay packaged in aMullica light-hearted, – Crystal Ferren, Hill, NJ I have had lipo twice and sure, for $3,000 my legs were smaller, but NOT smooth. I was down-to-earth style that will resonate with every woman.

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ith

told there was NOTHING that could be done. They were wrong! Now, after 3 months, my 46 year old legs have never looked smoother!

Change your life, join the sisterhood, be the BARCODE movement. #SquadUp

ASHLEY BLACK

– Karen Smith, Schnecksville, PA

Ashley Black & Joanna Hunt What happens when you team up Ashley Black,

international business woman and healthcare

revolution leader with bestselling author, Joanna Hunt, who has brought to life the message of

some of the most famous inspirational authors of

our time? A dynamic interplay packaged in a light-

hearted, down-to-earth style that will resonate with every woman.

BY ASHLEY BLACK WITH JOANNA HUNT

12

The Cellulite Myth

s,

The Cellulite Myth

r each

Ashley Black, inventor, fascia pioneer, best-selling author, and educator unveils never-before-known secrets to obliterating cellulite and changing your personal health trajectory! For years, we’ve been conditioned to believe that cellulite is a fat problem, yet skinny girls have it, fit girls have it, sedentary girls have it, curvy girls have it, older women have it and younger women have it. In fact, 90% of women struggle with it…you are not alone! Get ready for a radical Forget everything paradigm shift in health and beauty…discover “Fascia: Theyou’ve ever been told about cellulite—it’s a myth! Ashley Black, inventor, fascia pioneer, best-selling author, and educator unveils neverLost Science.”

THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017

Change your life, join

the sisterhood, be the

movement. #SquadUp

BARCODE

THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

AS B


EMPOWERMENT

WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON | THEDAILYDOLL.COM

I

ONCE WATCHED AS a rose garden bloomed. The flowers were contained within a wooden box at the entrance of a café I frequented each morning. In between sips of coffee, I gazed with foggy eyes and admired the buds as they gradually appeared - as though cutting through the final winter frost and announcing the ascension of spring. Every day I glanced over at new colors emerging, like witnessing a fresh stroke of paint onto a canvas. Before long, harmonic explosions of fuschia, blood orange and crimson created a symphony of movement and texture. And, when the petals formed together in completion, they were like the pivotal line in a love song that punches you in the gut. All you can do is clutch your heart and sigh. I have never forgotten the spiritual significance of observing that garden as it formed so gradually and poetically. It offered a lesson in the beauty of trust and patience. All human progressions evolve the same way. We do not become something new overnight, nor do we build something new overnight. Reinventions are gradual, rhythmic doings which honor all seasons of life. And, the garden’s caretaker and environment will always be the result of its bloom. WHAT IS NATURE TRYING TO TELL US? If fall is a romance between nature and man, spring is an incitation for reinvention. If fall is for slowing down and crawling into corners, spring is for coming alive and growing out of them. Look at it this way: If the magic of autumn puts us under a spell of stagnation and winter is spent buried under it, spring is an announcement that the spell has been broken. This shift is more than just a luring from hibernation. Spring asks us to drop those layers of heavy covers we have been hiding under, sweep through the residual dust of our disappointments and mistakes, step out of the shadows and dare to be born again. It is a migration from what is cozy and familiar, and an entrance into open-aired vulnerability. All reinventions require a departure from comfort, but their pathways though laced with unknowing - always lead us to the fun. On the first day of spring, Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun. This is also true on the first day of autumn. The difference is this: autumn marks the progression of turning away from the sun, while spring marks the progression of tilting toward it. SPRING IS FOR SWEEPING OUT & BURSTING INTO BLOOM One of the most bittersweet spring seasons of my life was when I was 20 years old and recovering from a broken heart. A relationship I had sworn would last forever finally ended after months of stalling in a state of ruin. I could not cling anymore, nor could I spend another day feeding our dead garden. I was trying so hard not to know it, but our trees were barren. And, that realization was gutting. But, I say it was bittersweet because - though excruciating - I was cultivating seeds of independence. Having recently signed a lease for 14

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my first apartment, it was to me a 600-square-foot palace. That voyage, though unwanted, marked a “crossing over.” And, it was colored with explorations such as figuring out which foods I enjoyed cooking - even discovering that I had culinary potential at all. I was learning the kinds of art I wanted on my walls, the varieties of candles I enjoyed burning before bedtime and the genre of movies which most engulfed me when I wasn’t consumed with entertaining a lover. I was discovering me. My heart had endured a beating and was undoubtedly impaired, but it was still pumping blood. Together, we were teaching each other how to be strong. I was hurting, but I was crawling back to life. I was being stretched, but it ached so sweetly. Ever since, I have never forgotten that awful yet beautiful feeling of awakening. I now approach every spring with a special fondness for not only my own resilience, but for life’s opportunities for reinvention. I think of spring as being like a child who will not allow me to hide behind the bushes or rest on the sidelines. It instinctively knows my hidden longings. It beckons me with the ripeness of its fruit and lures me with its lushness. Its emerging sun pursues me, pulling and tugging at my arm, demanding, “Let’s play! Let’s play!” It asks that I put down my steaming mug of comfort and become a participant of its verdant playground. That I sink my bare feet into its fertile soil. That I pump my bicycle tires full of air and go along for the ride. That I bare my shoulders, zip myself into its backless dresses and lower my inhibitions. Cherry Blossoms woo me with enchantment, and budding trees beckon me to climb and hang from them. Spring asks that I - that we all - come back to life. It asks that we dance in its rain, shout in its parades and delight in its festivals. Just as the songbirds spent the winter months incubating their eggs and preparing to hatch when it warms, spring is an incantation for us to give birth to something we have never done before. No matter who you are or where you have been, you are being summoned to grow and reinvent. Whether an album’s worth of aural euphoria, a movie script full of hilarious characters, an innovative marketing idea, an entrepreneurial venture or a health and fitness endeavor that has been inside of you incubating for too long now - dying to come out kicking and squealing, this is the season to bring it forth. Because spring extends its invitation for reinvention to all. It only requests that we take an honest assessment of our internal gardens, discard what isn’t growing, step outside of our zones of comfort and ultimately - burst into bloom. Just as nature has. TheDailyDoll.com is the brainchild of writer and celebrity journalist Lacey Johnson. The site was created to encourage readers to get real, get liberated and live boldly by serving up beauty, wellness and inner life illumination. Stay tuned for her upcoming e-book, “The 21-Day Inner & Outer Life Illumination Reboot,” landing to the site early summer 2017. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


EMPOWERMENT

PHOTOGRAPH BY: JAMES BANKER

C

ONDUCT A QUICK Google search on the divorce rate among families with a special needs child and you will quickly find a plethora of articles that show the divorce rate is higher than the national average. Similarly, run one on the divorce rate among families with twins or multiples and you will also see a similar result. These statistics are understandable when considering the difficulties that come with these types of family dynamics. My wife and I have experienced both, and our marriage lives to tell. We have a 4-year-old daughter named Mikayla who has significant special needs: a rare congenital brain malformation called Dandy Walker syndrome. This means she requires considerable care, therapies and medical attention. We also have 2-year-old twin daughters named Ainsley and Hailey who are typically developing, but keep us running until we collapse. The statistics don’t lie. My wife and I have significant risk factors for divorce. We choose to make a very concerted effort to keep our marriage intact despite our significant challenges. We have learned some tricks along the way, and I would like to share them with you in hopes of helping your marriage. WE GET REMARRIED EVERY DAY When did my wife and I get married? This morning. Marriage is not one day in your life. It is every day for the rest of your life. My wife and I get remarried every day. Every day is a continual choice to get married and stay that way. It is not always roses and rainbows, but that continual reminder of getting remarried every day helps us to remember that our marriage is a priority. COMMUNICATION IS OUR LOVE LANGUAGE You may have heard of the best-selling book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages.” As much as we enjoyed reading this, we have found that our love language is communication - a language not outlined in the book. My wife and I communicate constantly about everything we experience. We check in often with how each other is doing. We even have a weekly

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WRITTEN BY: GRAHAM HONEYCUTT

meeting to talk about our schedule, meals for the week, finances, future goals, and frustrations. This allows us to stay on the same page. WE ARE OPEN ABOUT OUR STRUGGLES We remain open about our struggles with each other. If we are frustrated with each other or just in general, we keep an open line of communication about it. We don’t try to mask or hide it from each other. This creates a genuine connection with each other and allows us to be real with each other. WE HAVE A STRONG COMMUNITY Even with all we have going on, we make sure to maintain a strong community. We stay involved with groups of like-minded individuals, such as small church groups, book clubs and friends with whom we can share our story honestly. WE CREATE CLEAR BOUNDARIES We set clear boundaries around our time and schedule. We say no a lot of things that are good things, but aren’t the most important things in life. This is hard for two people pleasers like us, but we have found over time we have become more confident in saying no and staying focused on the most essential things in life. WE PRIORITIZE OUR MARRIAGE ABOVE OUR CHILDREN We prioritize our relationship over our kids. We love our kids very much, but the best way to ensure they have a bright future is to model for them what a good marriage looks like. As parents, we also have to prioritize time for self-care because we can’t give what we don’t have. If we don’t have stability, harmony and patience, then we won’t be able to provide this for our children. Maintaining a strong marriage is a cornerstone for achievement in life. I hope these tips help strengthen your marriage, just as they have strengthened ours. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


HOT TOPIC

NASHVILLE SCHOOL MAKES HISTORY WITH INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO

STUDENT DEVELOPMENT

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CHOOL IS IN session at a former Best Buy in a nondescript strip mall in Antioch, Tenn., and not only is the whole community invited, but a history-making publication is in the works. Knowledge Academies relies on the premise that children learn better when family members, business leaders and community partners involve themselves hands-on in student education. KA is using all sorts of methods to encourage participation, such as health and career fairs and even enlisting a Jazz band to play at one of its monthly family meetings. “That opens the door to show them how we can best support their student in other areas,” said President Art Fuller, who founded KA after teaching mathematics in New England schools and working as a policy analyst and fiscal budget officer with the Tennessee State Board of Education. “You have to be real intentional with it. It doesn’t just happen.” While engaging parents and other family members, KA also enlists businesses and colleges to demonstrate students are preparing for the real world in a classroom. One way the real world will be brought into the classroom involves a partnership between KA and The Connect Magazine. With 48 text pages, the student-driven magazine, Stay CONNECTed! Knowledge Academies, will be distributed throughout the Nashville community. During the six-week program of interactive lectures and hands-on training, students will brainstorm story ideas and magazine content, including photos and graphics, to create the professional-quality magazine. Students will be given credit for their work, information that 18

THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017

WRITTEN BY: TONI LEPESKA PHOTOGRAPHY BY: BARBARA POTTER

may be used on college applications and resumes. Officials also expect the program to build critical-thinking skills and improve student bonds with their communities. Another business that’s involved in KAs efforts is Cavalry Logistics, which helps companies like Wal-Mart transport goods. Cavalry provides up to a dozen mentors at a time for KA students and requires vendors in its building to set aside some of its sales in the building for KA. Cavalry moved to Antioch not too long ago, and the company founder, Bob King, picked out the location with an eye to community involvement. “We want to change people’s lives,” said Mitchell Blom, a business development analyst with Cavalry. “What we hope is more organizations will get involved. Education is a responsibility for everybody.”

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HOT TOPIC

Stay CONNECTed! also will serve as a fundraising mechanism for KA through advertising revenue. The school is supported by tax dollars and grants primarily. KA’s first classrooms opened in 2012 in Crossing Plaza, across from the Chevy place on Hickory Hollow Parkway. Situated outside of Nashville, the charter school network moved into empty strip mall space with a burger joint, dental care and gem store as its neighbors and a public library less than a mile from its doors. The school started out with fifth and sixth grades, then gradually ramped up each year. Taking up more and more of the strip mall space, KA is expected to use 125,000 square feet next year when the enrollment of 625 is projected to bulge to 850 students. It’s not a small school. What’s got KA and its community partners so excited is the potential impact the school could have on economically-challenged families. Fuller, who comes from a family of educators, said he decided on building a charter school after seeing that many communities “didn’t have access” to choices. “Education is the pathway to get the best opportunities in life,” he said. “Families play an important, critical role.” Ninety percent of the KA students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. Enrollment is open to anyone who lives in Davidson County, and students represent a diversity of cultures: 42 percent African-American, 34 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Arabic, 3 percent Caucasian and 1 percent Asian. English is a second language for many students’ families, which complicates their helping children with homework and speaking with teachers. But KA, in partnership with Nashville Literacy, is helping those families by holding language classes on campus twice a week for family members. “In some countries, the teacher is given full authority,” said Cheryl Hadley, manager of the English for Language Learners class. “It’s been really cool to watch (parents) become more empowered and engaged.” Also complicating involvement is the complexity of what students are being asked to learn these days, Fuller said, thus, it is harder for parents to help with homework. KA tries to bridge the gap by making the school a welcoming place that family members feel they can visit and ask questions. The school also has provided information to adults on how they may further their own education. At Family Council Meetings, held the third Thursday of each month, 100 or more families are typically represented. Fuller says that’s a significant show of support and THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

not a one-time event. “We see our level of engagement is a lot higher than the norm,” Fuller said. Adults also connect to the school through cultural celebrations held from time to time and “Saturday school” events like a walk for breast cancer awareness. School leaders work on inserting “real things happening in the community” into the atmosphere of the KA campus.

SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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HOT TOPIC

With an eye to getting students to further their education, KA exposes high schoolers to college life in a variety of ways. Students and families go to specified game nights at local colleges to watch basketball. In the classroom, Meharry Medical College graduate students worked with KA students on a dentistry project, and Belmont University’s Enactus student club taught business and entrepreneurship principles to some 55 KA students who then examined the financial ramifications of redevelopment projects using mathematics to determine profitability. “It really is very in tune with Nashville now,” said John S. Gonas, associate professor of finance at Belmont. “These students are seeing whole neighborhoods torn up before their eyes.” To further drive home the real-world application, KA’s students and the Belmont club piled into buses and visited a new investment property. The students peppered the property’s representatives with questions. They’d learned to apply all the financial considerations just as an investor would. “We couldn’t get them back in the bus, they were so intrigued,” Gonas said. Students also will engage the real world while producing their magazine. They’ll learn to relate to an audience beyond the classroom.

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Students will be encouraged to write about issues beyond the surface and to consider alternative angles for stories and development. Each week, a Connect Magazine representative will visit with students. While production of a magazine is one goal, a broader-picture objective of the program is that students will learn the value of magazines in modern day society as a forum of debate and new ideas. They’ll become better thinkers and communicators. While the anecdotal evidence appears strong, KA does not yet have statistical evidence that its way of teaching students leads to higher participation in college and better outcomes. The first students who started at the school at its inception don’t graduate until 2019. However, Fuller said there is an early indicator that Knowledge Academies is on track. The percentage of students enrolled in college AP classes is at the national average, whereas students of the same socio-economic background are typically below it, Fuller said. About a fourth of KA’s eligible high school students are enrolled, and that is actually at a rate higher than the state average. “It’s very challenging work,” Fuller said, “but when you see that kind of stuff, that helps make it all worthwhile.”

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COVER STORY

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COVER STORY

WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON

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T ISN’T EVERYDAY that a girl born in Montgomery, Alabama grows up to not only land on the speed-dial lists of celebrities and pro-athletes, but become a best-selling author, multimillionaire inventor and one of the most buzzed-about public figures on the internet. If Facebook were an empire, Ashley Black would be the reigning queen of sisterhood: crowned with paradigmshifting science and cloaked in robes of comment mentions, anatomy assessments, before-and-after images and shrieks of gratitude - her throne surrounded by her court of loyals. Add a debilitating childhood illness and a brush with death in early adulthood to the already-unlikelihood of her magnificent list of achievements, and it is easy to declare the 45 year-old’s life a royal miracle. Diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis as a young girl, doctors swore she would be confined to a wheelchair before having the opportunity to graduate from college. But, Black was no ordinary child. Determined to reclaim her presence in the world, she viewed her body with a blend of curiosity and awe - as though her own science experiment. Relying heavily on her intuition, she developed exercises and stretching therapies to not only manage her pain, but allow her to aggressively compete as a dancer and cheerleader throughout high school and college, and later teach fitness classes in her 20s. But, her days of glory were soon to reach a terrifying halt. Shortly after giving birth to her second child, a 27-year-old Black found herself in a nightmarish pit of near-death. Having contracted a fatal staph infection that gnawed into her hip and leg, and found its way into her spinal fluid, her postpartum body was riddled with excruciating pain. Every time Black exhaled a breath and shut her eyes, she was prepared for it to be the last. “Less than 10 percent of people live through what I had, and that is a scary statistic. But the truth is that I actually started to welcome the thought of death because it was the only way out of the insane level of pain,” confessed Black. After being discharged from the hospital, covered in bed sores from head to toe and a morphine pump in her leg, Black retreated home to be mother for a small child and a newborn. She was armed only with a formidable life sentence: irreversible disability. Her traumatized senses were overwhelmed - from the sound of birds chirping in the distance to the warmth of the sun on her skin. “Even being in nature was more than I could handle,” said Black.” It was THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

like I had survived a war, and I was trying to figure out how to live normally again.” Every moment blurred by the desperate management of her pain, Black began to view her misfortune through a supernatural lens - one which invited her to not only discover how to live more fully, but enlighten the rest of the world to the information needed to do so as well. Lying in her bed, she became a sponge for anatomical literature of every kind. She devoured ancient and modern medicine principles, alternative and integrative therapies, while making the difficult venture from her home only to receive the care of chiropractors and physicians. As her own well of knowledge expanded, it became abundantly clear that she was staring into a giant black hole in medicine - one she was possessed to fill with real solutions. When asked if doubt ever threatened to consume her during this grim period, Black replied with a laugh, “I don’t really know that word. My whole life, anytime someone told me something was 90 percent impossible, I was only ever interested in the other 10 percent.” The idea of endless suffering was granted no interference with her fighting spirit. Instead, she dared, in her typical brazen and unstoppable fashion, to no longer rely on doctors for the answers they were never going to give her, and to continue exploring all of the shadowed hallways, hidden trap doors and obscure realms of medicine in order to find the vault of answers needed to heal her mangled body. After witnessing a human dissection, she was struck with an epiphany - one that crowned her with absolute hope: “I saw with my own eyes that the body has a thin interconnective webbing called fascia, and it penetrates and protects absolutely everything internally. If it isn’t healthy, nothing in the body is healthy. I knew it was the missing key I was searching for.” Black held tightly to such key - unlocking every door of medical discovery she could find, determined to find her kingdom of healing. Through experimentation on her own flesh, the science of Fasciology™ was ready to be developed. As her body began to ‘miraculously’ heal, she shared her discoveries and self-experiments with a chiropractor. He was so impressed by her findings, he asked that she work on his patients. As a result, and through a fateful series of twists and turns, she was introduced to male professional athletes, Oscar award-winning actors and actresses, supermodels and countless affluent public figures - from NFL star SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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COVER STORY

Marcus Coleman to icon Leonardo DiCaprio - who were lining up to have their body parts manipulated by Black’s virtually unknown yet heavenly hands. “I did not seek breaking into the business of working with proathletes and celebrities; it sought me. All I did was listen, learn and obey the call,” said Black. Then a mother of three children, Black opened multiple successful clinics in Houston, Texas - employing and training hundreds of practitioners. As the clinics grew busier, the demand for her technique continued to explode among the rich and famous - her information being passed around in locker rooms, on movie sets and at afterparties. Because of her increasing popularity, it became clear that there was a need for a tool that would grant her the ability to reach more people with the transformative power of manipulating fascia. Having a client who was in the business of manufacturing, Black experimented and tested tirelessly before her hand-held, bodyscrubbing invention, the FasciaBlaster®, was distributed to her highprofile clients. But never in her wildest dreams did she imagine what would happen next. On an ordinary day, an extraordinary revelation was had - a revelation that would eventually lead to the launching of a viral movement. “Your stick got rid of my cellulite,” read a text from a proathlete’s girlfriend. “I nearly fainted and died laughing at the same time,” said Black. “I never considered that unhealthy fascia was the culprit for cellulite, but of course it rang true. I instantly knew that this was something women would gobble up, while getting out of pain in the process. I had to take it to the masses no matter the risk or cost.” Already a multi-millionaire from her busy clinics and sophisticated clientele, Black saturated her fortune into mass manufacturing of the

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FasciaBlaster®, while joining forces with a team of savvy social media experts to help her spread the word. A website, Facebook page and private group were among the key promotional efforts. It was early in the spring of 2015, and hers was an exhaustive season of planting seeds while gaining an unforeseen perspective. “As I was building the private group, I began messaging back and forth with more and more women. I was shocked to learn how many have a poor selfimage, and so I became determined to not only provide them with a tool to help them reclaim their quality of life, but also be a true ringleader for the importance of loving themselves.” Black opted to serve as no ordinary ruler of such evolving movement, however. Just as she was determined to unlock the knowledge of fascia and invite the world in, she also opted to unlock the gates to her most down-home and intimate moments, welcoming these women along for the ride. She was on a mission - sacrificing time, sleep and the charmed lifestyle she and her family had grown accustomed to. She became consumed with getting a FasciaBlaster® in the hands of every person crying out from injuries, chronic pain and bodily concerns. “I was dumping everything I had into this venture because I believed in what it could be,” confessed Black. “There were times I would look at my three kids and say, ‘Y’all, I’m going to be real with you. We only have $100 to stretch until Friday.’” It was a family effort with so much at stake. Even her son Luke, 14 years old at the time, was responsible for packaging and shipping. Nightly gatherings at the dinner table were often surrounded by mountains of boxes and equipment that stretched into their living room. Their home was serving as a warehouse and headquarters to a venture with an outcome no one but Black could predict - and, predict with absolute clarity she did. “As difficult as it was, I could always see the whole movie of what was to come. I knew that, one day, it would transform lives globally and be worth the sacrifices we were making.” And, it wasn’t long before Black’s mental movie was projecting in real life. At the time of this writing, a little more than two years after the FasciaBlaster® went to market, Black has gone outrageously viral. Her number of private group members, though stalling initially, absolutely exploded in 2016. It is now the largest closed Facebook group geared toward women, boasting more than 243,000 members - a number that increases hourly. She and her co-author, accomplished writer Joanna Hunt, released their book, “The Cellulite Myth: It’s Not Fat, It’s Fascia,” which hit shelves in February 2017. But it was already declared a national bestseller before the stores received their first shipment. Within three hours of the book’s pre-release, in fact, it was number one in three categories and landed at the number three spot on Amazon. com. Hunt recalled her Facetime meeting with Black that evening: “We were completely dumbfounded, but then again we had known all along. It was truly an ominous moment.” THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

Not only is Black revolutionizing the beauty and healthcare industries with her extensive clinical studies, materials and products, while being featured on the “Today” show and in top magazines, she has created a sisterhood that has taken on a life of its own. Coined “blaster sisters,” women of all ages applaud one another when their dimples diminish, their spines straighten and their c-section scars return to smooth. There are declarations worthy of turning even the iciest cases of skepticism into gushing fountains of awe: women with chronic illnesses posing on the beach for the first time in decades, lifelong scoliosis sufferers shocking their doctors with their ultrasounds, women hiking with their grandchildren, pain medicines being tossed into the trashcan, dark glasses being left on the bedside tables of former migraine sufferers and so much more. And, every book signing draws a rush of tear-jerking stories from women who flock to Ashley’s table, asking for a picture and echoing the same sentiment: “Thank you for changing my life.” Although the needs of these women may have driven them to Black for different reasons, their outcome is always the same: the external manifestation of internal transformation. “When Ashley and I were writing the book, I was working from 5 a.m. to midnight day after day,” said Hunt. It was like the newborn baby crying in the night; we just had to stay awake and get it done because the message had to be known. Hearing these stories at the book signings has made me realize why we felt there was such a divine order to get this information to the world.” As shorts and skirts are being pulled from hibernation and surgeries are being cancelled, the conversations people are having with their medical providers are changing. Still, it is as though the movement transcends the health- and vanity-related aspirations that beckon individuals to it. It is one of empowerment, yes, but a most infectious one that bleeds to other aspects of living. Many devotees are beginning to ask themselves: “If my doctor was wrong about my condition being incurable, what else is possible that I once believed to be impossible?” This means the magnitude of the movement not only transcends the shift in dialogue between doctors and patients, and between friends over coffee, but even welcomes a shift between the mind and body - between the facets of self. Black’s rapidly-growing empire may be earth-shattering and surreal, but it came to pass because of a simple decision: She bravely and persistently chose not only life, but abundant life. Informed life. A life that doesn’t subscribe to doubt. A life aligned with the totality of possibilities. And, when she chose it, she also chose to invite the rest of the world to join her. “So many times I have been told that something could not be done,” said Black. “I was told I would never leave a wheelchair or be off of pain medicine. I was told my book and products were not marketable. But, over and over, I chose to focus on the vision I was divinely given. And, I wish I could tell the whole world what I know for sure: Whatever vision you focus on is guaranteed to become your future.” SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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BUSINESS

S

PRING HAS SPRUNG! The newness of this season signifies rebirth and renewal, and it carries with it an electrifying energy needed to jumpstart your mindset about your business or area of expertise. In being your professional best, you may want to switch things up a bit in order to stay alert and rejuvenated. Below are five ways to infuse the freshness of spring into your professional routine. 1 - POLISH YOUR SOFT SKILLS Evaluate your listening abilities and abilities to adapt to the office culture. How are your interviewing skills -- on both sides of the desk? It may be time to strengthen your game. Although this seems to be a new concept in the professional development toolbox, the trendy term only repackages an old aptitude. Soft skills are interpersonal skills that have nothing to do with technology but with how you mentally, socially and emotionally handle yourself within your modes of communications. A soft skill reboot is not just for employees seeking upward mobility. It applies across the board to employees, managers, owners and CEOs alike. It never fails to know how to appropriately relate to and interact with people.

WRITTEN BY: KEELAH JACKSON

begin live-streaming brief sessions of business tips for fellow professionals. Also consider filming a short web series to teach others what you know. If live-streaming isn’t a fit for you, perhaps you can listen to upto-date streams, podcasts and webinars for learning and networking. What’s powerful about the internet is it provides the ability to teach what you know and learn what you want to know. Opportunity and credible information are always present. There is no excuse for not reviving your professional growth.   4 - CREATE BALANCE Get professionally centered by including personal balance in your day. This balance could include exercise, prayer, meditation or a mantra of some sort. It was recently reported that highly innovative and ambitious individuals use some form of guided meditations or mantras to center their attentions and focus their brains for success. It is not a guilty pleasure to align your mind, body, spirit and soul in favor of effectively navigating the business world day after day.  

2 - GO GREEN Not only does being friendly to the environment help everyone, but it also is a cost-saving option for businesses. There is no need to overhaul your whole system of operations. Just a few small changes make a difference. Offering a recycling receptacle for employees, or choosing to recycle as a personal experiment, are fantastic ways to start. Likewise, most offices are paper-based, thus, even trying paperless forms or processes could motivate a new order of less waste and unwanted clutter.

5 - TREAT YOURSELF The small act of getting a massage, adding a new piece (or two!) of clothing or an accessory to your wardrobe, or splurging for a new piece of office furniture or decoration can totally brighten your outlook for the coming season. Routine can sometimes forcefully create a tunnel vision aimed towards daily responsibilities and professional expectations. Yet the different vibe of rewarding yourself restores life and meaning to why you work so hard. Try inserting some of these new things into your business and personal approaches. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy the benefits they bring.

3 - LIVEN UP Try live-streaming or another platform as a means of learning new information about your profession. The new platforms of live-streaming have become the staple of social media and fast-paced advertising. You can

SOURCES: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/businesses-should-green-766.html http://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/life/books/2017-03-20-telling-tipsfrom-the-top-tim-ferrisss-tool s-of-titans/

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FEATURE

WRITTEN BY: SHAWN WHITSELL PHOTOGRAPHY BY: BARBARA POTTER

Sheila Gibson Dribbled Her Way from All-American to Corporate America

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HEILA GIBSON, a once-shy little girl from Oak Ridge, Tenn., and self-proclaimed “tomboy,” thrived in the world of sports. This included softball and a brief stint as a football player. Running up and down the court, however, is where she found her true voice - guarding her opponent and scoring baskets. It would be basketball that would cultivate her as a leader and give her the kind of confidence that would help make her a high school All-American - earning her an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama-Huntsville, where she was awarded All-American honors as well. She played there for two years before transferring to the University of New Orleans, where she continued her collegiate basketball career for another two years. “Basketball helped me understand the importance of dedication, identifying what you want, going for it, sticking to it and working hard,” she says. In addition to having the support of a hard-working, dedicated mother and loving family that always made me feel I was the best thing since sliced bread”. Gibson had plans to dribble a basketball all the way oversees. This was pre-WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association), so going abroad was the only option for women in professional basketball. Before her pro hoop dreams were realized, she suffered a serious knee injury during her junior year, which resulted in surgery. She redshirted that year, recovered, worked hard and snagged her starting position back. However, the first game of the season, she blew her knee out again. 30

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Though Gibson was able to make a full recovery and continued playing, the second knee injury was more mentally daunting than the first. The physical ability of her basketball skills and the confidence instilled in her at a young age took a huge hit, impacting her dream of playing overseas. The mental lack of confidence and physical limitations proved to be one opponent she couldn’t easily beat. It was then that Gibson, who was already a good student, refocused her perspective and re-prioritized her goals, taking academics even more seriously. It wasn’t just her own education she wanted to enhance; she started tutoring other student athletes as well. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Gibson went on to play semi-pro for Athletes in Action for two years, before trading her basketball uniform for a business suit. She settled into corporate life at Lockheed Martin (Oak Ridge National Nuclear and Research Laboratories). While working there, Gibson discovered a male counterpart, who was doing the exact same job, was earning more money. She questioned this - eventually taking the issue to the ethics department. She was told the difference was due to her co-worker having a master’s degree, which she did not. So, in true Sheila Gibson fashion, she earned a master’s in Business Administration and Information Systems from Bristol University. After graduating, she didn’t receive the raise she worked hard for and felt she rightfully deserved, but she continued her fight. As with many a basketball game, she found herself the victor. Lockheed Martin eventually honored the raise she earned and demanded - including back pay. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


FEATURE

Shortly following this win, after five years at Lockheed Martin, Gibson dribbled her corporate basketball to Healthcare Corporation of America (HCA). HCA is the largest healthcare management company in the United States, with healthcare entities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Though she knew nothing about the healthcare industry, the idea of traveling across the country utilizing her education to implement computer systems in hospitals was very appealing to her. In September, Gibson celebrated her 20th year anniversary with HCA. In that time, she has had quite a climb up the corporate ladder. She progressed from being a System Consultant to a Manager over Clinical Consultants to a Director of PMO/Project Management to Client Liaison and finally to her current position as the Assistant Vice President of HCA Acquisitions/Divestitures. In her more recent position, she has nine employees that report directly to her, in addition to, a large number of matrixed team members during each acquisition project. Sheila’s primary role is leadership , oversite and strategic planning for the technology scope. Additionally, she spends a great portion of her workday responding to emails providing guidance and support to corporate and divisional stakeholders throughout the organization. “Eighty percent of my job is communication and building and maintaining good positive business relationships with my stakeholders,” she says. “I put a lot of time into communication.” With HCA having 14 divisions across the United States, Gibson has to adapt to many different personalities and leadership styles within the company, which is why strong leadership and building positive relationships are top requirements for her role. When asked if it was more challenging being an African-American woman in corporate America, specifically IT, Gibson says she’s sure there are all types of people, in addition to black women, who may feel prejudice at some point or another. Though she knows discrimination exists, she tries not to harp on it. “Any situation is going to be what you make it, as long as you understand your environment and do whatever it takes to get where you want to be,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s up to you.” “I really try to focus on making sure that if I don’t reach the point I’m striving to get to, I have no one to blame but myself.” The confidence she developed through playing basketball has served her well in the corporate arena. “I am confident. I have courage. I’m not afraid to question if something doesn’t seem fair, whether it’s personally toward me or a process” she says. “If it doesn’t seem right to me, I don’t hesitate to question it. I think that’s important in corporate America. That’s an important quality not just for an African-American female but a female period.” THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

In addition to her high-powered corporate job, Gibson is highly committed to serving others, and does so in a wide range of capacities. She currently serves as the board chair of the Education Equal Opportunity Group (EEOG), a nonprofit organization that exposes high school students to community and business leaders to foster education and leadership. She is a current board member and board chair elect for the YMCA Donelson/Hermitage location and Community Outreach Committee, serves on the National Sports Council/Women’s Sports Committee, and on the executive board for Music City Classic. Sheila also serves as a mentor for both the HCA IT Girls Mentoring Program and Music City Girls Lead! Program. “I take a real high level of pride in mentoring young leaders,” shares Gibson, before adding she keeps a database of all past and present mentees, which includes high school students, HCA employees and others. She instills in them the importance of confidence, courage, preparedness and being proactive. “Mentoring is a big part of my leadership journey,” she says. “I definitely think it’s a win-win on both sides. I get out of it just as much as they get out of having me as their mentor.” Gibson, who experienced a third knee injury playing in an NAACP basketball tournament, has accepted her days of running up and down the court are long behind her. However, she still remains active in the sport, through coaching in the Amateur Athletic Union (which she’s done in the past and hopes to continue in the future) and cheering in the stands for her 17-year-old son Corey, a rising senior at Donelson Christian Academy, who has followed in her footsteps. Whether on the court or in the boardroom, Sheila Gibson has proven herself to be a strong competitor, fierce leader, humble servant and ultimately - a winner. Swish!!! SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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ESSAY/OPINION

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E LIVE IN a culture that tells us doing more means having it all. But studies tell an entirely different story. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that employee productivity has only grown an unfortunate .3 percent over the past three years, yet we are working longer hours than ever. The average work week has increased from 40 hours to 50 hours, in fact. The key to productivity doesn’t lie in trying to do more and get more done, but rather in doing less and getting the right things done. “Hustle” is a buzz word, but what if it is a direct road to failure? We cannot succeed in any area of our lives by working on only a few of them. Compartmentalization is a myth. Therefore, we must realize that how we do anything is how we do everything.. Productivity lies in spending considerable time in the short term to bring more awareness to what is most important in one’s life, then putting systems in place to execute these items. The most effective tool I learned for this comes from Greg McKeown’s book entitled “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” The exercise is as follows: Take a seat, get still and list out every time-consuming activity in your life. If you are married, do this with your spouse. Once all items are listed, place a numerical value of importance of one to 10 next to each. Once you have completed the activity, physically cross out those activities with a value of eight or less. Stop doing these activities. The time has come to say no to all activities which are not part of your highest point of contribution. If as you read these words you

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WRITTEN BY: GRAHAM HONEYCUTT

feel a pit in your stomach or are thinking this task sounds far-fetched, you likely need this message. Trust me; I heard those same voices and had those same thoughts which enabled me to postpone doing the exercise. However, once my wife and I completed this activity and began eliminating the values of eight and below, our lives changed dramatically. We eliminated a vast number of time-consuming engagements from our lives - including cable television, fantasy sports leagues, friend gatherings, book clubs, church activities, among other things. We also began evaluating new requests on our time and filtered it through our revamped gauge of what we determined to be important. We thought we would be disappointing other people by saying no gracefully. What we found is that people began to have more respect for us when we gave an honest “no,” rather than half-heartedly acquiescing out of a feeling of obligation. We learned to stop doing things out of mere obligation, and began focusing on things that we love and deemed truly important. As a result, our lives became exponentially better. The items we gave up were mere distractions to the most important parts of our lives. Our result has been incredible: We no longer feel like our lives are spinning out of control, going from activity to activity. The moral here is simple: Make time for what is most important to you and let go of what isn’t. We often wear badges of busyness like it is an honor. It doesn’t have to be. You have permission to live differently - more fully, in fact. True productivity lies in doing less and ensuring that the things you get done are what are most important to you.

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BUSINESS

F R O M S I G H T L E S S T O V I S I O N A R Y,

Dr. Ming Wang Is One Unstoppable Immigrant

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N THE DARKEST days of his life, renowned ophthalmologist, scientist and founder of Wang Vision Institute in Nashville, Tenn., Dr. Ming Wang, was a 14-year-old boy trapped in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. He never imagined - in his wildest dreams - that he would one day immigrate to the United States and later create jobs for Americans. This grim period was defined by the Chinese government forcing Wang to abruptly slam the books on his high school education. Because of this, he began waking hours before the sun rose each morning filling the cold blackness with sonorous melodies from his erhu (chinese violin). His fingers maneuvered across its strings until rendered numb, swollen and bleeding. His were never songs of pleasure and solace, sadly; instead, they were of sombering and sightless desperation. Becoming a professional musician was his only hope of being spared the devastating fate of deportation and, thus, a life sentence of hard labor and abject poverty. Wang practiced his violin compulsively for 15 hours a day, curiously drawn to the music of blind composer A-bin - as though pouring his painful uncertainty into those notes and allowing the instrument’s vibrato to resonate as his heart’s cry. “I connected with A-bin’s music emotionally because, much like the composer could not see physically, I could not see any future at all,” said Wang. Through every bow and strum, there amplified a deeply-held desire to one day dedicate his life to helping those confined to a life of darkness be granted the deliverance of sight. Although his musical pursuits did not continue, the internal experience of that shadowed period would resound throughout his personal 34

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WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON

ambitions for decades into the future. Wang passionately ached to study medicine; even doing so privately and illegally while under the constraints of the government. And, he was determined to fulfill this unmet desire. Once the revolution ended and Wang was permitted to finish high school and attend college, the whims of fate tuned to the vibration of his dreams, granting him an opportunity to impress a visiting professor from America. This led to him being offered a paid teaching assistantship with the University of Maryland in 1982, where he would earn his graduate degree in laser physics. But, his story would not become an unwavering anthem of celebration and victory from there. Further emotional hardships, loneliness and periods of adjustment would threaten to consume him. “In my waking hours, I was in America studying, attending and teaching classes, and taking myself to the movies in order to learn the language and culture. But, every night in my dreams, I was always back home in China,” confessed Wang. “It was like living two lives.” Although the early days of transition were difficult, he held tightly to his mission - a young man determined to further his education and “realize the American dream,” which - for Wang - meant devoting his life’s work to providing the visually impaired the luxury of illuminating their connection with the world. Wang pushed forward, earning postgraduate degrees from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (magna cum laude). Since, he has built a remarkable career spanning more than two decades. Wang has performed more than 55,000 successful eye reconstructive surgeries (an approximate 4,000 of them having been on THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


BUSINESS

the eyes of fellow doctors), has taught 3D LASIK and cataract correction seminars and privately trained thousands of other surgeons all across the globe. Most astoundingly, he founded a nonprofit - helping countless blind orphan children see the world for the first time. The aforementioned are only a fraction of his personal and professional accomplishments, yet the energy and tenacity sustaining his ambitions will not be taking a bow anytime soon. Rather, his drive is only increasing in volume and expanding its presence into yet another endeavor. After a 15-year affiliation with Aier Eye Hospital - a rapidly-growing Chinese eye hospital chain, currently operating 154 hospitals in China and dominating 10 percent of the country’s eye care market - Wang decided to merge his already-successful practice, Wang Vision Institute, with the chain and launch a U.S. operation: Aier-USA. “This is a unique project connecting two countries. For China, it is a huge investment opportunity which will improve education and technology for doctors. For America, this means Chinese money will be used to improve the U.S. economy by creating a huge number of jobs,” said Wang. Though the financial investment will come from China, 100 percent of the workforce of Aier-USA will be American citizens - employing doctors, nurses, technicians, administrative and support staff. Wang echoes an immense sentiment of pride to be the one heading the effort: “As a minority and an immigrant, I cannot imagine any better accomplishment than creating quality jobs for the people of my adopted country - a country I have come to truly love.” When asked how many clinics were being planned for the AierUSA project, Wang was not yet certain. Although acquisitions are THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

being considered and planned for 2018, he warns that Aier’s growth in the U.S., while powerful, will not necessarily be resemblant of its trend in China. “For one, not only are the countries’ governments different, but the healthcare regulations and eye care markets are different,” said Wang. “Also, the room for growth in China is much broader than it is in the U.S.” Wang Vision Institute will serve as the flagship and headquarters for all Aier-USA clinics he and his partners plan to gradually build. Creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the country of his birth and the country of his adoption in order to synergistically improve the economy and further help the visually impaired is a grand culmination of Wang’s already-extraordinary journey. “This is taking everything I have done professionally and bringing it to a higher level,” he said, proudly. As our interview was nearing its conclusion, I asked Wang why, in light of him having already achieved a level of prosperity many of his colleagues may never realize, he remains so driven and unstoppable in his efforts to continue being personally responsible for more and more eyes realizing the experience of sight. He paused for a moment, glancing upward at the row of framed newspaper features, degrees and awards lining the walls of his office. With a blend of caution and vulnerability, he replied, “I think it is because, although my suffering was not physical, I remember well the hopeless feeling of being in darkness. I call upon that often, and am driven by it. In some ways, I am rescuing myself over and over again through my work.” SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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TECHNOLOGY

WHY MOST ENTREPRENEURS STILL DON’T USE S O C I A L M E D I A E F F E C T I V E LY WRITTEN BY: ZACH WATSON

BETWEEN 2014 AND 2016, Instagram grew its user base by 100 million people every 9 months. Facebook is expected to surpass 2 billion monthly active users this year. By any measure, social media platforms are among the fastest growing, most frequented enterprises in history. And yet, a significant portion of entrepreneurs still fail to capitalize on the historical opportunity social media provides them to grow their brands and expand their reach. That’s not to say entrepreneurs aren’t on social media – most do have social accounts – but those accounts are rarely cohesive or measurable. Research from Infusionsoft indicates nearly half of small business owners have no idea what their return on investment is for social media. This disconnect between opportunity and effort is driven by the widespread misconception that social media is nice to have, but isn’t critical to growing a brand. A growing body of research points in the opposite direction. It’s quickly becoming evident that social media marketing can deliver tremendous business results. So why don’t more entrepreneurs prioritize their social media strategy? SOCIAL ISN’T A PRIORITY It’s easy to think that your social presence is ancillary to your business growth, but this view simply isn’t supported by data. Consider the power of reviews. Whether on a Facebook page or Yelp profile, reviews are fueled by social media, and they have a significant impact on the bottom line. Research from Harvard Business School indicates that a one star increase in your Yelp rating can be correlated to a 5 - 9 percent increase in revenue. Additionally, BrightLocal found that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust in-person reviews. The reality is word-of-mouth marketing – which has always been the gold standard for marketing new businesses -- now lives online and looks like a one to five-star rating. Consumers require validation before they visit a retail location or use a service, and social proof through online reviews and social content is the primary way they find the information that informs their decisions. For entrepreneurs building new brands, few things are more influential than social media.

THERE’S A SKILLS GAP Serial entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk wrote, “In 2017, if you are a business or organization of any kind that wants to be heard in the world, refocusing the content you put out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube…and whatever else has the market’s attention at the time, is a huge factor.” Vaynerchuk’s advice is good, but what it doesn’t address is the difficulty most entrepreneurs face when they building a social strategy. If entrepreneurs understand the value of social, then they’re likely stuck on the content strategy side. It’s a fallacy that determining what to post and when to post are easy questions to answer. Measuring the effectiveness of each post presents another problem, because the reading social analytics represents yet another learning curve. This skills gap in content strategy and social analytics leads many entrepreneurs to delegate social marketing responsibility. All too often the recipient of this new responsibility is someone with only marginally more experience than the entrepreneur. Without proper training or oversight, an inexperienced social media manager likely won’t produce noteworthy results. THE TIME ISN’T THERE Time is precious resource for entrepreneurs. Whether it’s involvement in day-to-day operations, analyzing profits and losses, or planning for the future, there are myriad demands for an entrepreneur’s time. This doesn’t leave much time for social media, despite it’s obvious importance to businesses of all sizes. The result is a social media strategy that’s sporadic at best and non-existent at worst. When your business page looks like a ghost town, it’s difficult to convince people to show up at your store. HOW TO HAVE IT ALL Given the obstacles, it may seem like an impossible task to maintain your current level of productivity and focus on social media. What’s going to give? The answer is nothing if you partner with JumpCrew. Our social media services are designed for entrepreneurs and local businesses, so you can enjoy the benefits of a personalized social media strategy i.e., more reviews, more web traffic, and more followers, while you continue running your business.


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NON-PROFIT

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ERRY DEAS WALKED away from the National Hispanic Corporate Council’s annual summit this spring with the wonderful feeling that he’s been getting it right. A diversity strategist for 16 years, Deas was surrounded by like-minded representatives of Fortune 1000 companies at the Atlanta event, which centered on the sharing of best corporate practices in the capturing of the U.S. Hispanic consumer market. At about 57 million people, Hispanics represent almost 18 percent of the population, and in 2015, possessed $1.3 trillion of the buying power, larger than the GDP of Spain. The group is expected to make up nearly a quarter of the population by 2040. “Being at the summit,” said Deas, director of diversity and outreach the past five years at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, “confirmed and reaffirmed that understanding, and working to better understand and better connect with this community group, is a competitive necessity. The group is so large that corporations cannot afford to not get this right.” The two-day affair, attended by 185 people representing at least two dozen companies, began with a welcome reception at the Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta. Summit attendees were bused to the media conglomerate Cox Enterprises for sessions like “Unconscious Bias as the Barrier to True Innovation” and “Leading with Cultural Intelligence to Deliver Better Business Results.” On the final day, attendees went to the Georgia International Convention Center for sessions like “A Conversation on Latino Civic Engagement: 38

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WRITTEN BY: TONI LEPESKA PHOTOGRAPHY BY: EDDIE ARROSSI PHOTOGRAPHY

The Era of Inaction Has Passed.” Between presentations by subject matter experts, participants were exposed to networking opportunities to share successful strategies among themselves. While predecessors of the annual summit were held for years, the event is only in its second year in its present form, said Octavio A. Hinojosa Mier, executive director of the National Hispanic Corporate Council, also known as NHCC. Companies represented at this year’s summit included Shell Oil, State Farm Insurance, Marriott, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and UPS. NHCC is in the midst of determining what city will host next year’s summit. The corporate world has been taking notice of the Hispanic market in varying degrees for years. NHCC formed in 1985, when a dozen Fortune 500 executives met to discuss the business potential of the rapidly emerging Hispanic market. According to experts, to successfully market to Hispanics, corporations must recognize the groups within the group. Not only are there generational differences among Hispanics, as in other groups, but differences in culture and language, depending on the country of family origin. Knowing the market requires research and a grasp of consumer trends. “It’s important to understand the nuances of key consumer groups,” Hinojosa said. “In the case of the Hispanic market, it is understanding how diverse Hispanics are. It’s complex.” Michael Gonzales, director of diversity and inclusion at Hallmark Cards, sat on a panel at the summit and was a presenter the previous year. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


NON-PROFIT

He said within that diversity are points of consistency, such as family pride. Coca-Cola tapped into the importance of family names with its “tattoo can” marketing campaign, said Hinojosa. The soft drink company put transferable, temporary tattoos of common Latino family names on cans so they could be pressed onto arms or other body parts. It was a hit and was the subject of one of the sessions at the summit. For diversity strategists and others pressed by corporate leaders for facts and proven successes, the Coca-Cola campaign could be a useful tool to win support within their companies. “Coke is a great example of how tailoring a campaign in a way that shows culture inclusion and celebration can really build brand connectivity for an organization or a company,” said Cracker Barrel’s Deas. Deas, who is NHCC chair-elect and calls diversity issues “a passion of mine,” said that in addition to the affirmation he experienced, he felt the summit highlighted the opportunity for corporations to better utilize employee resource groups. These like-minded people who gather for development and networking can provide valuable market insight for their companies. Coca-Cola utilized them for its “tattoo can” campaign. The insider information they provided illustrates the saying “our employees are our greatest asset,” Deas said. Hallmark Cards’ Gonzales was on the summit panel “The Return of Investment of Employee Resource Groups: How Innovative Actions

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Impact the Bottom Line.” He called ERG groups “a valuable, internal resource … and it’s free!” When executives recognize everyone comes with a bias, or a lifelong lens through which they look at the world, Gonzales said, corporate leaders can utilize the diversity within their companies, get “out of autopilot … and listen objectively.” Hallmark capitalized on its employee resource groups in reimagining its product offerings in the Castro district of San Francisco, Calif. At a local Walgreens, Hallmark struggled with sales. Instead of pulling its product in the neighborhood, which is reportedly 95 percent LGBT, Hallmark decided to bring relevant products into the community that illustrated the relationships in it. “We flipped that store from double-digit red to double-digit black,” said Gonzales, who is certain this example is applicable to the Hispanic community. “The model is portable,” he added. NHCC’s executive director said he thinks attendees left the summit with a better idea of what is working with the U.S. Hispanic consumer market and what is not. In the “safe environment” of the summit, participants were able to ask questions and get expert advice. In response to the success, NHCC will be offering webinars for corporate members who were not able to attend the summit, and may open up the webinar as “paid opportunity” to nonmembers.

SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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BUSINESS

HANDLING

WITH GRACE WRITTEN BY: JOE SCARLETT

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OST OF US know the basic formula for achieving success professionally: work hard, build solid relationships and do the tasks that lead to real achievement — not just busy work. However, when we are successful, handling it with grace is not always so straightforward. In the business world, I often see very successful people slide into the “star zone,” a place where resting on laurels quickly leads to a rude awakening. In fact, I remember way back when my own success was going to my head, although at the time I wasn’t cognizant of this descent into Starland. But before I hit rock bottom, a wise old man took me aside and told me the truth about how I sounded. What a wakeup call! From that day forward, I stopped hustling to promote myself and tried harder to stay grounded. That same mentor taught me to accept praise politely, always responding with a simple “thank you.” Not downplaying my achievement, but not tooting my own horn, either. Like me, you may have hit a few home runs in your organization, but that doesn’t qualify you for superstar status. Today’s savviest entrepreneurs know achievement yesterday is no guarantee of success tomorrow. True leaders are always looking forward, not backward. IT’S THE OPPOSITE OF ‘ALL ABOUT YOU’ We tend to see success as a solitary feat, but the truth is very few of us achieve any kind of success alone. Rather, most accomplishments are the product of our efforts in a team environment. Our relationships with those THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

around us mean everything, and we can leverage them by cooperating with our peers - treating our employees with respect and communicating clearly with the boss.   Early in my retail career there was a guy who drew the most admiration in this area: Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, who for years Forbes ranked the richest man in America. The measure of “Mr. Sam’s” success was not the massive number of items his company sold, but rather that he alone could make you feel like you were his first priority. A conversation with “Mr. Sam” was like talking with your best friend. He was constantly curious about which products were selling and how he could improve his stores, which required talking to people on the sales floor. Wal-Mart was never about him. Good business was about customers, associates, products and stores. And when he left the store, it was in an older pickup truck. That image of humility stuck with me. Walton never let success go to his head. Handling success with grace means finding time for other people and then always putting them first. No matter how successful you are, stay closer to the ground than the stars and you will earn the respect and admiration of everyone around you.

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company For more on leadership, see joescarlett.com You may contact Joe at Joe@joescarlett.com

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TRAVEL/CULTURE

It’s Shockin’ Ya’ll

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S I TOOK a deep breath, I inhaled a thick, heavy stench of stale produce while dragging my sandals through stagnate sewer water in the side alleyway. Sweat dripped off every inch of my body, as if I had intentionally been sitting in a sauna, unable to hold my eyelids open any longer. 7/11, where are you? My blurry gaze led me through the Suphan Buri day market. “You, try this!” A 70-year-old, wide-eyed, grinning Thai woman aggressively shoved a charcoal-fried scorpion on a stick in front of my nostrils. Using all of the energy I had, I cracked a gracious smile with a simultaneous head shake. I continued the maze through severed pigs’ heads roasting on a spit, to the most delicious scent coming from rice noodles in a wok the size of an industrial-sized kitchen sink. Then, the most beautiful, intricate designs of woven silk robes caught my eye. My natural instinct urged me to stop, try some on, play dress up, but my body would not rest until it found the 7/11. I quickly realized, I’ve lost my acquaintances. I’m on my own. Survival of the fittest at this point led me astray. Unexpectedly, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. About 30 yards ahead sat the convenient store I had longed for all morning. As soon as I entered the doorway, I closed my eyes and sat down on the cool, air-conditioned tile floor until I felt alive once more. After the fatigue subsided, I reached into my pocket out of habit to check the messages on my phone. I gazed down, still in a brain fog, and

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WRITTEN BY: JACKIE NENTWICK

saw the photo of my four best friends on my home screen. No messages. It was only 2 P.M., meaning it was 2 A.M. at home. Home. The euphoria drew a knot in my stomach I swallowed, along with my longing for what I knew. My normal. The first of many flashbacks began as I continued to sit on the now chilly tile floor of the sacred 7/11. I thought about how naïve I must have been to think I had any idea what this experience would feel like. It was shock, longing for the familiar, wanting everything to be easy, not having to think whether or not I had enough toilet paper in my pocket to last me the rest of the day. Just as I began to doze off dreaming of the familiar, I heard: “Jackie, wake up weirdo. You’re sleeping on the floor of a gas station.” It was Susie, my American partner in crime. She had quickly and happily snapped me back into reality. Fast-forward eight months. I found myself in the same Suphan Buri market. This time it was rainy season, and instead of being drenched in sweat, my feet were soaked in water pouring down from the sky. This time I was not searching for the nearest air-conditioned store or miserably trekking on my own through the market. Umbrella in hand, I found myself bargaining for the popular tamarind fruit that was in high demand. “Lot noi dai mai kah,” I said - persistently - to the vendor behind his fruit truck. It took a few more tries until he finally lowered the price by fifteen baht. As I walked away from the vendor and in the direction of a pineapple stand that had caught my eye, my good friend Aey (who happened to be a Thai native) flashed me a wink. He taught me well. There is something about embracing change that brings out a different person in all of us. Although it wasn’t an easy concept or experience for me to wrap my head around, culture shock is a good thing. It’s not something that should be dreaded; it’s how we prevail in tough, life-altering experiences. Immediately after my first few weeks enduring the “shock” of immersing myself into a new life, I realized how incredible the human body and mind truly is. The fact I felt comfortable enough calling Thailand my “home” after about four months in, is remarkable. I believe that culture shock is anything but a bad thing. Overcoming this shock to the system is what truly turns a tourist into a traveler. Learning how to make the best of an overwhelming experience helps you understand and appreciate your own culture: Where you came from. What you know. It will also help you understand your own biases, but at the same time enhance the confidence of your own cultural maturity while living THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


TRAVEL/CULTURE

and being a native of the melting pot of our world. I believe once you are able to understand and accept change to be a positive thing, you have officially overcome the biggest obstacle of culture shock. The beauty of experiencing culture shock will teach you the valuable lesson that this world is a small place, and despite our differences, we are all similar and interconnected. Just remember, wherever you may be, if you stop and take a look around, life is pretty amazing. One year and six new countries later, I returned home. As my plane descended into the Pittsburgh airport, I glanced through the window to see the famous Heinz Field where my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers play every home game. Excited, I turned and peered into my lap while the plane took what felt like the longest landing of my life. As I stepped off the plane, what I knew to be my normal was no longer. As I was got off the plane, I thanked my flight attendant with a kind bow, hands in praying position, “Kab-Kuhn-Kah.” The “you’re welcome” from the flight attendant really threw me off as I had to remind myself I was back home. My real home. My first stop off of the airplane, of course, was for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Although my usual order rarely twisted my tongue, I began to have trouble thinking about what to say. “Welcome to Starbucks, can I take your order?” My initial reaction was to laugh because I could actually understand what a stranger was saying to me. I tongue tied my order, and then was able to get it out to perfection. “Okay, that will be $3.50, please.” As I rummaged my pocket for some spare change, I placed 3.50 Thai baht on the counter. “Excuse me ma’am, but it is three dollars and 50 cents.” I glanced down in total oblivion to what I just used to pay for my order. My cheeks flushed red with embarrassment, and without even taking my coffee, I excused myself from the counter. “Oh no, here we go again.” I chuckled to myself, and rushed to reunite with my family. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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TRAVEL/CULTURE

WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON

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Y LIFE BEGAN in rural Mississippi, in a small town about 30 miles south of the state’s capital. It was a place where I stomped on ant piles and made lightening bugs my captive every long and muggy summer, and said an unrequited prayer for a dusting of snowfall every winter. It was a cozy pocket of America - where family ties were made of a fireproof fabric, then threaded through the simplicities of day-to-day life. It was where strangers became instant acquaintances, worthy of a greeting and a smile. But, it was also a sanctuary of unspoken rules: the most important being that if you did not bow your head and raise your hands while suited in your Sunday best, you were branded an outcast. Every Saturday venture to the nearest mall contained an offering of billboard sightings - many warning those who were unprepared for Jesus’ rapturous return. And, every time a mighty storm rolled through and the trees began to sway, I held my Bible tightly to my chest. My flesh trembled in fear at the thought of my soul being left behind. Fire and brimstone were occasionally served with dinner, but we all soothed the burn by washing it down with sentiments as sweet as our tea: “But, you know Jesus loves you despite that you were born evil; don’t you?” By the age of seven, I had dined on so much fear, guilt and contradiction, I was burping it all back up in rebellion. And, there were other unspoken rules I took notice of - rules of a far different breed. These were the rules every shred of innate decency within me wanted to reduce to ashes. One summer afternoon when I was about seven or eight years old, I was nearly trampled upon as I stood on hot pavement, my body dripping wet and shivering - not because I was cold, but because I was an immobile and synergistic blend of shock and confusion. I watched as several dozen children and their parents - most of whom were my classmates, neighbors and fellow church attendees - splashing and ejecting themselves from our community swimming pool. The expressions 44

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on their faces sort of resembled the masks the boys in my neighborhood wore on Halloween. I thought something filthy or horrendous lurked in those waters. Is there a dead animal afloat? Is someone drowning? It was bordering on a frenzy - reminding me of the way the ants reacted anytime I dared to aggravate their pile: scattering and fleeing in terror. I quickly learned, though, that their frantic movements had not been provoked by any danger in those waters. No. Rather, it was because three black children - newcomers to town - decided to join other children their age for an afternoon swim.

Race & Reality

IN AMERICA

You see, these newcomers were not acquainted with the unspoken rules. They were unaware they had crossed over into ‘forbidden terrain’ - for the pool they selected that day was the “white pool.” How dare they not know they belonged at the “black pool” - the smaller, dirtier, ‘lesser than’ pool on the ‘lesser than’ side of town. It was the end of the 1980s - early in the Bush administration, and more than two decades following the end of segregation. But, not long enough to dispel the culture of racism still alive and well within that town. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


TRAVEL/CULTURE

Everyone in the pool’s vicinity continued to scramble. There were a collage of sun-drenched white bodies wrapped in brightly-colored beach towels, all huddled together in clusters along the fence railing. Some raced to the bathroom in hiding. Some tiptoed to the sidelines. Some fled to the parking lot. And, some abandoned their pool day entirely, seeking ‘safety’ in their cars - locking every door and driving away in haste. But, not a single one of them remained in the pool. Not one. My sister - seven years my senior - grabbed my arm and dragged me behind her in order to dodge the commotion. She rushed us to the payphone to call our father, who served as the town’s mayor and was among the rarities in that mecca of Bible studies and southern hospitality: a young white man who was boldly unwilling to swallow the racist messages he was expected to digest. And, as a result, we were occasionally penned “n*gger lovers.” “Your dad helps n*ggers!” a boy had hissed at me on the playground one day. I remember thinking he looked like a demon when he said it, and it provoked me to wonder why I was so worried about being penned as the weirdo. I scanned the pool grounds for a moment before landing on his face. He was with the other classmates who were snickering about the black children’s swim caps. Their folded arms conveyed that they were impatiently waiting for the ‘lesser than’ visitors to leave. I thought about how ironic it was - how funny that they deemed themselves superior. They all looked like stumbling drunks - delusional, intoxicated, and toasting to their cocktail of white supremacy and vile religious hypocrisy. Wait, I thought; If Jesus loves me, doesn’t Jesus love them, too? Doesn’t Jesus love “all the little children of the world? Red and yellow, black and white”? The color of skin and the texture of hair could not possibly make such a difference in regard to a person’s value. So, why did it? Wasn’t this venomous hatred a slap in the face to the savior they bowed their heads, raised their hands and wore their Sunday best for? It didn’t make sense. I remember one of the black children in particular - a girl about my age. It was as though the sun had sought her out, as though ravished by her. And, though I was not brave enough to approach her, I badly wanted to. In my mind’s eye, I can vividly see her, still - her spine straight and long legs dangling in the pool. I can see the drops of water creating a collage across her frail, mahogany shoulders. I remember the way the sun shone like a spotlight over her, illuminating her profile softly - such beauty seeping through her veil of oppression and pain. I never locked eyes with her, but empathy asked that I take a front row seat. And, a trajectory of grieving, vulnerability and expansion swirls around that memory. I wish that I could stretch back in time to that moment and - with mighty fists - grab ahold of her shoulders. I would announce what a powerhouse of courage she was. I wonder how her recollection of that day differs from mine. I wonder what other stories she lived to tell. I wonder these things not because of mere curiosity, but because she did something I have never forgotten in all of these years: She stayed in the pool anyway. She stayed - despite the snickers and side glances, despite the arrogantly-folded arms and tapping feet. Daringly, she stayed - as though her will were as strong as the cement. An innumerable amount of times since that sweltering Mississippi day, I have been moved to tears reflecting upon it. I sobbed into my pillow when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. I wondered if the girl from the pool was somewhere crying, too. I then sobbed even harder watching Oprah sob as he delivered his acceptance speech. And, I sobbed at Michelle Obama’s words at the Clinton rally mere months ago - when she so eloquently defended every objectified THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

woman - of every racial background - since the dawn of time. I watched from my bedroom with my husband and dog on either side, wondering if the girl from the pool was also cheering and shouting at her television screen. I’ll never know for sure. This I do know: There has been astounding racial progress since that afternoon at the pool, but there remains a monumental divide we have yet to close. And, it’s time we get honest with ourselves about it. Recently, I read a field experiment conducted by The National Bureau of Economic Research in 2003. It determined that racism was still enormously rampant in the workplace - one of their findings being that college graduates with “black-sounding names” - in order to receive a “call back” - had to send out 50 percent more job applications than an equally capable individual with a “white sounding name.” And, although those findings are 14 years old, the Bureau of Labor Statistics determined in 2016 that the unemployment rate of black Americans was 8.8 percent - more than double that of white Americans. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much google-searching to be smacked with evidence that the residue of racism still reveals itself among our day-to-day interactions. A video of a passionate Trump supporter enraged and leaning into an automobile on a street in Memphis, Tennessee, shouting, “Black lives don’t matter!” landed in my phone on the day of the 2016 presidential election. And, it is one of many of its kind I have stumbled upon since. I will never know what it is like to be black in America. I may never realize all of the ways I, too, have mindlessly expressed racism in my public interactions and private thoughts. But, I do know this: It requires an impenetrable amount of bravery to be a black person in America - a kind of bravery I cannot fathom and do not believe I will ever grasp. But, I know it exists. I know it because I have seen evidence of it: To know that your opportunities may be fewer than your fairskinned neighbor, but to perfect your resume, steam your shirt and devote yourself to excellence anyway. To know that the security guard at the movie theater stared at you suspiciously and, perhaps, a little longer than he did the white gentleman three feet from you, but to buy the popcorn and enjoy the movie anyway. For the cells in your body to be alive and well with the memories of the generations before you who lived through oppression, slavery and violence, but to rise with your community in hope anyway. To sit alone - surrounded by the echo of snickers and the dissonance of prejudice, but to stay in the pool anyway. That isn’t freedom, but it is bravery. And, I suppose that is what black Americans have been doing for generations: They sit on the edge of this country’s vast pool of opportunity - not deaf to the snickering, not blind to the side glances and not oblivious to the oppression. But, they swim anyway.

Conversations on

Race

a talk worth having TheDailyDoll.com is the brainchild of writer and celebrity journalist Lacey Johnson. The site was created to encourage readers to get real, get liberated and live boldly by serving up beauty, wellness and inner life illumination. Stay tuned for her upcoming e-book, “The 21-Day Inner & Outer Life Illumination Reboot,” landing to the site early summer 2017. SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

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PHRAIM UREVBU’S LIFELONG love affair with the arts began when he was a young boy. Precocious and smitten by the pencil and brush, he fondly remembers drawing and painting as early as 7 years old. Years later, his intelligence and hard work in the classroom landed him in one of Nigeria’s most elite high schools, putting him on track to be a medical doctor, lawyer or engineer – professions considered to be most respectable in Nigeria. According to Urevbu, in his country a man is not successful unless he chooses one of the three aforementioned careers. “Anything outside of that, you’re a failure,” he said with a laugh. Urevbu showed potential to be “successful” in the eyes of his people, but his love for the arts would not play second fiddle to a more traditional career path. He was forced to choose. “That was one of the reasons I left the country,” he confessed. “The pressure was too much to conform. Leaving the country gave me the freedom to pursue my passion, which was the arts.” Urevbu said goodbye to his family and native land and embarked on a journey that would forever change his life. He found himself in the Volunteer State, in the late ‘80s at Memphis College of the Arts, where he completed two years of coursework before transferring to the University of Memphis. He earned a bachelor’s of arts and a master’s of business administration while there. After college, Urevbu realized there weren’t many opportunities for black artists in Memphis, a city he described as “beautiful with great potential.” At the time, he was creating work heavily influenced by the blues, which Memphis is famous for. A local gallery showed interest in his work and extended an offer for him to do a showing. Part of the deal was that he’d be responsible for inviting people. According to Urevbu, he understood this was code for inviting black people. Urevbu was not a business-minded person and had no interest in entrepreneurship. Little did he know at the time, however, this endeavor would serve as a catalyst for owning and operating his own gallery. It was his art showing, along with his creativity and the discipline instilled in him in Nigeria, which would help him start Art Village Gallery, an artistic institution he envisioned as a center for cultural diversity. Though he didn’t have the capital to buy the building he wanted in downtown Memphis, he used a creative and

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

WRITTEN BY: SHAWN WHITSELL

business-savvy approach to convince the property owner to enter into a lease-to-own agreement. The terms of the deal were that if Urevbu didn’t pay off the building in three years, the owner was free to sell it to another buyer. Urevbu paid for it in only two years. He didn’t know anything about running a gallery but was so intent on proving it could be done, he put all of his energy and creativity into it. He accomplished the feat with very little resources. “When I focus on an issue, I focus,” he said of his determination to succeed. “I get it done, especially when people tell me ‘you can’t do it.’” The gallery didn’t just exist, but it grew to become what he calls, “one of the epicenters of Memphis.” In addition to the gallery, Urevbu helped the City of Memphis create the South Main Arts District. Over the course of four years, he wrote the proposal, encouraged artists and arts-related business owners to move in and convinced the City to offer tax incentives to those who made the district their home. He also put together the Arts Trolley Walk, a popular event on the last Friday of each month. Along with the general public, the walk also provides Urevbu with the opportunity to engage his corporate partners, their employers and families. Everyone gets together to explore the arts over cheese and wine. But, he didn’t stop there. With only a $9,000 budget, Urevbu organized the first South Main Arts Festival, another successful endeavor that would later become the River Arts Festival. Though he’s had success in business, Urevbu doesn’t let entrepreneurship overshadow the passion and purpose behind his efforts, which is to uplift his community and “bring passion into people’s lives” through the arts. One of the many ways he pours into his community is through service (sitting on the board of the local Boys & Girls Club, and participation in other organizations) and mentoring young artists. “I do a lot of mentoring because I feel I’ve been blessed tremendously with wisdom and common sense,” he said. He also mentors veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who come to his studio to paint and talk. In addition, he’s currently raising money to build the West Tennessee Veterans Home. Urevbu said he wanted to use the district as a way of bringing people together and to focus on using creativity as a means of resolving troubling issues. Today, the work he does is more social commentary. He uses his art to address issues such as diversity, homelessness and mass incarceration. “As an artist, I’ve been given a beautiful gift to be able to tap into the consciousness of humanity,” he said. In addition to his own work, he works with the Diversity Through Art program, which incorporates culinary arts, music, theater, dance, fashion and poetry. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

Urevbu admitted it can be difficult balancing his business and creative sides. “It’s the most frustrating combination of things you could ever think about because the artist in me is beckoning to the studio. The business person in me is saying ‘you got this deal you’ve got to close.’” Still, he seems to believe the two worlds can coexist, even if managing them is challenging. Two years ago, Urevbu convinced his wife to leave her job as a human resource manager to work at the gallery. Having her on board full time provides more time and space for Urevbu to focus on his art. He said he’s happy when he’s in the studio. He’s dancing, drinking and painting. “That’s what I’m created for,” he said. He also believes corporations can help make a difference. He signed a deal to lease walls in diverse neighborhoods to display art. Every three months, he refreshes the work. He also has a line of “Freedom” candles with inspirational messages he uses in his corporate dealings. Whether he’s wearing his business hat, his creative one or both at the same time, Urevbu wants his efforts to touch the hearts of people. “My whole purpose is to tap into that beautiful, creative soul that exists in all of us,” he said. He wants to empower us all to “make this world a little better than we found it.”

SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON

Fierce, Female & Unstoppable: Naja Knows the Scoop on Successful Living

I

n 19th-century America, it was characteristic of audience members to boo, shout expletives and throw rotten tomatoes at the actors, comedians and opera singers they were least impressed by. In the more rowdy venues, some attendees went so far as to coerce one another to rip apart their seats and sling them toward the stage. This created a culture of anxiety and fear surrounding one’s creative endeavors. More specifically, this meant that - despite having prepared for weeks or months, straightened their tall halls, smoothed out their petticoats and bravely given their artistic best on stage - after the curtain closed, there began a private war zone. These brave individuals were doomed to spend the remainder of their evenings slouched in their dressing room chairs, silencing the hiss of defeat and picking rotten tomato bits from their faces. This process became, in part, the bane of the creative person’s existence. Out with abundance and reward; in with the culture of creative martyrdom. Gradually, the mentality toward an artistic life shifted to one of luck, struggle and the ‘hope’ for a chance victory. The synergy of creative worthiness and abundant living became an 48

THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | SPRING 2017

enigma - a puzzle only a select and extraordinary few ‘geniuses’ could solve. God must be smiling down over them, the less fortunate assumed. And, so, an imaginary divide between creativity and financial prosperity was concocted and served to the masses - rendering the majority of the world drunk and spinning from this poisonous nonsense ever since. In an effort to destroy this epidemic, Naja Rickette (known by her fans as “Naja Nail Guru”) - reality star of “L.A. Hair,” celebrity nail artist, internet sensation, Guinness World Records holder and quintessential abundance ninja - is tapping the whole world on the shoulder. She is eager to throw ice cold water over our delusions of scarcity and rattle us awake from our drunken stupors. Continue reading as I draw back the curtain and welcome you inside for a glimpse at our intimate interview. Prepare to activate the components of creating your most abundant life possible. SUCCESS BEGINS WITH EMBRACING ORIGINALITY Rickette did not always feel abundant. She spent her youth insecure, void of fulfillment and - begrudgingly - dressed in uniform. “I went to Catholic school my entire life, so when I moved from New Jersey to THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Los Angeles at 26, I was in search of a new life and career where I could demonstrate my own style,” she says. She was pleased to find that a day spa in Marina Del Rey, California needed a front desk attendee. Best of all, she could express herself in any fashionable assemble of her choosing. Although Rickette swears bravery did not come to her naturally, she unquestionably had an innateness for honing the principles of originality, however. At that day spa, Rickette found an untended itch one she was first in line to scratch. Having noticed that customers requested - almost daily - manicure and pedicure appointments on Sundays and Mondays, she observed that no nail technicians were ever willing. Puzzled by this, Rickette’s marketing wheels began to turn, provoking her to wonder, “What if I go to school and learn to do manicures and pedicures? There is no competition on Sundays and Mondays. I can take all of the business for myself.” So, she did exactly that. “One of the reasons I have become successful,” confesses Rickette,” is because I have never been a copy of anyone else. I’ve always looked for new ways of doing things. If everyone stopped trying to copy the people they admire and just became the best ‘them’ they could ever be, they would be surprised with what they could accomplish.” ACCEPT YOUR WORTHINESS Rickette was not always so agile, confident and suave in her mindset, however. Her internal world shifted during a simple phone conversation in 2008 - considered by Rickette to have been “a force of grace.” While organizing a training for a newly-launched product, a fellow nail artist expressed an aversion to the $389 price attached to Rickette’s four-hour class. Appalled, the colleague gasped, “You’re going to make $100 an hour for this!” Without pausing to concoct a nervous rebuttal of apology, Rickette retorted, matter-of-factly, “Well, I’m sorry, m’am. That’s what I value my time at.” Awed by her own brazen words, she was riddled with chills surprised that she felt no urgency to offer further elaboration. In that moment, a seed of unapologetic abundance was planted - a seed something from deep within her had revealed to itself. Rather than continue her resistance, the colleague responded in awe, “Oh, wow,” she said. “Can you teach me more of... that?” “Right there, in that conversation, I knew something had changed,” says Rickette. “Never again would I make myself small or be afraid of my own worth.” From there, she began to teach other professionals within the beauty industry about the art of living in alignment with their value - sans excuses and second-guessing. “You don’t have to get into some verbal Kung Fu battle with people about why you charge what you charge or why you do what you do,” says Rickette. “If you consistently bring the best of yourself to your craft and area of expertise, others will begin to agree with you.” It sounds so foundational - even trite, but is actually quite paradigmshattering when considering how few live in support of their own prosperity. Perhaps the key is simple: Decide what you are worth and then begin to act in a way, produce in a way and expect in a way that matches that decision. “No one is more worthy than the next,” adds Rickette. “It doesn’t matter what you look like or what others have said about you. Every day is an opportunity to draw from the abundance in the Universe.” Rickette has realized that her passion for helping others hone their worthiness is rooted in a place much deeper than that conversation a decade ago, however. She concedes: “My mother had a wooden paddle that read, ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ I endured a lot of abuse in my early days, THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

and the worst was being unable to express myself. I think this is what fuels me to speak so fiercely - not only speak for myself but for others. I find that, in creative industries, people are afraid to ask for what they deserve, and I am determined to change that.” BRAVERY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE Rickette’s infectious cackle and feisty remarks can be heard resounding through electronic devices all over the country. Her platinum blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, edgy style and body-positive stance are splashed all over the internet. She has groomed the hands and feet of A-List celebrities - including Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige and many others. She has been photographed posing on red carpets, and has commanded innumerable stages before ample crowds. One may assume she is a prodigy of the great spirit of fearlessness - a darling child conceived in the belly of bravery. But, she swears it isn’t true. “People think that because I have had a radio show, been on television and taught internationally, I am somehow unafraid. But, I am afraid like everyone else. The difference is that I hone the element of courage, making sure it is always stronger than my fear.” While it is commonplace to assume that those who dare to share their work with the masses were blessed with superhuman fearlessness, I - like Rickette - have identified this as a myth. Having interviewed and collaborated with more than my fair share of celebrities and affluent public figures, I have invariably detected some level of fear and insecurity in each of them. No is is immune. In that regard, highly accomplished people are no different than anyone else. While sharing my perspective with Rickette, she chimed in, voicing her opinion on what does make these individuals different: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courageous people feel the presence of fear, but it never stops them from walking through it.” Rickette credits her father for having planted seeds which flourished her growth mindset: “The greatest gift he gave me was that he ingrained hunger and hustle into my mentality. It is amazing what people will get done when they realize others will not do their work for them. Miracles happen when you are forced into the urgency of hunger.” DECIDE TO BECOME UNSTOPPABLE When Rickette coaches her legion of clients, she breaks down their goals into “bite-size pieces,” for she has learned that the “big picture” is oftentimes overwhelming. “I force them to ask themselves, ‘What will happen if I try for this?’ People are often shocked by the things they fear - things that are hardly scary at all.” My interpretation of her message, simplified: You can thrive as a creative person. Your art matters. You can be well-compensated for honing your hustle and talents. You are as abundant as you decide to be. Rickette solidifies this message as she concludes the interview: “What people fear and dread most are often not facts, but of their own creation. Stop forecasting lack, and decide - here and now - that the climate of your life is in your favor.”

The original version of this article was published to TheDailyDoll.com SPRING 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE

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Welcoming Diversity At Cracker Barrel Old Country Store , we think a key to our success is welcoming diversity in our company, our country stores, our restaurants, and our communities. ®

crackerbarrel.com • © 2016 CBOCS Properties, Inc.

The Connect Magazine Spring 2017  

The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empower...

The Connect Magazine Spring 2017  

The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empower...

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