Pride Magazine - 2024 March/April "Women's" Issue

Page 14


C.W. Williams

Community Health Center

March-April 2024
Women’s Issue
Charlotte’s African-American Magazine
The Head that Wears the Crown
state of Black women leadership
Providing quality healthcare for all Homecoming
Johnson C. Smith University President Dr. Valerie Kinloch Returns to Her Roots Cathy Bessant Loves
a Challenge Q&A with Foundation For the Carolinas CEO
Committed to saving you more Learn more at
We see you. And we’re so grateful for you.

The vital perspectives and contributions of women make us better—and make our community better. You give care. You get things done. You hold it all together. And it’s our job to be there for you. Truist Bank, Member FDIC. © 2024 Truist Financial Corporation. Truist, the Truist logo and Truist Purple are service marks of Truist Financial Corporation.




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42 28 Departments 8 From the Publisher 10 Notable Names 12 Book Review 13 By Faith 14 The Vegucator 54 FYI News & Notes Features 15 The Head that Wears the Crown The state of Black women leadership 23 Leading JCSU Valerie Kinloch returns to her alma mater 26 Q&A with Cathy Bessant President and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas 28 Care Ring CEO Tchernavia Montgomery Using life lessons to lead 31 Game Plan for Success Ericia Turner guides CMS athletic programs 34 Dawn Nicole and DeMario McIlwain Couple finds success with E-learning platform 36 Community Building Initiative Promoting opportunity, equity and justice Log on to for more features. 23 March – April 2024 40 C.W. Williams Community Health Center Providing quality healthcare for all 42 The Queens of Charlotte Epoch Tribe events celebrate Black Women 48 A List Smiles Orthodontics Enhancing smiles and making a difference 12 On the Cover Valerie Kinloch, Johnson C. Smith University President March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 5
2.CARDBOARD & SMALL BOXES (Clean Pizza Boxes - Okay) 1. PLASTIC BOTTLES & JUGS with Necks 3. EMPTY METAL CANS 4. MILK & JUICE CARTONS 6. GLASS BOTTLES & JARS (Lids On - Okay) 5. PAPER & MAGAZINES Place ONLY these SIX items in your curbside recycling! WE ARE ALL WHEN WE

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March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 7 MAGAZINE


Exploring Oklahoma City

Ichose Oklahoma City as my Thanksgiving travel destination in 2023 for three compelling reasons: I’d never been there, the Tulsa Race Massacre haunts me, and intriguing facts about Oklahoma’s Native American and Black History (particularly that of Bass Reeves) drew my attention.

The word “Oklahoma” actually means “red people” as various tribes, including the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chickasaw and Choctaw were mainly there. In addition, a little research revealed that between 1865 and 1920, there were approximately 50 all-Black towns in Oklahoma!

I persuaded my son, Tye Feimster, to join me on this excursion. With great anticipation, we boarded a non-stop flight to Oklahoma City that took less than two hours on Thanksgiving morning. Upon arrival, we Uber-ed to our Hampton Inn & Suites hotel in the famous Bricktown section of the city and settled in. Bricktown was not all that. The restaurants were not enticing, and shopping in this area had a lot to be desired. No Black art. No unusual clothing shops. Walking along the Bricktown Canal was nice, though. Oh well, on to the museums.

We first visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum that honors victims and survivors who were impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. It was a very sobering experience, showing that evil is no respecter of persons.

My favorite museum visit was to the National Museum of the American Indian where we were exposed to the most breathtaking exhibit ever. The Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit was absolutely the most incredible multisensory experience I’ve yet to witness. I hope this exhibit comes to Charlotte.

in accounts from survivors and memories from descendants of one of the most brutal attacks in modern U.S. history that killed hundreds of innocent Black residents and destroyed well over 1,000 homes. Businesses completely obliterated — compensational and generational wealth blotted out.

We also visited the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and the Oklahoma Black Museum and Performing Arts Center. We tried the American Banjo Museum but couldn’t stomach it. However, the Oklahoma State Capitol building was amazing, with an incredible display of art and history. Our greatest adventure was a day trip to Tulsa to absorb the details of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 at the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center. This experience was beyond powerful as we immersed ourselves

Overall, this was a trip worth taking, although I’ll just give it a 4.5 rating. At least I know for sure it’s not a city I’d like to reside in, even though the cost of living is much cheaper than in Charlotte. The lack of walkability and the absence of a vibrant African American presence is depressing.

Enjoy more Oklahoma City photos on our website,


Top Left: Tye at the Oklahoma City Contemporary Art Museum Top Right: Dee at the Bricktown Canal Bottom Left: Beautiful glass sculptures at the Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit
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Bottom Right: Absorbing the Tusla Massacre at the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center

Celebrating Women in Auto

Mills Auto Group strongly emphasizes its core values, including teamwork, character, integrity, work ethic, and performance. These values underpin our belief in the significant role of women not only in the automotive industry but also in broader society. We recognize that women are essential pillars of our communities, and Mills Auto Group is dedicated to championing the positive influence of gender equality and empowerment in our communities and beyond.

We honor women in and around the automotive industry, and are excited to share some pioneering women below.

“It’s important to know yourself. If you have something that’s really important and impactful and you want somebody who is not afraid of taking risk, doing the unconventional, then that’s what makes me tick.”

“It’s important to lead by example. All too often our children see negative images of our culture and I think it’s very important for people of our culture actually succeeding in business.”Melissa Harville-Lebron, the first Black woman to own her own NASCAR team

“There’s constant change in the industry, in the behaviors of our customers, in the technology, in our focus. There’s just a lot of change. You have to be flexible

Vice President of Quality and New Model Launch Programs at

“When I learned how to work on cars I realized ‘wow this stuff isn’t hard!!’ Women don’t know that because there’s nobody speaking like them. The industry is run by men.” – Patrice Banks, Engineer, mechanic, entrepreneur, storyteller. Sources:
Official Automotive Group Partner of the Charlotte Hornets



Donna Julian is the executive vice president and general manager for Hornets Sports & Entertainment at the Spectrum Center. In this role, she directs all aspects of arena administration, including operations, booking, guest experience, public safety and marketing for the venue.

Julian initially joined the Spectrum Center in 2005 where she took part in helping to open the venue. Under her leadership as senior vice president of arena and event operations, the venue has organized nearly 2,000 events, including sporting events, concerts, family shows, and conventions and hosted more than 20 million people.

She earned her graduate degree in public assembly facility management from the Oglebay School for Public Assembly Facility Management and her bachelor’s degree in athletics administration from Ohio University. She serves on the executive committee of the North Carolina Sports Leadership Council and is a chair for the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Carolinas.



Alysia Osborne is an award-winning planner, leader and director for the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan, a vision to help guide the city’s growth and development over the next 20 years. The plan recently won the 2023 Daniel Burnham Comprehensive Planning Award, for its pivotal role in shaping more vibrant, inclusive, and prosperous communities.

As director, Osborne will help implement the roadmap created to harness and direct the city’s growth with a focus on community engagement, equity and development. This means building more resilient communities using good policy, investment and zoning strategies that eradicate marginalization and create solutions for communities facing disinvestment.

Before joining the city of Charlotte, Osborne was vice-president of planning and development at Charlotte Center City Partners where she worked closely with different communities to preserve and enhance Charlotte’s neighborhood assets and upcoming investments.

Osborne earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and pre-law from Tougaloo College then went on to earn her master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Jackson State University. She is a certified planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and also holds certificates in non-profit Management from Duke University, commercial real estate from Cornell University, and municipal and county government administration from UNC Chapel Hill. She also serves on the board of directors for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.

Kimberly Edwards, the assistant vice president of Business Access Advising for U.S. Bank Charlotte Market, brings nearly 20 years of experience in small business lending, real estate initiatives and asset building to the company. Her plans for the future of U.S. Bank’s Black-owned business support are to ensure that everyone has access to the tools, resources, and networks that empower communities to succeed and grow.

Edwards’ career started in North Carolina almost 20 years ago where she deepened her knowledge in economic development and built her experience working in underserved communities while attending Queens University. She later went on to work with the city of New York in the Small Business Division helping both small and large businesses scale with their business initiatives.

In her new role, Edwards helps Black-owned businesses build custom growth plans and get the lending, asset-building, and real estate funds they need to succeed. More specifically, she’ll be conducting financial health assessments and working with the business banking and wealth teams who support both small and large businesses to develop training curriculums and host public training events, helping small businesses address the most prominent gaps that limit business growth and employment opportunities.

“I am honored for the opportunity to build upon the progress that U.S. Bank has made to provide access to capital in diverse businesses and support the growth of our Access Wealth Business initiative,” said Edwards.

Edwards earned her master’s degree from Columbia University where she also received her minor in business administration. She also earned her bachelor’s degree from Queens University of Charlotte. P


Charlotte E. Ray was the first Black American female lawyer in the United States. Ray graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1872.

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Writers Share Personal Stories About Their Mothers in New Anthology W

e are proud to announce that one of our regular freelance writers, Angela Haigler, has recently published a collection of essays by women writers who share intimate stories about their mothers. The anthology, “Mama Stories: Gifts From Our Mothers,” consists of essays by 13 writers, including Haigler, that recall memories and reflections of their relationships with their mothers.

Haigler, who received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, started a writing project to nurture and celebrate the culture of Black women. A 2020 grant from the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte helped Haigler fund the workshop which included emerging women writers over 40. Haigler wanted to encourage them to work on their essay writing and share their stories about their mothers with the public via the anthology.

The grant, along with other funding, provided Haigler with the resources to create “Mama Stories,” which Haigler also edited. After experiencing some personal trials, including the death of her mother, Haigler put the book project on hold, but picked it back up after a couple of years. The book was released in January.

Some of the essay titles in the 341-page book include, “Mama Was Sanctuary,” “Breathe,” “Pass the Mic,” and “Payback’s a B****!”

The “Mama Stories” writers, other than Haigler, are: Amy Cotton, Kirsten Ussery, Lucy A. Sams, Tanny Swan, Tomi Banks, Rita Samuels, Monica Brown Nash, Tiffany Grantham, Yaya S., Vesta Joi, Kandace Grant and Mary Sanders.

“This project has been a labor of love, and the end result is beautiful inside and out,” Haigler said. In the introduction to the book, Haigler writes about what drew her to this project. “Our mothers are the ones whose absence or presence has a tremendous impact on our selfconcept and well-being,” she wrote. “They lay the foundation, provide the blueprint. It’s a huge responsibility.”

Haigler said she wanted the writers to be open and feel comfortable enough to write truthfully about their motherdaughter experiences.

“I already knew that the relationship between mothers and daughters is a delicate one. … It was very important to

me for the participants to know this book was not created to be a ‘hallelujah all mothers are wonderful’ book,” Haigler said. “I wanted the authors to have the freedom to express their stories and share their truth...for them to be completely honest, without judgment.”

The story Haigler shares about her mother evolved as she was working on the project. After her mother died, Haigler said she changed the topic of her essay.

“I was going to take a humorous view of our relationship. But when she died, I felt a strong desire to share my feelings about what it was like in those final two weeks of her life,” Haigler said. “My mother was a force who touched everyone she came in contact with. Her presence is missed. I hope to spread knowledge about hospice services, dementia and being a caregiver.”

Haigler said she hopes readers will “immerse themselves in each story” to find what resonates with them and think about their own “Mama Stories.”

She said she’s planning a second volume of “Mama Stories.” Writers interested in participating can reach her on Instagram @angelamhaigler or via her website, P

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Mary Sanders was the graphic designer for “Mama Stories,” and Tomi Banks designed the cover. Above: Angela Haigler, Editor of “Mama Stories.” Right: Editor of “Mama Stories,” Angela Haigler (center/seated), and some of the writers who participated in the “Mama Stories” writing project, from left to right: Mary Sanders (seated), Tomi Banks, Rita Samuels, Vesta White, DeMarius Sullivan, Lucy Sams and Tiffany Grantham.

Use Prayer to Keep Your Dreams Alive

How do you respond when you have to live life without your dreams ever coming to fruition? Simply put, what do you do when your dreams have been dashed? What happens when what you’ve longed for never materializes?

After graduating from college, your plan was to be married by a certain age. You longed for a healthy relationship but found yourself constantly navigating through toxic ones. You asked yourself, “Will I ever have a relationship that lasts?” You thought to yourself that maybe if I just loved him unconditionally, he would treat me better and we’d have the relationship that I dreamed of.

You’ve always wanted children. You’d be happy with even just one biological child. But for some reason, you can’t get pregnant, or your pregnancies end in miscarriages.

Having grown up with a volatile relationship with your mother, you thought that maybe as adults, you and your mate would enjoy one another. After the last intense argument, you wonder whether that time will ever come. Will you ever understand one another?

You never imagined having so much disappointment in your career. You worked hard. You sacrificed time and energy. Why is your dream position still out of reach? Why does she get all of the promotions?

You never thought that you’d be the one that would have a debilitating chronic illness that hinders you from enjoying life.


Why do you wake up with body aches, experience social isolation and entertain depressive thoughts?

Once you started dating him, you knew that you two were a match made in heaven. However, the man of your dreams turned out to have the leading role in your worst nightmare. You never thought you would end up with a failed marriage.

As you ponder life’s disappointments and unmet expectations, you find yourself left with countless unanswered questions. Do you become numb to and paralyzed by your dashed dreams, or do you move on with life despite the sadness, discouragement and despair? Is there any hope on the other side of dashed dreams?

Regardless of how you answer these questions, understand that even though you may be faced with a new and unexpected normal, you’re not alone. God is with you whether your dreams have become a reality or not. Depend on God to help you develop new ways of coping with all the emotions that dashed dreams bring.

Perhaps, God might bring to life the very dream that you thought was dead. How would you respond to such a surprise? Let’s learn from Scripture. Luke 1:6-13 says, that Elizabeth and Zechariah were both righteous before God, “…walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” But they were both advanced in age, and had no children because Elizabeth was

In 1991, Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, became the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major U.S. city — Washington, D.C. Dixon, who was also the first mayor of D.C. to be born in the city, held the office until 1995.

barren. Both of them lived for God and sought to obey Him. Yet, they were childless. I can imagine that they longed to one day have a child, but eventually resolved to themselves that it never would happen.

According to Luke 1:13, while Zechariah was serving in the temple, the angel of the Lord told him that his prayer was heard and would be answered. The angel said, “... your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” God answered their prayers and turned the couple’s dashed dream into a reality.

What can you learn from this story? First, if your dream appears dashed, never stop praying. Continually pray even when it doesn’t seem like your prayers are being answered. Secondly, avoid allowing your obedience and service to God to be conditional. In other words, regardless of whether God gives you what you desire, seek to still obey and serve Him. Lastly, understand that the ultimate fulfillment of your dreams is in the hands of God. Trust that He is for you, with you and has your best in mind.

Trust His will, His timing and His plan for you. Regardless of life’s outcomes, God is always good. As you survey your life and all that you hope for, may your heart rest in God’s faithfulness. P

The Rev. Dwayne Bond is the lead pastor of Wellspring Church.

Jorm Sangsorn /
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 13

Advancing Generational Well-Being and Prosperity with Black Veganism

In the Federal Reserve’s latest survey on consumer finances, a glimmer of progress emerged, highlighting what appeared to be a narrowing of the unconscionable divide between Black and white median household net worth. While our households saw an encouraging increase, reaching $44,900, it was swiftly eclipsed by a white American household net worth bump to $285,000, which was six times greater. With examples of systemic economic disparities like this, it’s easy to understand why we’re focused on narrowing the wealth gap and replacing it with a duplicatable model capable of passing down investments, assets and other secure instruments from one generation to the next. However, there’s another front in the battle for equity that too often escapes our gaze — health.

Springing from the same twisted tree of structural racism are the entwined branches of health and wealth. With the 2023 loss of 450,000 African Americans (1,232 souls a day) to preventable, arrestable and largely reversible chronic diseases, we

face the shortest survival and highest mortality rates from nearly every major chronic illness. As we work to create wellbeing and generational prosperity, it’s imperative that we approach both health and wealth with equal urgency.

Is it my DNA?

Encouraged by the discovery of findings that underscore that our wellbeing is influenced by more than our genetics, esteemed publications and institutions such as the Lancet, World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have presented thousands of peer reviewed findings, that redirect one’s attention from a presumed fate by DNA to an empowered state by choice of plate and the power of a whole food, plantbased (WFPB) lifestyle.

We lead the way

While veganism’s image often appears to reside in a predominantly white space, the plant-based ecosystem is brimming with Black, Brown and female voices that resound loudly and proudly. From Angela Davis, Dr. Amie Breeze Harper and Tracye McQuirter to Aph and Syl Ko, Babette Davis and Genesis Butler, African Americans are by far, the fasting growing segment of the movement; representing 8% of African Americans (3.2 million nationwide) compared to only 3% of Americans overall.

Enter Black veganism

While mainstream veganism traditionally aligns with animal ethics, it often overlooks our desire for the movement to confront injustices levied against Black and Brown bodies. This longstanding omission, noted by Breeze Harper, as “the overwhelmingly white U.S. vegan movement assumes racial

dialogue is unrelated to its goals,” created a space for the birth of Black veganism.

Coined by sisters Aph and Syl Ko, the movement focuses on liberation through equity and ethics as well as a social, cultural and environmental lens unique to the Black and Brown experience.

Where do I start?

Whether beginning with a certified WFPB transition coach like me or finding free kickstart programs that incorporate meal plans and empowerment through evidencebased re-education is the best path for long term success. Below are a few free resources:

• Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and


If generational wealth is our north star, the adoption of a whole food, plant-based vegan lifestyle should serve as the stardust that illuminates the way. By removing systemic barriers to health and food justice equity and dismantling systems that perpetuate economic inequality, we forge a bright path for health and wealth sovereignty for generation and generation to follow.

5 Instagram pages to follow for health wealth

• @sweetpotatosoul

• @byanygreens

• @turnipvegan

• @shinewithplants

• @torre.washington P

Dawn Hilton-Williams, AKA the Vegucator, is a whole food, plantbased certified (WFPB) nutrition professional, clinically endorsed, award-winning vegan chef, cookbook author, speaker, wellness equity activist and founder.

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Scan the QR code to view the recipe for succulent “Best Krabby Cakes” by award-winning vegan chef, author and speaker, Dawn Hilton-Williams.

Assessing the State of Black Women Leadership

Vice President of Student Affairs at Lincoln University of Missouri, Dr. Antoinette Candia-Bailey, took her own life on January 8, 2024, after being terminated.

In a letter to Lincoln University’s President John Moseley, Candia-Bailey cited months of “harassment, bullying and differential treatment from her white colleagues while working under Moseley and his administrative leadership,” according to ABC News.

Candia-Bailey’s story of devaluation as an executive comes as the presence of Black women in C-suites remains scarce. A 2022 study by leadership advisory firm Heidrick & Struggles found that the number of both women and racially and ethnically diverse CEOs among the Fortune 100 is 1 in 4.

In Charlotte, Black women appear to have a seat at the executive table in nearly every industry. Take Dr. Crystal Hill, who was elected as the first Black woman superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2023, or Kimberly Moore-Wright,


who was appointed chief human resources officer of Truist in 2019.

And when the city elected its first African American woman Mayor, Vi Lyles, in 2017, it appeared that Black women’s assimilation into leadership roles in the Queen City was finally happening.

However, across the country, there is a consensus that the state of Black female

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Ella Scarborough was the first Black woman elected to the Charlotte City Council in 1987, representing District 3.

leadership is under attack. In a survey of 32 Black women presidents, CEOs, and executive directors completed by the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, nearly 70% of respondents agreed that Black women’s leadership has been considerably under attack in recent years.

Black women leaders are exiting their roles as a result, with many citing “a

March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 15

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Meet Magda Esola

2024 President-elect

Magda came to the states from Nicaragua with nothing but an American dream. At age 18, she started in real estate and had to quickly adapt to a new country, new language, and new occupation. In 2007, she moved to Concord, where she has consistently been a top producer and recipient of numerous awards.

She believes in always putting relationships first over transactions. Her goal is “to change the narrative of the industry – for people to know that we care and we don’t do this just for the money; we do it because we want to change people’s lives.”

Holding broker’s licenses in North Carolina, South Carolina, and New Jersey, Magda sells residential real estate (new construction only) and is a seller’s exclusive agent. Magda loves experiencing Charlotte’s museums, libraries, concerts, and wonderful restaurants. She is past president of the National Associations of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals – Charlotte; NC Realtors® Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) past chair; and has served on the Association’s Board of Directors.

Canopy Realtor® Association | Canopy MLS

Canopy Housing Foundation


3435 Performance Rd, Charlotte, NC, 28214

“As a Black woman, we have to work twice as hard and twice as long to get to the same positions that white men or white women have.”

lack of financial support and resources, unnecessary roadblocks that prevent these executives from having a meaningful impact, and more importantly, an overwhelming cultural exhaustion that has plagued Black leaders,” according to a 2023 article in “Variety” by Clayton Davis. Many of the women in these roles also served in diversity, equity and inclusion departments.

Another factor in the mass exodus of Black female leaders is the impact of the workplace on health. In a recent Washington Area Women’s Foundation report, nearly 90% of the Black women leader respondents expressed that their occupations have had detrimental effects on their health and well-being, resulting in chronic stress, fatigue, elevated blood pressure and impacts on mental health.

Like Candia-Bailey, the struggle also comes from Black women being told their opinions in the boardroom do not matter. A public relations professional for a Charlotte nonprofit said she often felt silenced in her line of work.

“I have found myself in many rooms where my boss is taking credit for my ideas where people have spoken over me. Where I’ve been told, quite literally, my opinion didn’t matter here. If I internalized that, I wouldn’t have been able to make the progress that I’ve made so far,” she said.

Moreover, the state of Black women in leadership remains tied to the idea that Black women are treated fundamentally worse than their counterparts in the workplace. Another public relations professional working in Charlotte described her experience.

She said, “As a Black woman, we have to work twice as hard and twice as long to get to the same positions that white men or white women have… being in Charlotte, I see that there are a lot more Black leaders here and Black women leaders. So things are changing, but in different parts of the country and even different parts of this state, you’re still going to find that being a woman and being a woman of color … you know, you’re going to struggle to achieve the same level of success as any white person.” P

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Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Robyn Hamilton serves as the President & CEO of the Urban League of Central Carolinas. The Urban League is North Carolina’s oldest civil rights organization. She is a seasoned leader who has built deep trust in many communities across the United States and led impactful work that Charlotte is still benefitting from. A mission-driven leader, her passion for people, strengthening communities and improving lives was a winning combination to lead the North Carolina DHHS, Healthy Opportunities Pilot on behalf of Dogwood Health Trust. At Novant Health she was Director of Community Engagement, for the regional not-for-profit integrated health system. She served on the leadership team as the Senior Advisor of Diversity, Business Relations and Procurement for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She was responsible for achieving the unprecedented 41% diversity spend with a political convention. During her tenure as the CEO of Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council, Robyn authored and established the Charlotte Minority Economic Development Initiative for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in 2011, which generated over $52 million in

contracts and created 469 jobs by minority owned firms. Many remember the work Robyn did with Charlotte’s African American leaders with Access Charlotte, a mentoring program for African American emerging executives. She holds an MBA from Queens University and a B.A. in human resource management from Saint Leo College. She honorably served our country in the United States Army as a Military Intelligence Analyst and in the U.S. Air Force as a Social Actions Specialist.

(704) 373-2256

740 W 5th St, Charlotte, NC 28202

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Tiffany Sears, the dedicated Founder/CEO and Broker in Charge of The Sears Group, LLC, is not only a real estate maven but also a true community champion. Born and raised in Charlotte, Tiffany has deep roots in the community and a passion for enhancing her city through her work and active involvement in charitable causes.

Tiffany’s journey into real estate began with a unique twist, coming from a background in education and non-profit leadership. She brings a wealth of knowledge and a commitment to helping her clients not only find their dream home, but also has a keen focus on explaining the entire home buying or selling process. Tiffany’s real estate specialties include new construction, luxury homes, and assisting relocating clients. Her mission extends beyond real estate transactions; it’s about building lasting relationships and fostering a sense of community.

What sets Tiffany apart is her unwavering dedication to making a positive impact. She actively engages in community work through her church and provides valuable support to several local charities. Her tireless efforts to uplift the lives of those facing challenges make her not just a real estate expert but also a compassionate leader in Charlotte’s community.

Celebrating 30 years of marriage this year with her loving husband Marc, Tiffany cherishes her four wonderful children and an absolutely fantastic grandson, while continuing to create a brighter future for her community. 704-565-9748
Photo Credit: Carlton Talley Photography

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Meet Charisma Southerland 2024 President

Originally from Chicago, Charisma fell in love with Charlotte after attending Johnson C. Smith University and UNC Charlotte. After graduating, she made Charlotte her home. Seeing the city grow, compelled her into real estate, where she has been a Realtor®/broker in both North and South Carolina for more than 20 years. As president, she works closely with the Executive Committee, helping to strategically guide initiatives. Since 2006, she has served the Association in a number of capacities, as well as NC Realtors® Board of Directors; and National Association of Realtors® Board of Directors.

Prior to real estate, she worked in the banking industry as a business analyst and project manager. She is also a licensed general contractor in North Carolina and holds certification as an Executive Life Coach. She is a member and mentor with the Minority Supplier Development Council and actively volunteers for Canopy Housing Foundation and Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She is a board member at New Life Fellowship church.

Canopy Realtor® Association | Canopy MLS

Canopy Housing Foundation


233 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28202

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Meet Caitlin James Vice President, Donor Relations

Foundation For The Carolinas is our region’s go-to resource for philanthropy, and Caitlin James and the FFTC Donor Relations team are one key reason.

Thousands of generous people and companies partner with FFTC to amplify the impact of their charitable giving, and to make supporting the causes they value easier and more effective.

Caitlin leads a team of local experts who are deeply committed to ensuring each of the Foundation’s fundholders – including nonprofits with endowment funds managed by FFTC – receive the best experience possible. When a client has a need, Caitlin and her team are there to meet it with prompt, personalized service.

Before joining FFTC, Caitlin was the director of annual giving at Davidson College, her alma mater. She currently serves as chair of the Davidson Farmers Market Board of Directors and is passionate about giving back to her community personally and professionally.


200 North Tryon St. Charlotte, N.C. 28202

March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 19

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Meet LaToya Evans Founding Principal & Chief Communications Officer

LaToya Evans is the founder and CEO of the LEPR Agency, one of the country’s largest, black-owned independent firms.

Founded in 2017, the LEPR Agency has represented and worked with corporations, non-profits, politicians, campaigns and celebrities including Twitter, Jim Beam, Dentsply Sirona,, Coca Cola, Mayor Vi Lyles, the Biden Harris Campaign and Attorney Ben Crump and the family of George Floyd. Known as an expert and counselor in communications, in 2021, Evans was inducted in the PRWeek Women’s Hall of Fame for her achievements in the field alongside Judy Smith, the inspiration for ABC’s Scandal. She has shared her advice on crisis communications in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Business Insider.

Evans began her career as a journalist for publications such as Glamour and People Magazines before becoming a strategic communications leader and spokesperson for some of the world’s most notable brands including Walmart, Bank of America, IBM, Philips, and Compass Group. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has previously been honored as one of Charlotte’s 50 Most Influential Women (2017); Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 (2018) and Charlotte Business Journal’s Top Women in Business (2021). She holds a M.A. organizational leadership with a concentration in crisis communications from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY and a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The LEPR Agency L

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Meet Toya Bailey Community Engagement Lead

As Community Engagement Lead, Toya Bailey is an active player in the success of Truliant Federal Credit Union’s community initiatives. She has worked in the financial services industry for more than twenty years. Education is a key part of her role. Through the industry’s top trade group, Toya is a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor, indicating she has the knowledge required help guide our members to sound financial decisions. She impacts hundreds of individuals each year by teaching financial literacy workshops, and plays a vital role in increasing awareness of Truliant in the Charlotte region by representing the credit union at events and through networking to foster connection.

Furthermore, outside of work, Toya is actively engaged in the Charlotte community. She demonstrates her dedication by mentoring college students in the Ruth G. Shaw Women Leadership Program at Central Piedmont Community College, as a Board Member for The Academy of Goal Achievers and Pretty Ponytails, and through volunteering.

She is a past member on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee (CRC), a subcommittee of the city council.

She has demonstrated her commitment to Truliant and its employees by serving on the Employee Engagement Team and the Truliant Diversity Council. Through these groups, she makes sure employees are heard and celebrated. She enjoys shopping, singing karaoke, and supporting church ministries, by serving as Director of Fellowship. Toya holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Integrated Strategic Communications from the University of Kentucky.


579-2927 (704)
Federal Credit Union

Women Leaders Shaping Charlotte

Sabrina ‘Ms. IMPACT’ Mack is a driving force in Charlotte, dedicated to empowering women and shaping the city into a more inclusive environment. As the founder of Sabrina Mack & Co.’s IMPACT University, she has profoundly impacted countless lives in the Charlotte area. Although not a native of Charlotte, Sabrina has made the city her home and is passionate about creating positive change. Through IMPACT U., she has established mentorship programs, career development workshops, and networking opportunities, allowing women to connect, learn, and grow together.

Beyond her non-profit work, Sabrina is the owner of a Mental Health Agencies in Charlotte and Houston, TX where she has been actively involved in initiatives focused on social issues and advocating for equality. She has been a vocal advocate for affordable housing, healthcare access, and education, recognizing the impact on women in particular.

Sabrina’s influence extends to the local business community, where she has inspired and supported numerous women entrepreneurs, helping them navigate the challenges of starting and growing their own businesses.

As a visionary leader, Sabrina Mack continues to shape Charlotte into a more inclusive and empowering city for women. Her dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to positive change make her a true inspiration.

Sabrina’s efforts are not only shaping the present but also laying the foundation for a more equitable and prosperous future for women in Charlotte.

Sabrina Mack & Co.

Johnson C. Smith University President Dr. Valerie Kinloch Returns to Her Roots

Home is the place you return to after an absence. It’s where you start your journey. Of course, there’s no place like home, and home is where the heart is.

For Dr. Valerie Kinloch, a Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) class of 1996 alumna, returning home as the University’s 15th President, her return to the school last summer was a “true honor.” Kinloch, who had also been a member of JCSU’s Board of Trustees, began her tenure on a listening tour to better identify challenges and opportunities.

Among the challenges facing JCSU, nearly 70% of the HBCU’s current student population faces significant financial

hardships, leaving graduation as an uncertainty. The nationwide outlook for prospective college students’ ability to pay for college is not much better. Nonetheless, Kinloch is optimistic and is steadfast in her goal to graduate scores of “global citizens” and create a pipeline to opportunity at JCSU.

“We must implement strategies to assist students with financial hardships, as financial hardships contribute to low enrollment and retention rates,” Kinloch said. “As I look ahead and reflect on this ‘New Era of Excellence,’ I want to position JCSU as a university that cultivates students who are global citizens to stand on the legacy of those who came before them.”

Her strategy for cultivating a crop of students ready to run the world? A $50 for 50 Campaign.

In January, Kinloch celebrated her 50th birthday and used the occasion to kickstart the fundraiser. She set a goal of raising at least $50,000 for the President’s Gap Scholarship Fund that would help students who want to call JCSU home for four years, but don’t have the financial means.

Kinloch has had success with raising money and surpassing fundraising goals. Prior to returning to JCSU, she served as Dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, where she oversaw 300 faculty and staff and nearly 1,000 students. She has led academic

March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 23

transformation and overseen more than $9 million in capital projects and renovations.

Her career in academia spans positions as Associate Dean and Professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and as a faculty member at Teachers College-Columbia University in New York City and at the University of Houston Downtown.

Leading as a woman

As President, Kinloch is charged with creating alignment among faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners with JCSU’s Gold(en) Blueprint strategic plan for learning and growth.

Even though the bulk of her time is spent creating opportunities for others, she is cognizant of the real challenges facing women leaders — especially Black, female leaders like herself. She’s led conversations, authored books and studied the writings of women leaders of the past, seeking to understand issues of equity and parity for women. Her research focuses on the literacies of Black people in urban and rural contexts and examines equitable forms of teaching, leading and learning.

“Yes, I am a Black woman and I lead from a Black, feminist perspective,” Kinloch said unequivocally. “I firmly believe that a problem is an opportunity in disguise. It takes a number of differing opinions and critical listening skills to come up with a solution that works best for the collective,” she said.

Numerous surveys and studies have concluded that there are still significant barriers to equity and parity in the workplace for Black women leaders. As a collective of humans, Kinloch suggests we “honestly address and seek to overcome barriers that still exist for Black women in leadership roles.”

She continued, “A number of expectations are put on women because we are women and because there are still some


Above: Dr. Valerie Kinloch

Below: Dr. Valerie Kinloch and philosopher, activist and Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Cornel West

people who do not believe — or don’t want to believe — that we are brilliant human beings who know how to lead,” said Kinloch.

As a result, she said women, and in particular, Black women, can be subject to micro- and macro-aggressions and have their ability to lead scrutinized

more closely than their white female or male counterparts.

“I think the key to eradicating these barriers in the workplace is to recognize the significance of critical equity and diversity work by all of us,” she said. “As Audre Lorde writes, ‘It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.’ If we would take the life experiences of our leaders into consideration and listen to them, believe them and follow them then Black women and Black women leaders would be more protected than we are now,” Kinloch explained.

Grounded by experience

With numerous accolades and accomplishments to her credit, Kinloch remains humbled by her early beginnings where she was raised by working class parents. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Literature from JCSU then pursued a master’s degree in English/African American Literature and a Doctorate in English, both from Wayne State University in Detroit. A firstgeneration college student, Kinloch carries that experience like fuel to give back to the school that brought her home to her academic roots and closer to her family in Charleston, South Carolina.

When she’s not on campus, Kinloch, a Lifetime Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., spends her free time swimming, hiking and reading. She’s fond of spoken word and “found” poetry. Not so much a poet in the purest sense of the literary genre, Kinloch describes herself as “a literacy and equity scholar and writer with strong poetic tendencies.”

She said, “I guess I am a poet because I love to reframe complicated ideas into prose and poems that grab at heartstrings,” Kinloch said. “I have found myself doing that in a few of my speeches here at JCSU.” P

Top Left: Miss Johnson C. Smith University of 2023, Aliyah Thompson, and Valerie Kinloch Right: Valerie Kinloch addresses campus constituents and community members at the inaugural JCSU Lyceum Engagement Series.
24 Pride Magazine |

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Q&A with Cathy Bessant

President and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas

Pride Magazine publisher Dee Dixon asked Cathy Bessant, president and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas some pointed questions about what it’s like to lead such a powerful philanthropic nonprofit community foundation that serves multiple counties in North and South Carolina.

Dee Dixon: Without question, Cathy, you have had an unusually long and varied career path to the top. Please share a bit with us about your life growing up — your family dynamic, your very first job, your high school or college experience. Did any one factor or person serve to help mold you into becoming a high-achieving go-getter?

Cathy Bessant: I hope it hasn’t been “unusually” long! I’m the oldest of four children — we lived in a 900-square-foot home, all six of us, with one bathroom, no shower – so from an early age, I was a go-getter. I was raised in a family of go-getters, so I’ve naturally been an overachiever.

Fortunately, I had a high school homeroom teacher who expanded the universe of colleges I should consider. That’s how I ended up at the University of Michigan. I’ve always said, U of M was my pathway. It’s how a girl from Jackson, Michigan, gets to have a favorite restaurant in Hong Kong — education, education, education.

My first job was at McDonald’s. I loved it. I think about it every day. My McDonald’s store had a motto: If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. It’s really influenced how I think about efficiency and multi-tasking.

DD: Even though women seem to be valued in the workforce for their dedication, authenticity and ability to produce and collaborate, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. Furthermore, and generally speaking, only about 4.4% of Black women are in management and a much smaller percentage hold C-suite positions. Is there a problem?

CB: The challenges of representation of women at senior levels are real and significant. The hard work of many smart people over a wide range of sectors has not yet produced the type of representation of women, and especially of Black and Latino women, that you would expect.

The challenge, from my perspective, is how do we make all that great work and great intention produce actual results? And what barriers exist that cause women to go down a different path?

I’m very unusual. Of my eight closest friends from college, I’m one of two that is still in the traditional workforce. And these are women with higher level degrees than mine and more education! Here you have eight very bright women, and only two are in the workforce. Why is that? That’s the question we must answer.

DD: A recent article in Diversity

Woman’s Elite 100 states that despite the importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, Fortune 100 companies continue to lack diversity. With this in mind, and considering the revocation of affirmative action, what’s it going to take for women and women of color to move forward in the workplace? Is the importance of DEI dead, dying or taking a nap?

CB: Yes, the importance of DEI is very much alive. Successful leaders and successful institutions know it and recognize it. It’s very important that women, and especially women of color, see people like them in leadership roles.

With that said, the focus on Fortune 100 companies is a bit of a red herring. If you look at how students are coming out

26 Pride Magazine |
Cathy Bessant and Pride Magazine publisher, Dee Dixon

of college, they aren’t going into the classic Fortune 100 jobs. They have degrees in entrepreneurship or they’re going into consulting jobs or startups, positions that are harder to track.

I think the concept is very much alive, but it’s very hard to measure the progress of women and women of color in what we of previous generations might call the “traditional workplace,” because that’s going away.

DD: Please share how your career path evolved. Did you have a mentor? A sponsor? Was a door opened for you? In simple terms, how did you get on the fast track and how did you manage to stay there?

CB: My career path evolved with two fundamentals: 1. Hard work. There’s no substitute for performance at the task at hand.

2. An openness to try new roles and new responsibilities. Some of my moves were up, some sideways – a few times, hierarchically down, by choice. But I got on the fast track by being open to new and unusual assignments, and by performing without question.

I don’t believe in a single mentor. The strategy I use is a composite mentor — what traits of this leader do I think are authentic and relate to me? Which ones do I not want to emulate? I take the very best of the leaders I see and avoid any derailing behaviors from those same leaders.

DD: Your journey may read to some like a fairy tale. Can we get real for a moment? Please share some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman leader? What do you consider to have

been your greatest challenge? Have you ever failed at anything you can talk about? If so, how did you handle it?

CB: If it reads like a fairy tale, you haven’t met me, because I’m 100 percent real. How it reads and the reality of it are two different things.

Women leaders can be misinterpreted. We can be pigeonholed into “soft” roles. To me, it’s the classic stereotype of how a male boss is seen as “exacting” and a female boss is seen as “demanding.” We get a gender target in the way we are described. But I always tried to leverage the fact that, many times, I was the first or only woman to ever do something. And I always made it clear that I was the first but not the last.

What I often find about challenges is that you don’t really know that something is your greatest challenge until you take it on. I’ve always been someone who sought out challenges – I moved to France without a language skill; I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with little experience; I went to Cuba on a photography trip and didn’t know how to work a camera. There are hundreds of other examples throughout my career and life.

I love a challenge. It’s why I took this position at Foundation For The Carolinas — to take on the next big challenge.

DD: What has been your greatest success and why?

CB: I always say my greatest success is the next one — and there better be some.

DD: I most recently had to dust off my “Who Moved My Cheese” motivational

book. Do you have a particular “go-to” book that gives you a lift when needed?

CB: I don’t know if I have a go-to book for a lift – books give me ideas but not a lift. My family gives me the biggest lift, more than any book. I also turn to music for motivation. I love any song that deals with surviving or overcoming. It’s very motivating.

DD: Foundation For The Carolinas has become an undeniable philanthropic force in the Charlotte community. In fact, there is a statement on your website that says, “We are your community foundation.” What new perspective, if any, do you plan to bring to the table regarding “community,” as the new leader of this organization?

CB: The overarching perspective I have is that the Foundation has been incredibly successful. Yet, we know that what it takes to be successful in the next 10-15 years is not the same as what brought us to this moment. So, where is the consistent reinvention and culture of growth and innovation coming from? How do we build on the great strengths of this organization to be set for the future?

Foundation For The Carolinas — because of its size and leadership — can shape the world of philanthropy. The question driving my work at the Foundation is, How do we take that on?

DD: What advice would you give women in Charlotte who are currently in leadership roles?

CB: There’s no substitute for performance. Perform like crazy. There’s nothing more contagious than performance. I’d also tell them not to underestimate the power of empathy – whether you’re trying to understand your workforce or trying to negotiate a deal.

DD: Cathy, the fact that you reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro absolutely blows my mind! I am fascinated with books such as “Into Thin Air.” What was this experience like and how did it impact your life?

CB: It blows my mind, too! The experience was physically and mentally challenging. Of the two, I’d say the mental challenge was the greatest — and I’m not used to that. I’m used to my mental strength making up for my physical. I’m used to “out-braining” anything. One impact the experience had on me is that I’m rarely in a room where someone else has done what I’ve done. The quiet feeling of confidence that comes from that knowledge has been very helpful to me. P

Cathy summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — Africa’s tallest mountain and the largest freestanding mountain rise in the world!
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 27
Cathy Bessant, President and CEO of Foundation For The Carolinas

CEO Tchernavia Montgomery Uses Life Lessons to Lead Care Ring

Teenage parents often face challenges such as poverty, immaturity and a lack of educational opportunities, which can be overwhelming and may sometimes seem insurmountable. But Tchernavia Montgomery, a former teenage mom who is now the chief executive officer of Care Ring, overcame those obstacles.

“My joy and determination had to be louder than my trauma and the statistics,” she said.

Montgomery had her son when she was 15. “My first attempts to rebel against and challenge the system began early, as many would believe I was set up to fail,” said Montgomery. “Two weeks after giving birth to my son in 1996, I was forced to return to school to avoid expulsion. I waited tables throughout high school to earn income for my basic needs.”

Montgomery had a non-traditional college education experience. She quickly realized that reaching her educational goals would require more than her intellect; it would also demand patience.

Montgomery enrolled in one or two classes a semester over 10 years, all while working one or sometimes two jobs. After completing her associate degree at Central Piedmont Community College, she transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she majored in social work, a subject Montgomery had become quite acquainted with.

“I’ve been a member of one of many under-resourced populations in my lifetime,” she said. “And I’ve benefited from nearly every human service available: food stamps, Medicaid, low-income housing, childcare subsidy and case management.”

It was this tenacity that propelled her. Believing education would take her far, the Mobile, Alabama, native sought solace in higher education. At 18, and a single parent,

“I’ve been a member of one of many underresourced populations in my lifetime, and I’ve benefited from nearly every human service available: food stamps, Medicaid, low-income housing, childcare subsidy and case management.”
—Tchernavia Montgomery

Pregnant at 14, Montgomery enrolled in a state-sponsored support program for teen mothers. This program partnered her with a social worker and a mentor that changed the trajectory of her life forever. “Through them, I was given the gift of hope,” she said.

Montgomery said she wanted to create a path to allow others to

Care Ring CEO Tchernavia Montgomery
28 Pride Magazine |


Born enslaved, author, educator and sociologist, Anna Julia Cooper, earned a masters degree in math from Oberlin College in1887 and a PhD from the Sorbonne, University of Paris. Her 1892 book, “A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South,” championed women’s rights.

experience hope. In 2008, Montgomery completed her bachelor’s degree in social work. She returned to UNCC and earned a graduate degree in social work and eventually became a licensed clinical social worker.

Montgomery used her education and experience in social work to help others

out of situations and experiences she knew quite well. Her previous roles as the director of behavioral health and leader at the Performance Excellence Center at Atrium Health, and chief program officer at Crisis Assistance Ministry are evidence. She said, “I am proud to be a part of a profession that returns hope, dignity and respect to others.”

Montgomery was named the executive director of Care Ring in

2021 and brought 17 years of health and human services experience to the role. The organization, established in 1955, provides health services for the uninsured, underinsured or those lacking access to affordable, highquality preventive health care. Care Ring serves more than 7,600 people in Mecklenburg County each year and is a leader in collaborative efforts to improve community health.

Montgomery is the first woman of color to hold the Care Ring executive role. Life in some nonprofit spaces can come with its challenges, especially for people of color. Although some have reached pinnacles of power in nonprofit spaces that were once unimaginable, still less than 5% of nonprofit CEOs/executive directors are Black. Nonprofits led by Black women historically also draw less funding in comparison to those led by people of other ethnicities.

“As a Black woman, throughout my career, I’ve not only had my professional experience questioned, but my authority challenged,” Montgomery explained. “I’ve been the “only one in the room” on more occasions than I can count.”

No matter the situation, Montgomery has not only remained resilient but has continued to thrive. When the Care Ring Board of Directors selected Montgomery to lead their organization, Montgomery said, “They accepted me today for who I am and how I choose to lead.”

One word she uses to describe her leadership style is “agile.” She said, “I aspire to remain agile to the evolving needs of my team and community.”

She added, “Whether it be the services I received as a teen or the many safety-net programs I utilized as a young adult, social work and other helping professions are the threads that make up the fabric of who I am as an individual and a professional.” P

Montgomery is the first woman of color to hold the Care Ring executive role.
Tchernavia Montgomery and her son Tchernavia Montgomery and her son
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 29

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CMS Athletic Director Ericia Turner’s Game Plan for Success

Ericia Turner became the first Black woman to be named executive director of athletics for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in August 2021, following the retirement of Sue Doran It isn’t a position she sought out, but ultimately, she wanted to utilize her passion for sports and education to “enhance athletic programs and provide opportunities for student athletes to excel both on and off the field.”

“When the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it. Great opportunities are not always easy to come by. I believe that when you have one in front of you, seize it with enthusiasm, determination, and a willingness to learn and grow,” she said.

The significance of her history-making role isn’t lost on Turner, and she views the opportunity as an avenue for opening doors for others

“Being the first and only Black woman to hold any position is a significant achievement and a source of inspiration to others. It represents breaking barriers and challenging societal norms and expectations. In addition, it carries a sense of responsibility,” Turner said. “It means being a role model and advocate for diversity and inclusion. It means using your platform to amplify marginalized voices and promote equal opportunities for all. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to bring about positive change and influence policies and practices.”

The Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, native has experienced her own share of learning and growing along a journey fraught with change. Being both Black and female, she said, meant that she had to navigate additional barriers related to gender inequality and racial discrimination simultaneously.

“Black women have historically been underrepresented in leadership positions within athletic administration. This limits opportunities for advancement and influence within the field,” she said. “Personally, early in my career, I dealt with a pay and compensation disparity. This ultimately had to be settled in court….in my favor!”

Turner spent a total of 10 years in the classroom in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

(CMS) systems, including Independence and Mallard Creek high schools. She taught health and physical education and coaching before she transitioned into school administration in 2009, serving as an assistant principal/athletic director at Newton-Conover High School.

In 2012, she became the first director of athletics for the Alamance-Burlington School System. Due to family concerns, she moved back home and became an administrator in the Iredell-Statesville School System where she served as assistant principal at Statesville High School and then principal at Statesville Middle School from 2014-2016. She returned to CMS as principal at Rocky River High School from 2016-2021 and was named Principal of the Year in 2020.

“Balancing work responsibilities with personal and family commitments was a challenge for me,” she said. “I’m a single mom with two children. The demanding nature of education and athletics coupled with societal expectations created additional pressures for me.”

Adding to her difficulties, Turner lost her 5-month-old son to sudden infant death syndrome while at daycare in May 2000. It was a traumatic experience that changed the trajectory of her personal and professional life — a journey up through the ranks of the field of athletics that began at an early age.

Turner was introduced to sports — cheerleading first, then basketball and softball — when she was 5 years old. A fan of football as well, she grew up as a Dallas

Executive Director of Athletics, CharlotteMecklenburg Schools, Ericia Turner The 2023 CMS and Carolina Panthers Flag Football Kickoff Jamboree. The Carolina Panthers presented Ericia Turner with a helmet signed by all of the girls who participated in flag football.
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 31
Photos courtesy of Ericia Turner
“Your presence can serve as a representation of diversity and inclusion, and you have the opportunity to contribute valuable insights and perspectives to the conversation.”

Cowboys fan. As a 6-foot-tall freshman, she played basketball at Bandys High School in Catawba, winning two consecutive state championships as a center on the team.

She would go on to play for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (her favorite college team) on a basketball scholarship before transferring to North Carolina A&T State University where she earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education. After graduation, she began her first teaching job at Parkland High School in Winston Salem, where she coached the girls’ basketball team as well.

While there, she was also tapped by the Parkland football coach to work as the wide receivers coach for the football team for a year. She later earned an Ed.S. in education administration from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An elite athlete herself, participating in sports taught Turner more than just how to play the game.

Turner said basketball has provided her with many opportunities for personal growth and empowerment. “It has played a crucial role in shaping my identity and selfconfidence. Through playing basketball, I discovered my own strength, resilience, and

—Ericia Turner

determination, which has translated into other aspects of my life,” she said.

“It has also fostered a sense of camaraderie and community. I’ve formed lifelong friendships with teammates and coaches who share my passion. These connections transcend race and background, creating a support system that extends beyond the basketball court.”

Turner’s goals aim to promote the importance of education and overall by: fostering leadership development through

programs and initiatives that encourage and support the development of student athletes; improving athlete welfare by prioritizing the well-being and safety of athletes; implementing strategies that address mental health, physical wellbeing, and overall athlete development and other efforts.

These are some of the same approaches she’s used to overcome the hurdles faced along her own path.

“I intentionally seek out professional organizations and networking groups that specifically support African American women in leadership and athletic administration. I continuously invest in my professional development to enhance my skills and knowledge,” she said.

Turner also actively seeks opportunities for career growth, mentorship, and coaching to further develop her leadership abilities and advises others to “embrace your unique perspective and use it as a source of strength and inspiration.”

“Your presence can serve as a representation of diversity and inclusion, and you have the opportunity to contribute valuable insights and perspectives to the conversation.” This is advice she has clearly followed herself.

“I’ve learned to embrace the value that I bring to the table,” Turner said. “I am no longer trying to prove my worth to people. I believe the more I try to prove my worth, I devalue myself. I believe in myself and my capabilities.” P

Ericia Turner and all-American Athlete, Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick Julius L. Chambers High School 2022 Girls Flag Football (back-to-back) Champions Former West Mecklenburg High School nationally ranked track and field student athlete, Sanu Jallow, who has won accolades as a track and field athlete at the University of Arkansas.
32 Pride Magazine |

Charlotte Couple Creates Ed-Tech Company that Uses AI Instructors

From writing plays and singing in a band to guiding their family and their family business, just about everything Dawn Nicole and DeMario McIlwain touch turns to gold.

“I have a lot of layers. People don’t know that I’m a creative as well as being about business,” Dawn Nicole said. “The same talent I use to create major stage play productions is how I also develop accredited training courses.”

The McIlwain’s latest endeavor has unlocked a treasure chest of possibilities. Founded in 2022, Skilldora is the first online academy to receive global accreditation for courses taught by AI avatar instructors.

Dawn Nicole brings training expertise with a background in agile project management and business development, while DeMario is a coding genius and IT virtuoso. “If I envision it, DeMario can build it,” said Dawn Nicole. Together the couple

sought to use their skills to contribute to the growing interest in online learning that continued beyond the pandemic. She said they wondered — what if they could develop an online course platform where

professionals could get the training they needed to advance in their careers?

Dawn Nicole knew she could teach the experts how to create and implement their course in 30 days. However, professionals were busy and many were hesitant about the time it would take to record the classes and then edit them. The business stalled before it was able to take off, she said.

“That’s when we wondered what would happen if we used digital humans as our instructors,” said Dawn Nicole. “We could program them to teach.” A digital human concept had previously been used by a company called D-ID. After creating the pitch of a lifetime, the couple was able to get an exclusive license with the company for $35,000.

At this point, DeMario and Dawn Nicole were sure Skilldora was all set, but there would be another setback, she said. The couple had spent thousands of dollars and countless hours of their time on infrastructure, licenses and negotiation, however, the general public was still wary of learning by humaninspired avatars, and the education community felt like their niche was being trampled on, said Dawn Nicole.

“You have to keep in mind, we started our efforts in January of 2022. Chat GPT had not been released yet,” she said. But once Chat GPT became available in November of 2022, the world began to understand the power of their product. But they wouldn’t stop there.

“We needed something else. What if we could get our courses accredited?” she asked. They knew accreditation would be appealing to professionals who needed courses sanctioned by their employers for continuing education credits.

Enter The CPD Standards Office, a company based in London. Skilldora would have to undergo a rigorous 6–8week examination into their process and procedures. Dawn Nicole said by January 2023, Skilldora passed and became officially accredited.

“At that moment in January we made history,” she said. “We were the first company in the world to offer accredited courses taught by non-human instructors.” What followed next was a press release, a Wikipedia listing update,

Photos courtesy of Dawn Nicole McIlwain
34 Pride Magazine |
DeMario and Dawn Nicole McIlwain, creators of Skilldora

They didn’t know it yet, but more was on the way and the new discovery would lead Dawn Nicole to her greatest success. By seeking to add supplier readiness training for women and small businesses to the Skilldora platform, Dawn Nicole discovered a research need.

Her desire to connect small business owners to major corporations inspired Wells Fargo to contribute a $25,000 grant to help her work in that area, she said. This led Dawn Nicole to create Queen City Women in Business (QCWIB), a diverse membership- supplier sourcing and development platform that focuses on ways to connect women-owned businesses to major organizations – all industries and trades – faster.

Dawn Nicole said she has found her passion, and QCWIB is where she spends most of her working life now. Demario’s focus remains on Skilldora, and both companies are thriving, she added.

Find out more about Skilldora at, and visit for more information about Queen City Women in Business. P

Dawn Nicole McIlwain (left) and DeMario McIlwain (right) Dawn Nicole and DeMario McIlwain appear on the “Roland Martin Unfiltered” show an interview on the “Roland Martin Unfiltered” show and many other opportunities.
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 35
“I believe that Charlotte can lead and be a national model for what an equitable community looks like, feels like, and truly is. I am committed to working alongside courageous Charlotteans to make this vision a reality.”
—Janeen Bryant, CEO of Community Building Initiative

Community Building Initiative CEO Advocates for More Opportunity, Equity and Justice in Charlotte

Intersectional educator, facilitator, nonprofit leader and fierce advocate for justice, Janeen Bryant, is helping build and advocate for more opportunity, equity and justice through her work as executive director of Community Building Initiative (CBI) in Charlotte. A tireless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion, Bryant has a wealth of experience, spanning more than 20 years, five countries, two degrees, and several areas of expertise that help her lead CBI with diligence, insight and compassion.

Bryant was hired in 2022 after an extensive six-month search succeeding the founding and previous executive director, Dianne English, making her the first Black woman to run the organization.

“CBI’s mission and values align perfectly with mine,” Bryant said. She also said she wants to see a human-centered society in which “we see all individuals as valuable and move closer to our goal of community equity.” She added, “My intention is to both preserve the legacy of CBI, and to guide it onward as it evolves to meet the everchanging needs of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”

Most recently, Bryant served as the founder and principal consultant for Facilitate Movement, LLC., where she and her team specialized in crafting proactive strategies that guide institutions to address

shifting demographics with responsive leadership that strengthen long-term vision, cultural competency and empathy. She was previously a liaison and community catalyst coach for 12 communities in the Southeast through her work with the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative of the Obama Foundation, and she’s also a 2021 Black Voices for Black Justice Award recipient.

Formerly the Vice President of Education at Levine Museum of the New South, Bryant is known for working

and leading in Charlotte around topics including educational equity, lynching in America, LGBTQ perspectives and immigration. In her new role with CBI, she’ll be helping the organization develop deeper relationships with existing partners through new leadership development programs, sharing learning through fellowships targeting underresourced communities, and convening cross-sector partners to address underlying equity issues.

Janeen Bryant (center) at a CBI awards ceremony
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What is the Community Building Initiative?

The Community Building Initiative (CBI) is a nonprofit organization that engages nearly 2,500 people each year through a range of programs designed to equip individuals and organizations with the knowledge, skills and courage to fight bias, remove barriers to opportunity and build a more just and equitable Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

CBI was started in the late nineties, after a police-involved shooting, to address and remediate the multi-layered issues the community was facing surrounding racial equity, police brutality, and economic mobility. Through this, several signature programs were developed like the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) and Leaders Under 40 (LU40) to gather leaders together to discuss leadership capacity, different ways to connect, and how to go about real change-making.

CBI recently celebrated its 25th anniversary where they hosted their inaugural CBI Family Reunion, Community Builder’s Breakfast and Anniversary Bus Tour to engage and reflect on their journey of relationship-building and collaborative growth within the community.

The impact of a new leader

Harnessing her many years of experience in community building and civic dialogue across lines of difference, Bryant is working to build on the foundations created by her predecessors to maximize civic engagement, social change, and community impact throughout the city.

Her focus is on building organizational capacity and creating programs that promote community engagement, inclusive ecosystems, and equitable futures. Dealing with these issues in a city booming with growth and facing lots of changing systems, Bryant plans to actively search out and

create spaces that require diversity of thought, mind, and opinion. Spaces that can only be found when doing the hands-on groundwork and engaging with organizations with values similar to CBI.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Bryant remembers sitting around the dinner table where she and her siblings were encouraged to express their emotions with their mother to teach them ways to advocate for themselves. Being an International Baccalaureate (IB) graduate and studying abroad in different countries while attending Davidson College, Bryant had the opportunity to not only understand the experiences of different cultures, but to also appreciate and celebrate the different facets of cultural connection as the building blocks on which we can build inclusive communities and advocate for equity.

She now gets to present across the country on topics like community building and the role empathy plays in establishing effective leadership to cross-cultural and intersectional audiences.

Overcoming obstacles

Throughout the last century, Mecklenburg County has experienced continuous,

sustainable growth with Charlotte being ranked the 15th most populous and the 7th fastest-growing metro area in the United States. Although the city’s growth has come with lots of opportunities, CBI recognizes the disadvantages, displacement, disproportionate opportunities, and barriers to access that come as the city grows, further perpetuating systemic inequities established by both historical and contemporary power structures.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Bryant said CBI faced challenges around participation. “In collaboration with CBI’s board, team and community, we understood and responded to this by redefining and reframing what it means to be in community in a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, disconnected and polarized. Through programs like the inaugural family reunion, we’ve reconnected CBI’s alumni base back to each other, the mission and the work,” she said.

Now, CBI is shifting its success metrics to include new measurements like trust, compassion for each other, and overall community well-being,” said Bryant “We see this working as we bring compassion and understanding to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

Sustainable steps for the future

Bryant said CBI envisions a future where everyone has the knowledge and power to interrupt the systems causing widespread, nuanced discrimination and eradicate the injustices that many face daily in their pursuit of equal rights, access, equity and opportunity.

She said, “I believe that Charlotte can lead and be a national model for what an equitable community looks like, feels like, and truly is. I am committed to working alongside courageous Charlotteans to make this vision a reality.” P

CBI Community bus tour with the Carolina Youth Coalition Community Building Initiative Family Reunion
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 37
CBI Family Reunion

MARCH 12–26, 2024


Charlotte’s annual celebration of the Queen City’s culinary artistry returns in March 2024. Join restaurants and tastemakers across the city for two weeks of exclusive menus, special limited-time offers and hands-on food and drink experiences.

Explore the full list of participants and make your reservation at: @ charlottesgotalot

C.W. Williams Community Health Center Works to Provide Quality Healthcare for All

The C.W. Williams Community Health Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit federally qualified health center, offers the following services and more: primary care, lab services, dental, behavioral health, covid care, pharmacy, HIV screening and testing, and patient education services.

The C.W. Williams Health Center is not a free clinic, but an affordable health center that offers integrated care in a one-stop shop model. Uninsured patients pay a sliding scale rate, based on their total household income. “We are your medical home,” said the chief executive officer of the center, Debra Weeks. “The center is here to treat people’s whole health,” she said.

The health care providers at C.W. Williams want their patients to prioritize their health and they want to make that goal as easy as possible, Weeks said. In addition to their multiple sites, you may have spotted the center’s bright green and blue medical and dental mobile units servicing Mecklenburg and other surrounding counties.

C.W. Williams offers transportation services for its patients to and from appointments at the center as well as to and from any medical referrals, ensuring coordination of care.

Among their impressive list of service offerings, CWWCHC took telehealth to another level during the height of the covid-19 pandemic with remote patient monitoring, especially for those with hypertension and weight management

issues. They also offer tools that monitor health markers.

Their truly integrated care model includes complementary approaches such as acupuncture, acupressure, massage, cupping and seeding. These are just a few of the services they offer that benefit those seeking pain management or help with anxiety.

The center manages more than 30,000 visits per year, sees 13,500 individual patients, and is actively expanding its capacity.

C.W. Williams was founded in 1981 at 3333 Wilkinson Boulevard. The center is undergoing construction on a new building set to open in the summer of 2024. The center is currently operating out of its other sites to ensure that patient care is seamless. The new, larger building is aesthetically beautiful and environmentally safe. It will allow C.W. Williams caregivers to see a minimum of 50% more patients than they see now.

“Why shouldn’t the people we serve have the best possible place to be served in to receive care, to be mentally free and

Debra Weeks, chief executive officer of the C.W. Williams Community Health Center The new C.W. Williams Community Health Center is scheduled to open this year. Here’s an artist’s rendering of the new center.
40 Pride Magazine |

have their community health center, their space, the most beautiful space just like any other facility, any other hospital, any other medical service?” Weeks asked.

The new building will have a demonstration kitchen and offer nutrition programs to educate people on healthy eating habits and preparing affordable, healthy meals and snacks.

“The building renderings show a thoughtful layout and modern design to accommodate patients and visitors. It’s inclusive of integrated health areas, a dentistry department, a women’s health and pediatrics department will aim to tackle much needed maternal health initiatives, and more,” Weeks said.

“As a federally qualified health center, we cannot provide care to a person with insurance that we don’t also provide to a person that’s uninsured,” she said. “That’s the difference with a federally qualified health center. Everyone gets the same thing across the board and we make it affordable across the board.”

Weeks, a clearly passionate leader, came to C.W. Williams in 2015 with a master’s degree in social work and business administration as well as more than 30 years in leadership roles. “I’ve always been mindful of community, and I get that from my parents,” she said.

“I’m always going to make it my primary concern, agenda, focus — my passion to make sure everybody, even those who cannot afford it can get the same care that you or I would want or

anyone else with insurance would want,” Weeks said.

“We serve everyone. We serve the insured and we serve the uninsured. We serve the underinsured. We serve the rich, we serve the middle class, we serve the poor. But you know what? The focus will always be that you have somewhere to come that’s safe, that cares for you — culturally, sensitively and also will give you quality care. And not one [person] is more favored than the other.”

Weeks expressed pride in the hardworking professionals at C.W.

Williams and their outreach work that includes diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility efforts; linguistic accommodations; an annual health fair; the consistent and thoughtful care provided during the pandemic; and their new Teaching Family Residency Program coming soon.

“I am very proud of all that has been accomplished, but I am more proud of the future of C.W. Williams, where we are going, and how we will continue to provide the services needed for every patient.” P

The C.W. Williams Community Health Center Mobile Medical Unit
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 41
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new C.W. Williams Community Health Center, scheduled to open this year.
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Alice Walker, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, for her novel The Color Purple in 1983, was the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature. She also won the National Book Award, also for The Color Purple, that same year.

Epoch Tribe Honors Black Women with ‘I Am Queen: Charlotte’ Events

Alocal production company, Epoch Tribe, founded by sisters Hannah and Shardae Hasan, has created a theatrical project called “I Am Queen: Charlotte” that explores the stories of Black women in Charlotte.

The events will run from March 2 – 9 at various venues in the city, and the main event will be held at Blumenthal Arts in the Belk Theater on March 3.

Epoch Tribe requested that community members nominate women they thought were creating change in their communities. “The response was overwhelming,” Hasan said. “(From the nominations), we chose a class of 20 queens who represent different stories and spaces in our community. Though they are different, they’re all vital to the overarching story of what Charlotte has been and is becoming.”

Hasan added, “This project is all about … celebrating and honoring the stories and lived experiences of Black women. We explore their journeys, joys, pain and triumphs, and the many ways that Black women prove themselves royal each and every day.”

The project was initially inspired by Queen Charlotte (Sophia Charlotte of

Continued on page 46

Tyler Opportunity Scholarship Recipient
These Charlotte Queens will perform at the “I Am Queen: Charlotte” event at Blumenthal Arts, Belk Theater on March 3 at 7 p.m. Left to right: Erica Ja-Ki, Nyrobi Kheprah, Ericka Ross, Kelsea Eden Granger and Juanita B. Green.
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 43

Complete List of the Spring 2024 Class of Queens

Below, Hannah Hasan gives insight into the 20 women who were nominated and chosen to represent the latest class of queens.

Yvonne Bittle is the only surviving member of the Cherry Community Organization. Mrs. Bittle loves the Cherry community with everything inside of her, and she is prepared to fight for this community as long as she can fight.

Deborah Phillips is a luminary and source of hope and healing for many – rain, sleet, snow or sunshine. She is out with her team daily providing food and nourishment for our neighbors who appreciate it the most.

Rubie Britt-Height is passionate about her community and her people. She holds open doors for those who need it because she learned the power of creating space from her family who has always served as an inspiration for others.

Melody Gross gives of her own story and life experiences to advocate for the safety and wellness of others. She’s passionate about creating safety for Black women who are experiencing intimate partner violence.

Paula Cook: creates a safe space for many students and families who have counted on her love and leadership in and out of school, and she takes education personally.

Tina Marshall serves as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for positive change as she consistently demonstrates her dedication to social and environmental causes with an unwavering commitment to creating safe spaces and a better world for Black women.

Nikki Jones-Bailey is a third-generation Black dentist who serves the community locally and gives of her time and talent internationally to positively impact the oral health of others.

Janaka Lewis is inspired by some of the greatest stories of our time that were written by Black women. She writes and explores, educates and empowers others through her groundbreaking research and writing.

A. Fay Jones understands Charlotte from the inside. She has worked passionately in the spaces that needed someone willing to fight for the people. At home, she has opened her doors for many children who needed a door to walk through.

D’Asia Feaster is a Westside baby who is passionate about growing up on the westside of Charlotte and she’s giving back daily to the side of town that raised her.

Tyyawdi Hands is a mother, judge and community advocate who is justice and community-minded in the many ways that she creates space for others in Charlotte and beyond.

Valeria Washington places sisterhood at the center of all that she does. She is the heart of many groups and organizations that inspire and bring joy to the community around her.

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44 Pride Magazine |
Epoch Tribe founders Hannah Hasan (left) and Shardae Hasan

Felicia Parker is music personified. Greater than a musician, she ministers to others with a spirit of peace, joy and inspiration.

Keva Womble is a corporate powerhouse who uses her power and positioning to advocate for the causes people and projects that she believes in.

Ayisha McMillan Cravotta, with poise and precision, has broken barriers and traveled the world as a ballerina. She’s now creating space for a new generation of dancers.

Bilquis Shareef wears her art and so do many others. Designs that have been on runways and movie screens come from the heart, mind and hands of this Charlotte visionary.

Kim Delaney is creating wealth that will spread from one generation to the next, as entrepreneurship and a do-for-self mentality were ingrained in her from a very young age.

Nakia Savage gives to every space that she enters from the arts to community organizations to nonprofit and corporate spaces — and she leaves those places better than she found them.

Francetta Farrer, a founder and groundbreaker who goes after every vision and goal that she is called to, has created

lasting impact in many spaces for decades in and around Charlotte.

Shante Burke-Hayer is faithful and fearless. She was willing to step up when the community needed her to run for distinct court judge. As one of the youngest to ever do it, she’s a history maker.

March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 45
Charlotte Queens — Front (left to right): Rubie Britt-Height, Felicia Parker; Back (left to right): Melody Gross, Shante Burke-Hayer, Tyyawdi Hands and Kim DeLaney

King George III. Born in 1744, Queen Charlotte was “directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a Black branch of the Portuguese royal house,” according to a 1997 PBS Frontline article. The city of Charlotte is named for this woman monarch, which explains its nickname — the Queen City.

After studying Queen Charlotte and discovering her partial African ancestry, the production company used that connection

to honor Black women’s stories in Charlotte, Hannah said. The first I Am Queen: Charlotte week was held in March 2022.

“We were inspired by the fact that Charlotte is a city that is teeming with powerful, intelligent, purposeful Black women who help make this city run from day to day,” she said. “That story wasn’t being told in theaters and on stage. So, we decided to do it.”

Hannah interviewed the 20 women selected to participate in the week-long events and created a script from some of

their stories that some of the women will perform at the March 3 event.

The stories not performed that night will be shared at more intimate events that happen at various locations during the week following the show, which Epoch Tribe refers to as “Queen Charlotte Week.”

“They are stories of love, loss, heartbreak, joys, career wins, community engagement, and more,” Hannah said.

For more information about this year’s “I Am Queen Charlotte” events, visit P

Charlotte Queens — Front (left to right): Yvonne Streater Bittle, Valeria Washington; Back (left to right): D’Asia Feaster, Janaka Bowman Lewis, Ayisha McMillan Cravotta, Bilquis Sharif and Nakia Savage Front (left to right): Tina Marshall, A. Fay Jones; Back (left to right): Deborah Phillips, Keva Womble and Nikki Jones Bailey Mecklenburg-Strelitz) who was the queen of Great Britain and Ireland as the wife of
46 Pride Magazine |

A List Smiles Orthodontics

Enhancing Smiles and Making an Impact

The owner and practicing orthodontist at A List Smiles Orthodontics in East Charlotte says she and her team always deliver great smiles and quality service, and they also provide a comfortable, welcoming, environment while providing great dental service.

Alyssa Sprowl, a resident of Charlotte since 2017, who is originally from the Atlanta area, began her educational journey at Hampton University where she became interested in dentistry following her older sister’s footsteps. After she was accepted at Meharry Medical College, Sprowl graduated number three in her class. She then traveled to Washington, D.C., where she completed a one-year clinical residency at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center learning and doing more hands-on advanced dental cases.

Continuing to shatter the glass ceiling, Dr. Sprowl applied for an orthodontic residency at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She later moved to Cleveland and treated adults and children.

After moving to Charlotte, Sprowl opened A List Smiles Orthodontics in 2019, making her dreams a reality. Sprowl said she is most happy to serve others through enhancing smiles and being a positive role model. No stranger to the community, Sprowl continues to impact through various partnerships with organizations in the Charlotte area.

“I have made it my mission to serve my community by paying it forward and participating in various community events throughout Charlotte,” she said. Sprowl received the Outstanding Service Award for her dedication to service in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System. She is also active with the Client Rights Committee, Horizons Kids LLC in Charlotte, and mentors young men and women interested in science-related careers in Charlotte.

Sprowl not only continues to explore her love for science through her orthodontic practice — she said she also enjoys the constant change of being a

leader and woman in business. “As a boss, there’s great reward, and heavy leadership and responsibility.”

Sprowl said she faces obstacles every day as an African American woman leader. She operates professionally and does her best to be reasonable and fair, she said. She is a firm believer in pushing the rock

forward — which may be hard but is possible, she added. “There will always be an obstacle, but give it your all.” She also encourages others to follow their dreams and reminds them to remember that hard work pays off and everything will eventually fall into place.

Sprowl has some advice for aspiring orthodontists and entrepreneurs. “You must keep working — aiding the hustle,” she said. “Starting and running a business is hard. Be able to adapt and change. Be understanding and vulnerable. Keep going. You will learn a lot about yourself and people. Don’t think of your kindness as a weakness — use it as a strength.”

A List Smiles strives to provide fun, friendly, and great service every day, said Sprowl. They offer a variety of dental services, including traditional metal braces and Invisalign, Sprowl said. A List Smiles Orthodontics accommodates the busy lifestyles of families and accepts all insurances.

Here’s some advice Sprowl gives to people regarding caring for their teeth: “Remember that water picks are great. Make sure you floss twice a day. And brush your teeth around in circles.” P

Photos courtesy of Dr. Alyssa Sprowl
48 Pride Magazine |
Orthodontist Dr. Alyssa Sprowl, Owner of A List Smiles Orthodontics, located in East Charlotte.

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Housing is expensive for many older adults whose incomes often are fixed or decline over time. In 2021, nearly 11.2 million older adults were cost burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of household income on housing costs, an all-time high and a significant increase from the 9.7 million recorded in 2016.

Senior Affordable Housing Crisis Prevails

Katrina thought she was on the path to a comfortable life. She spent many years working for Coca-Cola and had decent savings after she retired. However, inflation and the rising cost of rent have depleted Katrina’s savings. Waiting five years to receive subsidized senior housing tested her resilience. By the time Katrina moved into the Landing at Park Road, she was this close to moving into a shelter. She had $35 left after paying for rent, utilities, medication and food. Living on such a small amount isn’t feasible in the long run.

At 70, Katrina is part of the baby boomer generation, facing the brunt of an unprecedented affordable housing shortage

and rising wealth inequality in Charlotte. Her experience highlights the harsh realities many seniors are confronting, emphasizing the need for proactive measures.

The current landscape

In its 2023 study, “Housing America’s Older Adults,” the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University warned that the U.S. population of older adults, those at least 65 years old, is increasing at historic rates — up 34% from 43 million in 2012 to 58 million in 2022. “Within the decade, the first baby boomers will turn age 80, accelerating the rate of growth among those in the oldest age groups,” states the report.

As the nation’s population of older adults swells, the demand for affordable housing that can accommodate older

adults’ changing needs also increases, the report continues.

“Housing is expensive for many older adults, whose incomes often are fixed or decline over time. In 2021, nearly 11.2 million older adults were cost burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of household income on housing costs, an alltime high and a significant increase from the 9.7 million recorded in 2016. Likewise, homelessness is rising among older individuals,” according to the report. And according to a 2023 article in, about 113 people are moving into Charlotte each day.

Fulton Meachem, president and CEO of INLIVIAN, a non-profit real estate holding company (formerly the Charlotte Housing Authority), offers this

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Wendy Okolo, who became the first Black woman to earn a PhD in aerospace engineering, earned a doctorate degree in 2015 from the University of Texas at Arlington when she was 26. Okolo is a NASA aerospace engineer in the intelligent systems division.

perspective: “Seniors are in competition with every other segment of the population — young families, the affluent — all looking for affordable housing,” he said.

“The average rent in Charlotte is $1,845 a month. To afford that, you’ll need to make $74,000 a year. Most seniors on Social Security can afford $511 a month. This means there’s more month than money,” Meachem added. “The lack of affordability, coupled with the rising cost of living, has created a perfect storm that jeopardizes the well-being of seniors in the region.”

This escalating shortage of affordable housing for seniors is a national looming crisis. One alarming consequence of the housing crisis is the surge in homelessness among seniors. Forced out of their homes because of financial constraints, many elderly individuals find themselves without a place to live. There’s an urgent need for comprehensive and targeted solutions to ensure that the aging population in Charlotte can age gracefully and with dignity.

Some examples of affordable housing options in Charlotte include:

• Gilfield Park, an 80-unit fully affordable and age-restricted housing community in northwest Charlotte. The community serves seniors over the age of 55, earning below 80 percent of the area median income.

• Renaissance, including The Retreat at Renaissance, was built specifically for seniors, and The Residences at Renaissance has mixed-income family units in West Charlotte.

The looming housing crisis for seniors in Charlotte calls for immediate attention and concerted efforts from all sectors of society.

“Most people think about affordable housing as ‘them’ and not ‘us.’ We need to see ourselves in the people we are talking about. That will move the needle on policy,” said Meachem.

“All of us are going to get older,” he said. “We’re going to be on a fixed income. I hope we have safety nets in place to make sure that all the hard work we’ve done for the first 65 years of our lives allows us to live with dignity for the remaining years.” P

Resources for affordable housing

To apply for affordable housing options, seniors and applicants in other age categories can visit the INLIVIAN application portal.

President and CEO of INLIVIAN, Fulton Meachem The Residences at Renaissance
March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 51 for more information.

After brain surgery for epilepsy, this dad is living without seizures.

Advances in epilepsy surgery have doctors aiming for ‘seizure freedom.’

Donniven Sackiel, 26, wanted to be the strongest dad possible for Donniven Jr., so he needed to confront the epileptic seizures that were affecting him. Sackiel would zone out, drool and bite his tongue uncontrollably during occasional focal seizures, which were characterized by brief episodes of muscle spasms and lost awareness. About a year after graduating from high school, Sackiel experienced his first seizure while he slept. His mom witnessed it. He was later diagnosed with epilepsy, a brain disorder affecting more than 3 million people in the U.S.

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Sackiel with his son, Donniven Jr.

For a while he stocked shelves at Walmart overnight, a shift that ensured no customers would ever witness an episode. But his co-workers did. His toddler son did, too. The stress triggered more seizures, and Sackiel went on work disability and put off college plans.

“I had all these opportunities ahead of me,” Sackiel said. “And I’m thinking, ‘My life is over.’”

Doctors’ goal:

‘Make a big impact’

Many seizure types are associated with epilepsy. A stroke or traumatic brain injury can cause them, though for about half of people affected, epilepsy causes are unknown.

Because anti-seizure medications failed to control Sackiel’s episodes, his doctors explained that surgery, combined with the right medicine, could eliminate future seizures.

Brain surgery does not guarantee an end to seizures. But it is effective in about 70% of people with treatment-resistant epilepsy, according to the American Academy of Neurology. Because the medicine alone wasn’t working, Sackiel was an ideal candidate for surgery, said Dr. Neil Patel, director of epilepsy of the greater Novant Health Charlotte region. He treats patients at Novant Health Neurology & Sleep - Midtown

“As we slowly realize the limitations of modern pills, it’s opening the door to further options in treatment via surgery,” Patel said. “The goal is to make a big impact on patients’ lives who are on five or six meds and still not achieving seizure freedom.”

Sackiel was inspired after meeting with Patel and surgeon Dr. Charles Munyon, of Novant Health Brain & Spine Surgery - Cotswold

“They are two great people,” Sackiel said. “They told me the negatives and the positives of surgery, and that’s what made me decide to really want to do it. I truly had to believe in myself, though.”

Advancements in surgery

Munyon performed stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) electrode implantation on Sackiel. In the procedure, the surgeon drills tiny holes into the skull and implants electrodes in the brain. The electrodes map the precise spread of Sackiel’s seizures without damaging other functions of the brain.

This “minimally invasive” approach has advanced over the last 20 years, Munyon

said. Decades ago, doctors had to remove a piece of the skull to implant electrodes to map seizures.

Sackiel was able to leave the hospital the day after surgery and hasn’t experienced a seizure since.

No cure, but control

While there is no cure for epilepsy, the right combination of medicine and surgery can succeed in reducing or ending seizures.

Following surgery, patients are weaned off their seizure medication and monitored.

“Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of thing where we do the surgery and then say, ‘OK, you’re cured,’” Munyon said. “It’s much more a question of long-term follow-up.”

Two years after surgery, Sackiel is seizurefree and down from multiple anti-seizure pills to a single prescription. He remains on disability because of the medication but is able to drive and live without the anxiety that accompanied years of seizures.

“The opportunities now are endless,” said Sackiel, who is reconsidering college. “I’m not restricted to a specific boundary because of any medical reason. I can truly do anything I want.”

While there is no cure for epilepsy, the right combination of medicine and surgery can succeed in reducing or ending seizures.

Two years after surgery, Sackiel is seizure free. He now enjoys daily tasks, like driving, without the anxiety he used to have.

March-April 2024 | Pride Magazine 53

Truist Foundation President Selected for Trailblazer Award

The Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), the nation’s leading advocate for corporate social impact professionals, announced that Lynette Bell, president of Truist Foundation, was awarded the organization’s 2023 Trailblazer Award for her exceptional leadership in corporate social impact The award recognizes corporate social responsibility and ESG professionals who are making significant social and business impact in their companies and communities.

“As the leading advocate for our profession, ACCP is thrilled to shine a spotlight on exemplary leaders like Lynette who are making a difference in the field of corporate social responsibility,” said ACCP President and CEO Carolyn Berkowitz.

Bell serves as president of Truist Foundation, the philanthropic venture of Truist, a financial services company committed to inspiring and building better lives and communities. Since the foundation’s creation in 2020, Bell’s leadership has been instrumental in guiding the Board to approve more than $170 million in community grants. In 2023, Bell led her team to launch a new signature initiative called “Where It Starts” to create meaningful change for entrepreneurs and career-seekers in underserved communities by building innovative programs that open doors for growth and success.

New AI-powered Tech Helping Local Entrepreneurs

A new AI-powered digital resource hub has launched to help entrepreneurs and small business owners across the Charlotte Region connect to resources for starting, running and growing a business. Regional Innovation and Support for Entrepreneurs (RISE) utilizes innovative AI-powered technology to offer a one-stop-shop resource hub for business owners throughout their business life cycle.

The online hub is now available to help entrepreneurs navigate the complex ecosystem all in one place, allowing them to engage with the small business community and discover resources, jobs, events and more. The interactive online tool offers a perpetually updated resource directory curated specifically for businesses in the Charlotte Region.

“This is going to help them to relieve some stress of knowing where the resources are, how to navigate them, and at what point in the journey to access them,” said Tya Bolton, CLT Alliance Foundation director of small business and entrepreneurship.

CPCC Launches Application for Coca-Cola Consolidated Apprenticeship

Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) announced the application cycle for the CocaCola Consolidated Apprenticeship Program. This hands-on learning opportunity provides paid apprenticeships to stimulate interest in high-demand positions in the manufacturing, equipment repair, and logistics sectors at Coke Consolidated’s facilities in the Charlotte area.

RISE is one of many strategies the CLT Alliance Foundation is employing to provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need to be successful. The CLT Alliance Foundation, in partnership with the Center for Digital Equity, will lead a comprehensive strategy to introduce the new online interactive hub to entrepreneurs as part of its mission to empower small businesses, entrepreneurs and business leaders in the Charlotte Region.

“RISE is a game-changer for entrepreneurs in the Charlotte Region,” said Nate Hogan, president of the CLT Alliance Foundation. “RISE by itself won’t remove every barrier in front of entrepreneurs, but we believe in an all-of-the-above approach.”

CPCC is accepting interest inquiries for the 12-month program, which begins in Summer 2024. Coke Consolidated will contact applicants to provide additional information and complete the application process. Chosen apprentices will work approximately 20 hours per week while completing three to four college courses each semester. Apprentices will transition to fulltime positions after completing the program.

Eligible applicants will gain paid experience through part-time roles at Coca-Cola Consolidated and its transportation subsidiary Red Classic Transportation. They also will receive financial support for career certificates, preparing them for positions such as manufacturing and warehouse mechanic, diesel mechanic (Red Classic Transportation) and equipment services reconditioning technician.

CPCC provides prospective candidates the opportunity to attend informational sessions to engage with representatives from Coke Consolidated and the college. The fundamental requirement for these apprenticeships is a high school diploma or an equivalent qualification. For complete program information, visit P

Compiled by John Burton PrideBusiness FYI News & Notes
Lynette Bell, President of Truist Foundation
54 Pride Magazine |


Davita Galloway is a Black Girl and founder/owner of DUPP&SWAT, a creative studio, that serves as a platform and launching pad for herself and others. To be frank, it is because of Galloway’s authentic work and presence, at this studio and within Charlotte’s creative community, that has afforded many other opportunities. With that, Davita is a change agent, a creative, a host, speaker, costumer, a doer, disruptor and a creator of all things dope. She attended The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she received an MSPH, as well as Parsons The New School for Design in New York. Galloway is adamant about the need for genuine expression—further evident in her various ventures such as Crown Keepers, a nonprofit, and HUE HOUSE, a creative agency, where she serves as Executive Director and Chief Activations Officer, respectively. More, as a proponent and champion of building community, social equity, entrepreneurship and economic opportunity, Davita enjoys collaboration with impact on those outputs. Fun and hella dope fact, a portrait of Galloway is now a part of the permanent collection at the Harvey B Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture.

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