Chicks like these are rare. They are intelligent, strong, influential women who are making the face of Jackson look a little brighter. These chicks are architects, journalists, animal lovers, mothers and philanthropists. And we love them.
As the actors sweat under the New Stage Theatre spotlight on opening night, marketing director Shannon Frost sits in the audience. The 33-year-old writes press releases and uses target marketing techniques to reach specific audiences to promote shows at the not-for-profit theater. Frost says she gets to "enjoy the moment" in the auditorium, but her work is never really over. By the time a show opens, she has already started marketing the next one.
Frost recalls promoting one of her favorite plays, John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt," for New Stage in early 2008, less than a year before the release of the Oscar-nominated film adaptation.
"I never pushed a show so hard in my lifeand it couldn't have bombed more," she says, laughing. The play might have fared better after the movie arrived in multiplexes, she says, "but it was a great show, so everyone just missed out."
As an undergraduate student in her home state of Ohio, Frost pursued acting and directing at Malone University. She went on to earn a master's degree in theatre at Regent University in Virginia, but "about halfway through (grad school), I realized I'm not really that talented," she says with a laugh. Frost stuck with the theater program but changed her electives to journalism.
In 2007, Frost joined the New Stage staff as marketing director. When she's not networking and promoting, she enjoys spending time with her family: husband Joe (who is the chairman of Belhaven College's theater department), daughter Nina, 9, and son Darby, 6.
Frost and her family attend Christ Life Church of the Highlands in Ridgeland, and she says she tries to follow her faith in the work she does at New Stage.
Fox 40 news anchor Kathy Times is a native of Miami, Fla., but she isn't a stranger to Jackson. She lived in Jackson from 1999-2001 when she was an anchor for another news station, and decided to stay in Jackson for good when she began working for Fox 40.
Times studied journalism at Florida A&M University and later attended Northwestern University in Illinois, where she earned her master's degree in journalism.
As a reporter, Times says she strives to be "a voice for people." She has interviewed Condoleezza Rice during a conference in Birmingham and George H. W. Bush in an exclusive interview.
She has also proven that sometimes being the "voice of people" can be pretty dangerous. While she was covering a story on corrupt police officersfor which she later won an Emmya police office held her at gunpoint after discovering that she was undercover. She has also been a foot away from the infamous abortionist bomber Eric Rudolph in the middle of the woods while covering a story about the bomber's hideout.
Aside from her reporting work, Times is the regional spokeswoman for the National Diabetes Association. The disease has affected her personally through her grandmother's struggle with diabetes. She is also vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a candidate for president of the organization. Oh, and she practices intermediate karate (she is a purple belt).
Times is married to Jackson telecommunications business owner James Covington and has a Persian cat named Jazzi. She doesn't confine herself to such trivial things like numbers. When I ask her age, she simply replies: "I'm feeling 30, today."
Tara Lynn Pike
Dressed in shorts and a T-shirtwith her hair pulled into two long pigtailsTara Lynn Pike is full of laughter as we sit at the Pi(e) Lounge inside Sal & Mookies. Pike has worked as a bartender there since the restaurant opened in April 2007 and presides over the JFP's monthly Lounges there.
At 27 years old, Pike is able to do what she loves, which is taking care of animals. Born and raised in Silver Creek, Miss., Pike was exposed to horses during her early childhood.
"I grew up going to horse shows with my mom, and it really sparked my interest in horses," Pike says. After studying pre-veterinary medicine at Hinds Community College in Raymond, she moved to Cantonwhere she now residesand started raising horses. She is also the proud owner of "one mean" goat and several dogs that she recently took in from the street.
With her family in Silver Creek, Pike's animalshorses Sugar and Cheyenne, and goat Roscoe Billy (the dogs haven't been named yet)have become a part of her family. On her four acres of land, she is the sole caretaker for her pets. "I hope to own lots of horses one day," Pike says with a bright smile.
In addition to her love for animals, Pike is also a "huge" NASCAR fan. "I have gone to Talladega every spring and fall since 2001. I've also been to the tracks in Daytona and Kentucky," she says. With her birthday approaching July 30, she can probably be found celebrating on the patio at Keifer's, which is one of her favorite places to hang out.
The juxtaposition of Li Vemulakonda's Indian heritage and southern living is evident in her accent, which blends proper British with familiar "y'alls."
Originally from Visakha Patnam, India, 57-year-old Vemalukonda moved to Virginia when she was 19 for her then-husband's job. Eight years later, they moved to California and finally settled in Vicksburg, Miss.
Although separated now, Vemulakonda and her husband raised their daughter V.J. and son Atma in Vicksburg. As the children grew older, she had more time on her hands and decided to start substitute teaching at area schools such as Warren Central Junior and Warren Central High School.
It was during this time that Vemulakondawho had received massages from her family servant back home in Indiadiscovered her talent for massage therapy.
"In the sixth period, everybody gets a headache. ... All the teachers were just dying," she says. "So I would just do some of the pressure points I learned."
Vemulakonda accompanied a friend to a Jinshin Do class in Mobile, Ala. She became more interested and started traveling to take classes at different schools on various forms of holistic treatments including reflexology, shiatsu, acupuncture and deep tissue work.
Vemulakonda opened her main office in Vicksburg in 1983, then opened one in Jackson in 1999. Her offices are a long step from going house-to-house to provide her services.
"Since then I've been doing massages, and I love it," Vemulakonda says, smiling. "It's really, truly God's grace. ... I tell people I work for God ... and that it's just me doing what comes."
Jackson R. Breland
Katie Lightsey, 25, hovers above an oversized book of blueprints, studying and marveling at the measurements and markings. She flips the pages and smiles proudly at the drawings. Lightsey, an associate architect with Cooke, Douglas, Farr and Lemons Architects & Engineers, is looking at a project she has been intensively working on for the past few months.
Although Lightsey had not thought of becoming an architect until she reached college, there were signs at an early age that she was destined to build things. As a toddler, Lightsey's parents filmed her constructing towering monuments of toilet-paper rolls. While other girls her age were playing with Barbies, Lightsey was more interested in redecorating Barbie's house, designing furniture and other household accessories.
"I would tear off pieces of a pizza box and create new walls," Lightsey says. After graduating from St. Andrew's Episcopal School in 2002, it was time for Lightsey to choose a major. "My father, being an accountant, was nervous that I might pursue art. He thought architecture might be a more viable profession," Lightsey says with a laugh.
Lightsey decided to attend Mississippi State University and major in architecture. She graduated in 2008 and immediately joined CDFL as an intern architect.
Lightsey enjoys playing tennis, collecting art, and like most architects, Lightsey says, envisioning her dream home. It would have lots of glass, relying mostly on natural light, and would be devoid of "stuff."
"What would take up the space?" I ask.
"My art," she says, with a chuckle.
Layla Fitzgerald Lauren
Jackson native Layla Fitzgerald, 29, serves as the local coordinator for the Katrina Citizens Leadership Corps at the Children's Defense Fund, where she has helped more than 200 families rebuild their lives after being displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "I love to help people help themselves," she says.
After graduating from Piney Woods Country Life School in 1997, Fitzgerald attended Millsaps College where she received her bachelor's in psychology. She went on to obtain her master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Jackson State University before beginning work with CDF in 2004.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Fitzgerald became case manager for Katrina resource and referral. She started organizing and assisting with toy drives, uniform donations for Jackson Public Schools students and other Katrina relief efforts.
"I have to remember that God will not put anything on you that you can't bear," she says. "Whatever is meant to happen will happen."
Fitzgerald also enjoys spending time with her friends and children, Kamran, 4, and Kamyah Walls, 1.
With a passion to help young people, Fitzgerald is currently working to open a youth development center for inner-city youth. The site would serve as a haven where kids could receive tutoring services as well as participate in activities such as boxing lessons. In the future, Fitzgerald plans to return to Jackson State to obtain a doctorate degree in clinical psychology. She eventually wants to be a counselor for young adult women or for children suffering from autism.