Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Each January, the Jackson Free Press features the year's top young influentials—Jacksonians 35 and under making a difference in the community and having a positive influence on others.
Here are our 2006 choices.
Amanda Green Alexander:
What She Did Today
Amanda Green Alexander is a Kokomo, Miss., native, who earned her undergraduate degree from Tougaloo College, a masters from JSU and a law degree from Mississippi College of Law.
"It's important to speak for those who wouldn't otherwise have a voice," she says. Her deep passion for law often leads her into 14-hour days, but she loves what she does.
Green Alexander has always wanted to serve and protect. At 8 years old she protected Dan, who was mentally and physically disabled. "The other kids would pick on him. I made it my personal responsibility to sit with him every day."
These days Green Alexander protects professionally as the deputy city attorney for Jackson. She organized Election Protection 2004 Mississippi, a non-profit, non-partisan program ensuring at the polls. She succeeded in involving over 200 lawyers in the state of Mississippi.
Green Alexander is inspired by a question posed by Tougaloo College Professor Charles Holmes, "What did you do for your community today?"
"I believe that this question epitomizes everything in life," Green Alexander says.
Moving On Up
Andrell Harris found his future in a friend's garage. Now 19, the JSUstudent found two gumball machines while rummaging with a friend two years ago. Harris offered his friend $75 for the machines and began a business that has grown to 50 machines.
Harris' future goals include opening a series of Subways and delving into politics. "I think I can do a lot for this state."
Though Harris has big plans for improving Mississippi, the truth is he has already started. He used to want to be a professional rapper, but after interning with Mayor Frank Melton, he is more interested in civil service and politics. He spends time working with the Boys and Girls Club, throwing pizza parties for the kids, and donating books and jerseys for the baseball team.
Still, his love of rap motivated him too. After seeing the front cover of the 50 Cent album "Get Rich or Die Trying," he decided he had to be successful. As an African American, he sees it as especially important. He lists many inspirations—Glenda Glover to Frank Melton to Al Joyner and Isaac Byrd—as successful African-American role models.
Tired of hearing people complain about having nothing to do in Jackson, 23-year-old Ebony Gee decided she'd change that. In September 2005, Gee teamed up with Cedric Jenkins and created "Southern Spirit," a Public Access television show dedicated to spotlighting the best of Jackson.
"A lot of times we're not exposed to things, so I wanted to bring people's attention to all that is here," she says. "I want the show to be a Mississippi thing where outside artists can come in and see what all we have to offer."
The Tougaloo graduate spent time working at WLBT but wanted to move into a more personal job that combined her love of film and social conscience.
Though "Southern Spirit" keeps her pretty busy—especially now that she is producing the show alone—Gee also works as an independent filmmaker. The Film and Video Alliance just awarded her a grant to complete her second documentary—a 45-minute film on Mississippi's education system.
She'll always live in Mississippi, she says. "When you go other places, it's just not Jackson."
Tucked away in her studio in Fondren Corner, local artist Ginger Williams blends in perfectly with the array of paintings and tiny, colorful objects that surround her. Three self-portraits spanning four years illustrate the evolution of her style.
"It's because I have so many interests," explains Williams. "It's different every time I paint."
Williams moved into her studio in November 2004 after graduating from William Carey College. One of William's upcoming projects attempts to document downtown landmarks before the revitalization of Jackson is complete.
"I wanted to do something with the idea of having to reconstruct, but we need to reconstruct downtown. And that's going on right now as we speak," she says.
Williams also uses her art for community service by teaching elementary students at the Mississippi Museum of Art. She hopes to start a new class called Life Shards where those affected by Hurricane Katrina will work on a mosaic that will remain at the museum permanently.
"I just really love working with kids," she says. "They're kind of an ultimate inspiration."
At only 13, Holly Perkins seems more like a mature college student than an 8th-grader. She talks about "when she was younger" like she's lived for years—and why not? She's been busy these 13 years.
Perkins donated her art work to raise money for a battered women's shelter in Jackson during the 2005 Chick Ball. Handfuls of people scooped up her work at a silent auction; some even stalked her folk art, prepared to outbid anyone who dared take an interest in her work.
"I took art classes when I was younger, but I didn't like people telling me what to do, so I quit those," Perkins says.
These days, Perkins paints mostly on scraps of wood she finds in dumpsters near construction sites.
Perkins expresses herself through music, too. With her band "Farmer's Market," she has played at Cups in Madison and hopes to take on larger venues like W.C. Don's soon.
Perkins volunteers at Stewpot, and after Hurricane Katrina, she worked at the Mississippi Coliseum helping evacuees.
Though she's passionate about volunteering, she's humble at the same time. "This is just what we should be doing," she says.
Needing to Live
Jamie Holcomb, 22, is single-handedly responsible for representing Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation in Jackson. The Shoah Foundation, based in Los Angeles, encourages study of the Holocaust, partly through a collection of 21 video interviews with survivors, witnesses and liberators.
It was fate that led Holcomb to this project at the end of her senior year at Millsaps College, where she majored in history. One night as she was particularly distressed about her future, Holcomb happened to read about the job announcement on the Millsaps Career Center Web site.
"I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I knew Ididn't want to go to graduate school immediately after Igraduated because Ifelt like I just kind of needed to live," Holcomb says.
Holcomb now works at the Eudora Welty Library, where the Holocaust interviews are housed, and leads workshops for teachers on how they can use these interviews in their classes. Holcomb also organizes the "Lunch and Lecture Series" at Eudora Welty Library, where scholars give lectures on the first Tuesday of the month. Holcomb is currently trying to get Jackson Public School teachers to help start diversity clubs at their schools.
Give Him 10 Minutes
Since graduating from Ole Miss in May, 23-year-old rapper Jason Thompson has worked with Project PALs—co-sponsored by Stewpot and Jackson Public Schools—but his first taste of volunteer work came in high school. Thompson worked with Head Start, helping his mother write grants for the program.
Now he splits his time between crafting new plans for JPS, marketing his rap group The Threat (a trio comprised of Thompson and his younger twin brothers) and planning mixed-media projects around the state. His rap group has established a large fan base, and they've opened for acts like Nappy Roots and Afroman.
Teaming up with George Miles, Thompson is organizing an exhibit that fuses hip-hop and art at the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, slated for next year.
"Hip-hop is something kids like, so we're mixing it with something they are not exposed to. I want to get as many kids as possible interested in art."
"I have a tendency to do things as large as possible," he admits with a devilish grin. "But somebody has to do it, so why not me?"
Jenni Smith, 30, is one of the founding members of Unity Mississippi, a nonprofit organization uniting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, along with straight friends, through various activities each month. Smith has worked with others to mobilize the gay community since graduating from Mississippi College.
"We formed around last October and November when the elections were going on, and President Bush got re-elected, unfortunately. Mississippi also passed the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman by an astounding 86 percent," Smith says.
Unity's greatest accomplishment has been initiating "Outoberfest," the first large-scale LGBT festival ever held in Mississippi.
"We need to know what numbers we have and, in that, educate the community about what's going on so we'll be more proactive in educating this 86 percent that thinks they need to dictate what we can do," Smith says.
"Say what you think and what you believe and be proud of that,"Smith advises. "That's the easiest activism there is."
Being the webmaster of The Magnolia Report, an online, conservative-leaning compilation of political coverage from across the state, isn't even Josh Gregory's real job. It's what the 25-year-old advertising exec considers a "time-consuming hobby," and he estimates that he spends at least a couple of hours every day sifting through publications to reference on his Web site. The energy that Gregory expends hasn't been wasted; 10,000 to 15,000 people visit the site each day during heavy political campaign times to brief themselves about what's happening at the Capitol.
"I enjoy technology, and I enjoy politics," Gregory says. "It's real easy for me to take what I know about technology and put it in political terms to help people be more informed."
A native Texan, Gregory moved here five years ago to attend Mississippi College. Along the way, he became involved with Rep. Chip Pickering's campaign, and also worked on a local redistricting effort.
In late 2002, Brian Perry bequeathed the Web site he founded, The Magnolia Report, to Gregory. Gregory has since expanded the project to include daily polls and written reports that appear every two to three weeks during heavy political campaign times. In the future, he would like to hire an intern to tape political events such as campaign speeches and political debates to stream them online.
"This could be huge during a political campaign," Gregory speculates. "It's really just a way to keep people more informed of what's going on in politics."
A Call to Law
"I'm a hugger," Kabah McCollough says as we meet for the first time. McCollough, 27, makes you feel as if you've known her forever. An attorney with Thompson, Smith and Nelson, McCollough got her undergraduate degree from Stillman College and her law degree from Mississippi College School of Law.
McCollough's call to law may very well have come with the passing of her father, an attorney, when she was 3. "He would read me case studies instead of bedtime stories," she says. It is her determination and belief in God that got her through.
"My greatest accomplishment is my relationship with God. I'm happiest about that, because I know that whatever I want to do in life is going to come from him."
In addition to her fledgling career as an attorney, McCollough is the chairwoman of the Missions Ministry at Anderson United Methodist Church. She coordinates community service events between the church and non-profit organizations such as the MATS Women's Shelter, the Billy Brumfield House Men's Shelter, Stewpot, Veterans home and collaborative efforts with other churches assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina.
When asked how she handles it all she says, "You just live and do the best you can." She adds, "I am thankful for all that I have." McCollough's enormous spirit of gratitude and compassion permeates the air around us as she continues to speak. "If this is my last day on Earth, I've had a good life." Very few people can say that and mean it.
Keelan Sanders, 33, relaxes in his modest office on North Congress Street. He has been the executive director for the Mississippi Democratic Party since 2004, and was the first African-American appointed to the position.
"I didn't choose politics. Politics chose me," he says, smiling. Sanders holds a BA in business administration from Belhaven College and has been working for the party since 1999. Through the influence of his grandmother, he has been involved in dozens of campaigns since early childhood and quickly worked his way up the state party ladder to his present position.
"I have to keep my finger on the pulse of everything," he says, flashing another confident smile. His duties as executive director include organizing activities and meeting with Mississippians to establish lines between them and the party. Raising money has been a problem. In light of the massive amount of private contributions going toward hurricane relief for the Magnolia State, Sanders decided to respectfully abstain from any current efforts by the party to raise money for themselves.
Mississippi's "red state" status has also proven difficult in the raising of support, but Sanders is optimistic. "When you look at the number of officials that we have on a state and local level, we're clearly a blue state," he says.
He is glad that the national party is joining with the state party in a "50-state strategy," and this upcoming year he plans to push harder for further organization at each of the voter precinct levels. Although a staunch Democrat, Sanders reaches out to African Americans on the other side of the aisle. "We're the party of inclusion," he says. "(As a Democrat) our key value is to help the common man."
At the age of 12, Belhaven resident Michael Modak-Truran, has already participated in just about every entertainment medium known to man. The native Chicagoan has been pianist, singer, voiceover artist, writer, producer, director, costume designer, actor and even critic. The son of Jackson attorneys Mark and Anita Modak-Truran, he is a sixth-grader at St. Andrew's Episcopal School. The early days of Modak-Truran's career were spent in a New Stage Theater animation workshop, but his interest in acting and directing really peaked during a theater program at Power APAC where he appeared as Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof Jr. and the beloved Tiny Tim in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. His most recent stage appearance was in the title role of St. Andrew's production of Aladdin Jr.
In 2003, after starring in various independent projects, Modak-Truran finally committed to creating his own film. "The Bird Watcher" was a simple story of childhood friendships and the innocence of imagination. Carried by a whimsically eclectic soundtrack, the short film is full of color and masterful editing.
The Haunted Hopson Plantation, a tribute to horror flicks, was filmed at the Shackup Inn in Clarksdale. Modak-Truran submitted the film last year to a Halloween Contest for NBC's "Good Morning America," but the film didn't make it to the small screen. "I think it was too edgy for them," he says, smiling mischeviously.
When asked about his future, his blue eyes sparkle. "I really like to act," he says. Modak-Truran is not a big fan of Hollywood, though. "Too much pollution." he says. "I think, I'd rather live in New York. It's bigger, and there's more energy."
Matt Foxworth's life is all about art. He is an art and design director and has been working with young Fondren businessman Ron Chane for three and a half years. He has eight years of experience with graphic design.
Foxworth, 27, graduated from Northwest Rankin and then attended classes at Hinds Community College. He completed 46 hours.
"I didn't want to have to take math and biology to be an artist," Foxworth says. He went out and found a real job in his passion.
Foxworth helps with all of Chane's ads and layout shirt designs. He mainly takes the designs and lays them out for the client to make sure that is exactly what they want. If the client wants changes, he makes them. "I oversee the production and make sure that things are running smoothly."
In between my questions, Foxworth answers questions about design from his co-workers. He answers clients' questions over the telephone, too. He's very friendly.
Foxworth runs his own T-shirt line with a friend: DeadNeck—a southern alternative. Foxworth does most of the computer layouts for the t-shirts.
Foxworth has a couple of plans in the works right now.
Foxworth is opening G-lab in January, which Chane is helping him incubate. This is mainly graphics that include brochures, identity packages, band flyers, restaurant menus and logos.
"I want for my business to be there for other companies starting up to where they can just drop by and say they need a logo or a brochure," Foxworth says.
Ten years from now, he would like to mainly do album covers for bands.
Another work in progress is to open an art gallery in downtown on Capitol Street. Not only would he showcase art, but Foxworth wants to have enough room for studio space as well, he says.
Hard Work and Dedication
A lot of hard work and dedication helped Quincy Bingham, 23, start his own business. He is a freelance graphic design artist, manager, oil painter and poet. Through Cromaticregime, his graphic-design company, he designs CD covers, flyers, posters and makes his own T-shirt designs. He likes to push political expressions on posters and T-shirts.
"The most difficult part was coming up with the big funds for equipment and programming," Bingham says. He worked three jobs for about three years to save up the money to get his business started. "I've always had the dream to make a difference, and this is what I love," he says. After the three jobs, he just knew that he couldn't work for anybody else because it takes away from his creativity. He feels that a lot of artists cannot separate their art from their business.
He lets his creativity run freely with designing flyers for local high schools and churches. He does graphic design for local record companies. His management skills also come into play with a local music artist, Grade-A.
"Our main motive is to change how people view music around here," he says. Their focus is not hip-hop. The music is more about everyday life. He also paints. Oils and watercolors on canvas are a skill of his, and his artwork has been featured in art shows.
Bingham's poetry is printed on some of his T-shirts. One politically charged T-shirt has a picture of President Bush's face and reads, "I Learned Pimping From Bush." Another shirt is beige, and on the back, Bingham's poem about hip-hop accompanies a drawing of a rapper.
Bingham is working on getting a book about inspiration published with a friend. He wants to design the book and include his poetry.
A future goal is to advance his graphic-design company to a corporate level. He sees himself doing much for the music industry in the long run.
Sam Hall knows about the importance of journalism and politics. He's integrating his long-standing interest in both in his new position as the communications director for the Mississippi Democrats.
The son of ardent Democrats, Hall spent afternoons in high school erecting signs that promoted the Democratic contenders in the local elections of his hometown of Tupelo. As an undergraduate at Millsaps College, Hall majored in political science, but was sidetracked by a career in journalism that was ignited when he and a group of friends started an alternative campus publication called the White & Purple. Hall later joined the staff of the on-campus paper (The Purple & White) and quickly ascended to the position of editor-in-chief. This experience led to an immediate offer upon graduation to work for the Rankin Record.
As a writer for that paper, Hall forewent infusing his own Democratic views into the columns he wrote in order to avoid a "pissing match," though as his column grew he felt less need to restrain himself. Hall also wrote for The Scott County Times, but he was eager to advance his party's interests and accepted the position of communication director of the Mississippi Democrats from its chairman, Wayne Dowdy.
Hall's primary role centers on establishing relationships with the media, but Hall is also involved in an effort to correct the ineffectiveness of the blue party in a state that is overwhelmingly red. Hall says this isn't the state's problem, but stems from the fact that in the past the party's staff has consisted only of one person. For his part, Hall is looking to use "any communication effort" to influence the outcome of special elections and decisions on Katrina relief efforts in a way that aligns with Democratic ideology.
Hall's blog on the Mississippi Democrats Web site lists soccer and classic literature as interests, but Hall says that with a baby on the way, he has little time for anything except work and to "go home to my wife."
Back in the Fast Lane
"I tell people I'm back in the fast lane," Sean Perkins, 31, says. The tall, humble Jacksonian speaks softly, but his voice is full of positive determination. Perkins learned to walk on Guynes Street, just a couple of houses down from Medgar and Myrlie Evers' old place. He finished his B.A. in English and went on to get an M.A. in Public Policy and Administration from Jackson State University.
Perkins started as an administration intern for the City of Jackson and completed his work there as director of constituent services. He went back to Jackson State to help provide programs of technical assistance and economic development for rural communities outside the city. After a failed bid for election commissioner last year, Perkins received a phone call from the Jackson chapter of the 100 Black Men, a national non-profit organization geared toward building economic and educational opportunities in local African-American communities. They offered him the position of executive director, and he gladly accepted. "Mississippi is where it's at," he says. "There is a lot of work that needs to be done here."
Perkins says that the greatest threat to young men in Jackson today is the common perception that "there is no other way." He serves as a mentor on a weekly basis in which he shares his life, time and lesson plans from "the 100" with students. In its 16 years of service, the Jackson chapter has awarded more than $150,000 in college scholarships to young academically minded Jacksonians. "The 100" seeks to the shape the minds of young African-American men, and those who are more interested in learning a trade are encouraged to do so.
"What they see is what they will be," Perkins says. "They have options." He encourages young men to be positive role models in their neighborhood. "Don't just be a mechanic," he says. "Own your own shop!"
Kabah has a great future ahead of her. However, I'm bias as her father was one of my Tougaloo College best friends. He was one of the person who inspired me from psychology to law. He and I were the only two of our group to become lawyers. He was brillant person but wouldn't always do his best. Once in law school he finally realized he had to buckle down and do his best. We used to compete at grades. I won't tell Kabah who used to win most of the times. We all miss him. We're counting on Kabah to do better than either of us ever did. Kabah, I know your daddy is in heaven smiling at you and me.
- Ray Carter