Chicks We Love | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Chicks We Love

Photo courtesy Arilma "Addy" Keith

Photo courtesy Arilma "Addy" Keith

This year's Chicks We Love help our communities in many ways, from giving a smile to every patient at a local women's clinic, to making people laugh with comedy, to playing music and advocating for the metro area's LGBT community, to helping women who are victims of domestic violence. We salute all women who are working to make Jackson, and Mississippi stronger.

Katie Brown

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Katie Brown

Katie Brown, who has worked at Jackson Health Care for Women as a lab assistant for 51 years, greets every patient with a hug and uses her lunch break as a chance to go across the street to Merit Health Woman's Hospital, where she makes rounds to visit the patients there. "I just try to make them smile," she says. "I take care of my patients the way I take care of my family."

Brown says she wanted to work for a doctor for as long as she can remember. When she was 13, her mother passed away while eight months pregnant, and losing both an unborn sibling and her mother led her to feel called "to work in a doctor's office and help save lives," she says. So, while still a student at Brinkley High School in Jackson in 1965, she told her school counselor, Obie Graves, that she wanted to work in a doctor's office. 
 When Graves went in for a scheduled surgery, he asked Dr. George Gillespie if Brown could work in his office. The doctor agreed.

After interning with him for three months, Brown got a job with Dr. Walter Simmons, who was opening a women's clinic (now, Jackson Healthcare 
for Women).

When Brown started as a young African American woman in a clinic run by a white doctor, segregation was still intact; she remembers that African American patients came in the back door and white patients through the front. Though she's clearly been through a lot, from losing her mother to dealing with segregation to helping raise three siblings, Brown lets her positive attitude and faith carry her through. "Everybody has problems," she says, "but I'm in charge of my attitude. It's all good."

She remembers that when she was "going through a hard time" as a young woman, her father's advice was, "Do what's in your heart; your heart never leads you wrong."

—Julie Skipper

Sherry Cothren

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Sherry Cothren Photo courtesy James Patterson

Raised in the small town of Meadville, Miss., musician Sherry Cothren came out as a lesbian when she was a teenager and knew from that young age that she wanted to promote LGBT equality and acceptance, helping others to embrace who they are.

"I knew who I was at 16," Cothren says. "I never shied away from being vocal about it."

After graduating from high school, she decided to move to Jackson to live with her sister, Brenda Smith, who she says was entirely supportive of her love for music, even buying instruments for her. She began playing and writing music at age 13 but didn't have the opportunity to fully pursue it until moving to the capital city, she says.

Today, Cothren performs with Jackson rock trio Cynical Twins, which is currently recording its debut album, scheduled for release in fall 2016. The band consists of Cothren on bass and backing vocals, Joe Partridge on drums and Jeff Lewis, Cothren's longtime writing partner but first-time band mate, on lead vocals and guitar.

She says music is her passion, her purpose and an important part of who she is, rather than a hobby. The band recently hit the stage at this year's Mississippi Pride Celebration at Smith Park.

"I love Mississippi; this is home," she says. "It should be OK to live here being different and all."

—Jacquelynn Pilcher

Cherita Brent

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Cherita Brent Photo courtesy Elite Images Photography

Cherita Brent says she has been a creative person since childhood.

Her mother, Angela Weathersby, who is a musician, has always pushed her to follow her heart and do what she loves. Brent, 29, graduated from Jackson State University in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in mass communications.

She knew she wanted a career in radio, so she went for it. However, it took some time to get her foot through the door.

"It was harder than I imagined, so I meddled in insurance for awhile; I didn't like it," Brent says. Dec. 19, 2011, marked the first day of her new career at Mississippi Public Broadcasting Radio. She started out as an announcer and producer and two years later was promoted to a morning-show host and producer on weekdays at 10 a.m. She works on shows such as "Now You're Talking" with Marshall Ramsey, "In Legal Terms," "Every Day Tech" and "Next Stop Mississippi."

Brent initially envisioned herself working in commercial radio, but she says: "I love public radio, specifically. It's a wonderful resource. I find myself listening even when I'm not at work."

Outside of work, she is known for her music and stand-up comedy. When she is not playing drums in her spare time, she performs as a stand-up comedian in and out of the state. Though she's always had a love for comedy, she has been doing it since 2013. Some of her influences include Dave Chappelle and Wanda Sykes.

Those interested can catch Brent, known on stage and social media as Rita B., at Thalia Mara Hall (255 E. Pascagoula St.) on July 30 at 8 p.m. as part of the Capitol City Summer Comedy Jam.

For more information, find Brent as The Rita B. Show on Facebook.

—Jacquelynn Pilcher

Cassandra Welchlin

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Photo courtesy Cassandra Welchlin

Cassandra Welchlin, co-founder and director of the Mississippi Women's Economic Security Initiative, decided to pursue a life of service after watching her foster grandmother, Eva Thompson, who took in Welchlin's mother and her five siblings. Thompson once worked with Gwendolyn Loper, who was the first African American woman appointed to the Mississippi State Board of 
Mental Health.

"Seeing everything my grandmother had done for my mother and aunts, I felt inspired to (serve) by that," Welchlin says. "I also saw how a lot of systems in the state brought inequity for my family and felt like I didn't have the tools I needed to fight for them. I decided I wanted to work to change those systems."

Welchlin graduated from Jackson State University with a bachelor's degree in social work in 1997 before she went on to Brandeis University, where she received a graduate degree in sustainable international development in 2005.

She launched the Mississippi Women's Economic Security Initiative in 2014 with the intention of establishing a political policy of advocating for women's interests in the state. MWESI's primary activity is introducing legislation to help make women in Mississippi more economically secure, covering issues such as access to health care, affordable child care, higher wages and better job opportunities, and protections against domestic violence and sexual assault, and to garner women's power to hold legislatures accountable.

"In coming up with this policy, we traveled around the state to hear from women personally about they need to be secure," Welchlin says. "We introduced such legislation during this year's legislative session, and we're planning to hold town halls throughout the summer to educate and mobilize women for the 
next session."

Welchlin also works at the Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative, which aims to reform child-care subsidy programs in the state so low-income parents can go to work and ensure their children are 
cared for while they are earning a living.

Welchlin, 43, lives in Jackson with her husband, Kass, daughters Aznii Kyita, 11, and Zia Brooke, 8, and son Corban Vance, 5. She is a Kellogg fellow and a MS. Foundation Public Voices fellow in partnership with that organization's op-ed project.

—Dustin Cardon

Sandra Shelson

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Sandra Shelson

Sandra Shelson's zeal for health is evident. As executive director for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, Shelson says that her main goal in her job is to advocate on behalf of children, a group often overlooked by lobbyists in the state, and everyone else. "You don't see well-paid activists working to help children, so it became something I was passionate about," she says.

After receiving her bachelor's degree in English from Millsaps College in 1982 and her law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1990, Shelson was a special assistant attorney general for the next 11 years, working in the Elections and Opinions Division. It was here that she realized the dire need for focus on and revision of children's overall health.

"(There) was a lot of violence surrounding children at the time, and I wanted to figure out what it was that made these young people turn to such violence," Shelson says.

This experience drove her transition to the partnership in 2004. She quickly began finding new ways to educate policy makers, the general public and children on how to advocate for their own health. "People think individuals who are unhealthy are choosing to be, but if you don't have access to the right outlets, where is your choice?" she says.

Being a wife to her husband, Jim, and mother of two, daughter Carlisle and son Tucker, has not slowed Shelson down. She currently sits on several regional and national planning committees and has served on many boards, including the Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Delta and has previously served as the president of organizations such as Junior League of Jackson and the Rotary Club of Jackson.

Helped by her work, she says, the high-school smoking rate has dropped from 35 percent to around 10 percent, and children's recreational and mentorship organizations have doubled throughout the state.

She says she is constantly working for the nonprofit to keep its doors open in order that she can continue her work to improve Mississippi's condition. "I hope to encourage people to be passionate about health," Shelson says. "It's not just about the quantity of life ... it's also about the quality."

—Danie Matthews

Arilma 'Addy' Keith

Arilma "Addy" Keith is the youngest of nine siblings who grew up in a poor environment in Brazil. That experience allowed her to nurture her heart for community work, the Latin community and the banking 
industry.

She came to Mississippi in 2000 after obtaining her bachelor's degree in business administration from the Federal University of Alagoas while in Brazil. She got her master's degree in business administration and English at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Not too long after obtaining her master's degree, she worked for Bancorp South for the next 12 years and now serves as the vice president at Community Bank in Madison.

"I learned the business," Keith said. "It was a bit of a journey. It wasn't just a click; it took time."

For her, the banking industry is, for the most part, a man's business, but she understands that just like any other woman, she has to work and show that women can accomplish their goals.

Aside from banking, Keith loves working with the Latin community. She serves as the treasurer of the Latin American Business Association, or LABA-Link, and helps coordinate Latinfest, which is an annual event that is held in Canton in October.

Keith says she has learned that by giving 110 percent in effort, having a high standard of ethics, treating people right, showing them respect and giving them their time, loyal relationships are developed, no matter the community.

"You cannot give up on trying," Keith says. "Thrive every day. Keep God first, and the rest will follow."

—Morgan Carol Gallon

Kelly Buckholdt

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Photo courtesy Kelly Buckholdt

For the last three years, Silver Spring, Md., native and clinical psychologist Kelly Buckholdt has been using her skills to give therapy and care at the GV Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson to women who have previously served our country.

Buckholdt has used her background in child and family therapy to use evidence-based treatment and research to help nurture the needs of female veterans with mental-health issues caused by sexual abuse, rape and other combat-induced trauma.

"What I do really fits with the women of the VA because child and family therapy focuses on relationships, raising families, and balancing a home and work life," she says.

"We like to make the transition as easy as possible for them. At the VA, we have the opportunity to tackle mental-health issues, along with their other issues, instead of that person making several appointments."

Buckholdt is the only female mental-health provider devoted to female veterans at the VA and says that the growing female veteran population has a huge need for the programs she offers. The opportunity to work with women veterans fuses her interest in trauma recovery and her background in child and family therapy.

"The VA is very aware of the issues facing women veterans, and the group therapy has been very helpful," she says. "We will continue to offer new programs that have never been used before, and we plan on continuing to work with women of the armed forces who have suffered from military sexual abuse and trauma."

Along with her therapy, she has started a domestic-violence screening.

Buckholdt would like both male and female veterans of the Jackson area to call or come by the Veterans Affairs office to find out what programs are available, because programs and treatment for all health needs are always being added to benefit the veterans of all ages in the Jackson area.

—Greg Pigott

Velesha P. Williams

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Velesha P. Williams

Even though Velesha P. Williams is retired, she says her work isn't over.

Up until June 30, she served as the director for the Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition, which is a community-based substance-abuse prevention organization that Jackson State University funds.

Williams is originally from St. Louis, Mo., although she moved to Mississippi with her family when she was 13.

After graduating from Jackson State University with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 1983, she was commissioned into the U.S. Army as an officer. She was a platoon leader in Germany, a project officer and company commander in Maryland, and an acting inspector general at Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas. After receiving early release from the Army, she and her husband, Bennett, returned to Mississippi in 1991 and moved to Ridgeland.

"In my mind, (I) had gotten all the things I need from the military," she says about getting out of the military early. "The purpose in which I went was to ... serve my country, but at the same time, an opportunity to see the world and do some things. One of the things I wanted to do in the military was be a company commander, and I did that. I felt like I achieved the things I wanted to do."

Williams says she's always had a servant heart, starting with her service in the army. Because she had a degree in criminal justice, she envisioned herself working in that field. When she returned to Mississippi, she pursued her master's degree in criminology and justice service at JSU, graduating in 1996. She originally wanted to work for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, but she says God had another plan. She joined the coalition as a program coordinator in 1996.

"I enjoyed the work I was doing, but more than that, I felt that it had a great need and was serving a great purpose," she says. Around 1999, she became the director of the organization. In her time there, she says it has helped youth learned lessons such as refusal skills when it comes to drugs, and communication and anger management skills. She says the organization has impacted thousands of students who have gone through the evidence-based programs such as summer camps and summer-enhancement programs and training in schools such as Galloway Elementary School and organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club. The organization has also been able to reach areas in Mississippi such as the Delta.

"One of the things a lot of folks are challenged with is, 'How do you know that prevention works?' And that what you did specifically impacted," she says. "Sometimes it's hard to put a pulse on what you've done, but I can say undeniably that we have impacted tens of thousands of young people. ... I think that metro Jackson has been a beacon of light for so many to show that there is an organization, there are people who care, who love them and who want to point them in the right direction."

For now, she says she's going to relax and enjoy life, but eventually, she'll get back into community service. She has two children—Felicia Roshell and Bennett J. Williams II—and one grandson, Kobe.

—Amber Helsel

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