Jackpedia: People To Watch | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jackpedia: People To Watch

<em><b>John McKellar</b></em>

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John McKellar, a 21-year-old sophomore at the Raymond campus of Hinds Community College, is a busy man. Between taking classes in landscape management at Hinds, working as a landscaper, taking photographs for the Hindsonian, acting with the Vicksburg Theater Guild, planning his April wedding and singing at David Road Baptist Church in Byram, McKellar barely has time to do what he loves best - spend time with his fiance and fish at a local pond in Vicksburg, near where he grew up. McKellar has quite a resume who told me, "I don't have many talents, I don't think."

For 10 years, McKellar worked as a volunteer firefighter in Vicksburg, but he recently stopped in order to devote more time to his studies. He has three more semesters at Hinds, and then he sees himself going for another landscaping degree at either Mississippi State or Texas A&M. Eventually, McKellar would like to have his own landscape-management business in Texas.

McKellar's routine changed when he started looking for a job and came across an opportunity to help a neighbor with some landscaping. After that, everything seemed to click, and McKellar has made great progress since finding his direction.

McKellar has put his landscaping skills to good use by helping the Hinds Baptist Student Union freshen up their facility, and he is already working as a landscaper, even though he has not yet earned his degree. McKellar's favorite landscaping projects are hardscapes, which include waterfalls, stonework and walkways. "I especially like doing the big waterfalls," McKellar says.

Sam Roberts
by Maggie Burks
Photo by Maggie Burks

Sam Roberts, 22, of Laurel, says it is the "ultimate love for people" that has driven her to help raise awareness and funding for the rebuilding of Gulu, Uganda.

When Roberts saw a documentary two years ago, "Invisible Children," she was horrified by the stories of young, displaced children in war-torn Uganda. She wanted to do something, but didn't know what she could do. Then she found out about a program called Schools for Schools.

The program pairs schools around the world with schools in Uganda, and the adopting school raises money that goes toward rebuilding their adopted war-torn school and supplying teachers, books and fresh water.

After learning about Schools for Schools, Roberts formed a small group of 17 interested students at Mississippi College and they began meeting weekly and discussing what they could do.

"We just really wanted to do something about the war and help end a little bit of poverty at the same time," Roberts says.

Last year, Roberts and other MC students raised $3,000 to aid Gulu High School in Gulu, Uganda, and Roberts plans to visit the school as a part of a month-long visit to Uganda in December.

Roberts will go to Uganda with a group from Wildcard Missions based in Oklahoma. She will help rebuild schools and work with child soldiers and AIDS victims.

"Some of these kids don't have a fair chance to live or play, and I think that's very sad," Roberts says. "They don't even have the chance to have laughter in their lives."

When Roberts returns to MC in the Fall to complete her psychology and studio art requirements, she will continue to lobby for awareness and support of the Invisible Children. She has a personal goal of raising $4,000 to go toward the cause, and she plans to participate in another round of Schools for Schools.

"I just really want to make a difference and show people that we are all the same; Christ looks at us all the same, and we deserve all the same privileges and happiness," Roberts says.

Chelsi West
by Kelly Smith
Photo by Nate Green

Chelsi West, a graduate of Murrah High School and a 21-year-old rising senior a t Millsaps College, grew up in Jackson and could not wait to leave. However, her parents rejected her bid to go to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, in favor of her studying medicine at Millsaps like her mother. West has now chosen anthropology over medicine, but she has found a new passion for the city of Jackson.

Two fortuitous events her freshman year at Millsaps set West on her current path. First, she happend to take an anthropology class. "I chose it mainly because it did not meet on Thursdays," West says with a laugh.

Second, she met Dr. Elise Smith.

"(Smith) changed my life," she says. Smith encouraged West to explore her own interest before committing to her father's preferred career paths of medicine or law.

West now sees herself becoming an anthropology professor. She will get practice this year co-teaching with a Millsaps faculty mentors as a Ford Fellow. In the fall, she will pair with her adviser, Dr. Mike Galaty, to teach a course on the anthropology of war, which will address both war and peace.

West enjoys research. Millsaps has offered opportunities to study archaeology for six weeks in Albania in 2005 and 2006, and cultural anthropology for four weeks in Tanzania this summer. Inspired by these experiences, she is writing her senior honors thesis on hip-hop and translation of culture in Tanzania and Albania. After graduation, West would like to study in Albania with a Fullbright grant before applying to doctoral programs in anthropology.

West is involved on campus with organizations such as 1 Campus, 1 Community, the Black Student Association, the Campus Ministry, the Student Body Association and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She is still learning to balance academics with service and fun, but she says that she operates best under pressure. In her free time, she can be found eating a Julep, finishing the last Harry Potter book, researching her family history in Natchez, watching Peyton Manning games and listening to her iPod on the swings at the park.

In West's experience, "Mississippi is the kind of place you leave," but she hopes to come back to share her talents with Mississippi once she finishes her education.

Joshua Dedmond
by Maggie Burks
Photo by Maggie Burks

Joshua "Rev" Dedmond, a rising junior at Tougaloo College, says that he was always a spiritual child. At the age of 10, he started teaching Sunday school at his church. At the age of 14, he gave his first sermon as a minister at Mount Charity Baptist Church in Jackson. These days, "Rev" is studying history, emphasizing African-American history and religious studies, and plans to apply to Emory's Candler School of Theology after he graduates from Tougaloo in 2009.

When Dedmond decided to go into the ministry, he says that there was no "big calling where lightning was flashing," but that he felt compelled to preach, and he knew that it was right for him.

Though Dedmond, whose father is also a minister, has been ministering for five years, he is not ordained. He says that he wants to finish school before he goes down that path.

"It's a great responsibility, and I still have a lot of youth left in me," Dedmond says. "I would want to be well-equipped on every page to do something like that."

Dedmond has served in many capacities at Tougaloo including sophomore class president, chaplain of the Pre-Alumni Council, parliamentarian of the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society and second vice representative of Mississippi's Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the highest undergraduate position in the state. Dedmond also recently received a "Brothers on the Move" scholarship, an honor given by the Tom Joyner Foundation. As part of the application process, Dedmond had to write an essay about his greates challenge, which was watching his mentor, his grandmother, develop dementia and mild Alzheimer's disease.

"Now it's part of my routine to get her up every morning and help her get dressed," Dedmond says. "It's hard sometimes."

Despite all of his accomplishments, Dedmond downplays his success. "Nah, I don't do much," he says.

After obtaining a doctoral degree in theology, Dedmond plans to teach black religion or another subject that draws from history.

Bahati Harden
by Elizabeth Schimmel
Photo by Maggie Burks

Her mother named her Bahati, meaning "luck" and she describes the path that led her, at 28 years old, to the life of a second-year medical student after two master's degrees and professional work experience as "a string of random events." However, to an outsider it seems a logical outcome of her desire to help others and a fearlessness to re-evaluate choices in order to accomplish such ends.

In her Natchez high school Harden contemplated a life in politics like her father, a former councilman; however, after entering Spellman College in Atlanta, Harden became involved with health promotion. Her involvement in "Peppers" (peer educators) group, attending lectures at which friends spoke out for HIV/AIDS prevention, and taking undergraduate classes in environmental injustice, led her to pursue a master's degree in public health.

Harden says, "I saw a great need for that kind of health promotion in the African-American community."

After completing her master's, Harden began a fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) but soon realized that a career in public health was not exactly what she had expected. ""After working in it for a year I was like, 'Wow, I'm never going to get to talk to people.'"

Deciding to applying to medical school after completing a master's degree and entering the work force in a different field is not the traditional path, but luckily the University Medical Center was pioneering a new programing recruiting such unconventional students who were not, as Harden puts it, "on the fast-track" to medical school, but that showed promise as future physicians who would serve Mississippi well.

For PPT, Harden completed a two-year master's program in biomedical science. During this time she shadowed a physician at an Area Health Education Center (AHEC), what Harden describes as a mini-hospital in rural ares. In this experience Harden seemed to witness the rewarding relationships she had been looking for all along.

"Of all the physicians I shadowed, just seeing the interactions that (the physician at AHEC) had with her patients was amazing ... I felt like they trusted her ... That is something that I would definitely aspire to have," Harden says of her experience at AHEC.

With a career in medicine ahead of her, Harden seems to have finally found a way to accomplish her desire for public service. She is inspiringly idealistic for someone of her age and experience: "I kind of look at medicine as one of the last altruistic professions."

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