by Skyla Dawn Luckey, Ayana Taylor, Brett Potter, Catherine Womack, Natalie Irby, Robert Williamson, Jessica Kinnison, and Randy Perkins
Jackson is filled with young people working hard to make a difference in their city and their world—and influencing others to do the same. You always known an "influential" when you meet one: they seem to know everyone, they're motivated, and they always know the hottest nightspot, the best dentist or the latest important news before anyone else does. They matter. They are the glue that binds us to the city's, and the state's, future.
This issue, we salute 14 Young Influentials. Of course, there are many others, including many locals we have featured already as Jacksonians or in other profiles. We looked around for young people we haven't yet featured in a prominent way, we talked to them to find out what makes them tick, then we put them in a South Street loft with photographer Charles Smith and let them mix it up a bit.
Now, meet the Young Influentials 2005—14 Jacksonians who truly capture the Best of Jackson spirit.
A Model Big SIS
by Skyla Dawn Luckey
A lot of agents will take anybody off the street if he or she has the big dollars to invest in their agency. Forget about finding professional work. They'll take your money and run. But not Misha Wilson, 30, CEO of Misha's Models, founded in 2002. She is a Jackson State graduate with a degree in criminal justice and has modeling experience.
During our interview at Cups, Wilson said she plays a big role in the life of each and every client. "We focus on etiquette skills. I make sure my teenage clients are maintaining a good GPA," she explained. "I call their parents to see if they are doing well and if not, I talk to them when they come into my office to tell them that if they don't pull their GPA up, I will have to take them out of the fashion show. This usually gets the kids in gear with their grades because the shows are important to them."
Wilson keeps her number of clients small because it is difficult to focus on each individual's talent with a large number of aspiring models/actors/actresses. "It's really hard at times to stay focused. I just keep in mind that I am representing kids and they look up to me. I'm like a big sister to them. This helps me stay clean, focused and positive. And I won't take just any job for my clients. It must be clean," she said.
Her clients have been featured nationwide including in Vibe Magazine, and on Public Access Television. Misha's Models produces two fashion shows a year with designers from Korea. For more information, visit http://www.mishasmodels.com, or you can find her on the Public Access channel.
Making Others Happy
by Ayana Taylor
The saying "Big things come in small packages" certainly applies to Harriett Johnson. Johnson, 21, has spent the last year working as a intern for the city, first in the Division of Risk Management, then at the mayor's office. Two weeks ago, she received the Best of the New South Award at an evening City Council meeting.
Because she was diagnosed with lupus as a teenager, Johnson said she knows what the value of life truly is: "I don't want to do anything that will not be self-fulfilling. I refuse to pinpoint my ideals or aspirations because you never know where your life is headed."
Johnson does plan to attend law school after completing her English degree at Jackson State. "This is my final year at JSU, and I am excited about graduating. I am choosing to go to law school because with a law degree I can have the flexibility do different things," she said.
Johnson's dream career would be to work as the executive director of the American Red Cross. Her love for working to help others comes from her greatest influence, her aunt. "I am named for my aunt, Joyce Harriet. She has taught me so many things. She is extremely active in her community, church and sorority. She always taught me to never give up on anything I want to accomplish," Johnson said.
Until the Red Cross comes knocking at her door, Johnson said she would like to continue to work for non-profits. "Helping others is what helped me get through my feeling about my illness," she said. "My happiest moments have been helping to make others happy."
The Next Big Thing in Food
by Skyla Dawn Luckey
Jill Mitchell, 24, is well on her way to becoming the next successful independent business/restaurant owner of Jackson. A 2002 graduate from Mississippi College with a biology degree, Mitchell discovered after juggling two jobs—UMC Department of Pharmacology and Rooster's—for two-and-a-half years that her passion lies in the food industry and not in research.
Mitchell makes a person feel as if he or she has known her for years with her magnetic personality and genuine consideration. From the way she explained her restaurant passion, it is apparent that she truly believes in the number one key to success in the restaurant business: treating customers well.
"I'm learning from the best," she said. "Nathan and Tim Glen (owners of Rooster's and Basils) are the greatest. I believe that good customer service is the best way to do it. It's great to see the same faces come in there everyday, especially when they bring their families. That's when you know you're doing it right."
She began taking her first baby restaurant steps with Rooster's around 10 years ago as a high school student working on the line. Her boss, Nathan Glen, raves about her. "Jill is totally focused when she comes into work and leaves her personal garbage behind," he said. "She makes sure the schedule is right and all the food coming out is fresh. She has the ability of open vision. She knows exactly how to treat people. Tunnel vision does not exist in her eyes." He added: "When she is ready, we are going to help her open her own restaurant. It will not even be a partnership with us. Her very own. She has what it takes and she is at the top of our list."
Watch out, Jackson, for the Jill Mitchell restaurant opening up near you.
Stylish, Sassy and Salient
by Brett Potter
She's got a flippy, blonde, layered haircut, stylish red-rimmed glasses and pouty lips that produce a beautiful smile, and she can be seen with her petite hands in anything progressive within Jackson. Her name is Neola Young, and at only 23 years old, she works at for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life as the registrar for their two museums. One museum is in Utica and is called the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience; it houses torahs and menorahs and other artifacts. The other museum, the satellite museum in Natchez, is an actual synagogue.
Young is also part of the Advisory Council for the Arts Alliance here, which encourages growth in the arts. She serves as one of the youngest members. "I feel like I bring a younger voice—that 20-somethings vote—to the table for Jackson. I represent the group that is interested in the Convention Center and developing downtown," Young said. She also works with Metro Jackson Area Attractions, which has members from all over, including restaurant owners and other entrepreneurs who promote tourism.
In addition, Young works with UNITY, an up-and-coming gay/straight alliance, and is helping to get it off the ground. She is highly effective in helping to organize donations to Grace House and structuring the social events calendar for the residents. Young has collaborated with many others in an effort to provide the major needs wish list for the residents, too—needs such as transportation, TVs and computers.
Whether she is educating about the Jewish lifestyle and religion, helping support the growth of an actual downtown life or supporting the GLBT community, Young has packed quite a bit of power behind her progressive punches to the gut of Jackson.
NICKEL G: SOULMAN
by Catherine Womack
What does it mean to be young and influential in this town? How about having hundreds of listeners and infusing young minds with a positive message? These are just a few of the talents of Nicolas Giovanni Marcus, otherwise known as Nickel G. This 30-year-old native Mississippian was named after another artist and teacher, Yolanda Cornelia Nikki Giovanni Jr. And from the beginning his blessings were many.
"I was a gifted child. And I enjoyed the learning experience but could not stay focused in school," he said.
He was already thinking of the mark he wanted to leave on this world when he headed to Jackson State to study mass communications and advertising. He knew that the most important thing you must know is how to promote is yourself, so he stepped out on that faith and began an internship at Hot 97.7 Jams, working his way up doing promotions for DJ Scrap, who was his mentor at the time.
At first. public speaking was hard for him. "I was constantly thinking of what people were thinking about what I was saying. I was stumbling and insecure, but I got over it," he said. And he got better with practice. "I learned to write things down before I speak and practice out loud. I eventually got comfortable enough, and now I am one of the best. No, I am the best on the air today."
Nickel G is taking his message to the streets and, more importantly, to the kids. His work with the radio station includes projects like broadcasting live from high school football games as well as deejaying at school events for free. Due to his selfless efforts, he has been invited back to speak at Career Day at both Key and Pecan Park elementary schools, on the importance of education.
"Children are looking for someone to look up to," he said. "So I got to step out on faith and prep kids on the importance of making something of themselves. Once we realize that the best gift is to give rather than receive, the better this would will be."
Nickel G has a few other enterprises he's working on. He just came out with a line of T-shirts featuring a cartoon version of himself. He also hosts neo-soul poetry Sunday nights at Santiago's.
The Quest for Change
by Natalie Irby
Sitting in the former office of Medgar Evers on the second floor of the Masonic Temple on Lynch Street, I had no clue that I was about to have the honor of talking with one of the most driven young women I have ever met. Born and raised in Jackson, Kemba Ware has dedicated herself to the quest for change through politics as far back as she can remember.
From canvassing at age 7 to a position as Gary Anderson's campaign manager to recently being appointed assistant secretary for the Jackson branch of the NAACP, the list of credits continues for this 27-year-old young woman. Ware is also the office manager for the Mississippi state conference of the NAACP. She received her undergraduate degree from Tougaloo College and went on to receive a masters in public policy and administration at Jackson State University.
Ware believes that many people misunderstand what the NAACP stands for by considering it an anti-white organization, which it is not. She hopes to work toward directing the interest of more people, white and black, to the NAACP.
"Everyone's civil rights can be violated," she said. "You have to remind people that you cannot run over someone because they have less money or education."
There are many policies Ware disagrees with—in particular, the removal of voting rights for convicted felons, which she believes is set up in order for them to ultimately fail. Through her involvement in the NAACP, Ware is a fighter whose life is dedicated to the goal of effecting public policy and change. "You shouldn't complain if you are not doing anything. Come back when you have raised your hand and made a statement," she said.
by Ayana Taylor
David McCarty's personality seems to walk into the room before he does. After talking with him, it is obvious that he is a young man, from a family of coal miners, ready to make his mark in the world count.
Raised in Birmingham, his move to Starkville to attend Mississippi State University was an adjustment. "It was just serendipity that brought me to Mississippi State," he said. "I hated Starkville at first. But I got a scholarship, and I wanted to be away from home but not too far."
Now a proud Jacksonian, McCarty, 29, said: "The best thing about Jackson is that we are big enough where we have things going on but small enough where you can really feel a part of the community," he said.
McCarty recently served as political director on newly elected Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Graves' campaign. He recalls Graves' victory as one of his happiest moments. "My working relationship with Justice Graves started when I worked as one of his law clerks. However, I was reluctant to stay with the courts while he was campaigning," he said. "As state judicial employees, we were barred from being involved in politics. So I resigned my position to work on his campaign."
In May 2004, McCarty graduated from Mississippi College School of Law and was sworn into the Mississippi Bar this summer—by Justice Graves. "I think that if you are aspiring to be a attorney in the state of Mississippi, you should attend MC," he said. "It is in the heart of the state and within walking distance of many of the prominent law firms."
In contrast to the harshness of the political and legal microcosms of the city, McCarty is also connected to a softer side of the city—its music scene. When he first moved to Jackson he worked at Musiquarium in Banner Hall. "I got to see a lot of these great bands like Questions in Dialect, Color Revolt, King Elementary—all at Musiquaruim. We have a great music environment in Jackson," he said.
McCarty said the city as a whole is right on track. "Jackson is better now in 2005 than it was just two years ago in 2003 and definitely better than when I first moved here in 1999."
by Robert Williamson
In the 1980s, Jay Schimmel returned from an 11-year stint in California to found his namesake restaurant Schimmel's. But these days, Schimmel, 38, is more than a restaurant entrepreneur; he's a cultural conservationist. A fifth-generation Mississippian, Schimmel has invested his time and interest in preserving two "jewels," as he calls them: The Rainbow Co-op and The Subway Lounge.
Schimmel has had a long-standing relationship with Rainbow as a patron, so when he heard that the restaurant was in trouble he was eager to offer his services. "I got a call from Rainbow over the summer asking for help," he said. "The café was down to one day, and did I know of anybody that could give them some help? I said maybe I could."
Schimmel stresses the co-op's cultural importance as one of his principle motivations. "I've always thought that Rainbow was an integral part of the community, not just Fondren, but Jackson. I could not imagine Fondren or Jackson without Rainbow Co-op," he said.
Similarly, when The Subway Lounge was shut down, Schimmel offered his restaurant as an alternative venue for the bands that used to play there. He says that he sought to preserve the Lounge not just because of its musical significance, but also because of its historical significance as a landmark in the Civil Rights Movement. He speaks of the Lounge with reverence, asserting that "there is nothing in the United States that compares to the Subway Lounge." Schimmel's now hosts the event three to four times a month, standing room only.
Of his home state, Schimmel said, "I left for 11 years to see and do more, but I had to leave Mississippi to realize that what meant most to me was right in my backyard."
It's clear he intends to keep it there.
by Brett Potter
When Daniel Walker, 21, arrived at Millsaps College, he knew of a gay organization on campus, but since it had disbanded, he found a culture that needed embracing. This was the starting point for the Family and Friends Pride Coalition, an organization Walker founded and used as a vehicle to get his message of acceptance and support across.
Walker's bright, curly red hair and colorful rainbow bandanas seemed to get enough attention from his fellow students, so he decided to shed light on an issue that is often ignored on college campuses—the harsh realities of HIV/AIDS. With financial and moral support from the Student Body Association, Daniel Walker brought the first-ever Memorial AIDS Quilt—a powerful tool used for HIV/AIDS awareness—to Jackson in 2002. It's the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. Each of the more than 44,000 multicolored panels memorialize the life of a person lost to AIDS. Millsaps' final quilt measured 12' by 12' with only eight panels. Walker built the holder for the Quilt out of PVC pipe himself, and more than 250 visitors came to view it on display.
Pushing for increased acceptance, Walker is now initiating another gay-friendly project; however, this one also targets anyone with personal problems that may need the advice of someone trustworthy. "Safe Zone" is an all-inclusive program being developed at Millsaps College where certain faculty and stuff, under their own accord, will have stickers or some type of identification on their doors as people who are gay-friendly. The stickers will indicate that they are able and available to talk to the students about personal problems.
Lastly, Walker is working with other young advocates in the Jackson community to promote and advance the Queer Youth Adult Network (QYAN). This new network is a place for young GLBTs in the area to work together to accomplish things for communities and to help increase awareness.
Tearing Down Walls
by Brett Potter
At age 28, Sheila Bedi zooms around in her silver Volkswagen convertible ensuring that young Mississippians have adequate representation in courtrooms around the state. Bedi is a staff attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice, though she is actually employed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., and is "on loan" here indefinitely.
Bedi is more than qualified. Educated to a tee, she received her bachelors in sociology and political science from Michigan State, a law degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and her L.L.M. from Georgtown University. She started out as a journalist interested in "speaking truth to power" and civil rights. She said, "You know, I am a person of color and grew up in a very white environment. It became very clear to me what happens in America if you aren't part of the majority, and so that was one of the things where I decided I couldn't demand justice for myself if I couldn't secure those things for other people."
Bedi's first legal job was for the Whitman-Walker AIDS Law Clinic in D.C.—there she helped people with HIV/AIDS get appeals and initial applications for benefits. "The prison people were saying this crisis was an AIDS issue, and the AIDS people were saying this is a prison issue," she said. She then observed that people who are locked up, especially the sick, children and women, have no rights and no agency; therefore, she got very involved in the criminal justice system. After working in D.C. for two more years, Bedi was hired by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
She is now working in Mississippi to de-carcerate and ultimately tear down the prison walls. "Prisons don't work for public safety, and they don't for taxpayers," she said. "They certainly don't work for people who are locked up because they breed brutality. Do you want a neighbor who has been dehumanized in the most graphic ways for 10 years, or do you want someone who has gotten rehabilitated services and treated like a human being?"
by Jessica Kinnison
"She is really driven and energized, and that is contagious," local cook Daniel Johnson said of 23-year-old Melody Moody.
As I sit across from Moody, her words diffuse through the air perfectly and completely. Her newly formed dreadlocks anchor her small frame.
A painter, a musician, a writer and now an editor, Moody jumps in head first and never looks back. Recently, she joined local artists Joseph and Elli Williams to produce "Dry Bones," a journal of fine art and literature. "We felt like Jackson was primed for a journal of this type where real, quality artists could publish their work as well as a place for people to read what people in Jackson think and want to do in the community," she said.
At the Young Influentials photo shoot, Moody made sure to invite the other influentials to contribute to "Dry Bones"—her dedication to promoting community was obvious as she introduced herself to the others.
"A lot of people just don't realize that there are many ways to be involved," she said with faith and excitement in her eyes. For instance, Johnson and Moody have teamed up to orchestrate a non-profit fair in early April in Smith Park. And most recently, she has worked to bring more drum circles to Jackson. In addition to a drum circle benefit for the tsunami victims at Rainbow on Jan. 18, she and friends are taking over Fenian's on Monday nights to for music and poetry and dancing.
Her hands moving through the air as if she were painting a portrait of her vision, she said: "There are more ways to get plugged in besides building houses and serving soup. Dancers, painters, educators, artisans can plug in their own unique talents."
The New Revolution
by Ayana Taylor
She can be found registering people to vote, marching against white supremacy alongside bright-eyed college students or at the State capitol and fighting for the rights of disenfranchised felons. Nsombi Lambright, 31, has become one of the faces of a new revolutionary era in the state of Mississippi
Growing up in Jackson for most of her life, Lambright said she has a passion for the city and wants to continue to work hard to make it a better place to live for the next generation. "Young people in power will be the only thing that will save us in this world," she said, chuckling, "so we have to help make this world a great place where they can flourish."
Currently, Lambright is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Mississippi Chapter. Her work at the ACLU is extremely important, she said, because it is her outlet to help others. "Many people might not know that my roots in social justice come from a community organizing background. So with every project we do here I always think about ways the community can feel empowered," she said.
When most people think of the ACLU, Lambright said, they only think about the legal side. "Most folks think we just go around suing everybody, but we are also about helping others understand their rights and how to use law as a tool to get what you want accomplished," she said.
Though her work, passion and drive inspires those around her, she says her biggest influence has been her grandmother. "She was a model, to me, of what it means to be a woman," said Lambright.
On a more professional level, she said, she most admires the attorneys, community organizers and youth she is involved with everyday. "In particular, there is one woman that was in a really bad car accident last year, causing her to temporarily lose the use of both her legs," she said. "But despite that she would still work and organize in the community. Now if she could scoot around in a wheelchair and work in one of the most racist areas in the state, then I know I can get up every morning."
DAVE CARNER AND BOBBY KEANE
A Synergistic Duo
by Randy Perkins
Any time you browse among the thousands of first-edition books at Lemuria's pristine annex, LemuriaBooks.com, you are likely to find Jackson residents Dave Carner, 28, and Bobby Keane, 27, behind the counter pecking and clicking on their respective PCs. The two are the think tanks and tech wizards behind LemuriaBooks.com, which opened last year, and its accompanying Web site, launched a few years back.
Carner and Keane proved themselves extremely useful employees at Lemuria, as they both have backgrounds in literature as well as Web design. And as they explained, it is rare for an independent bookseller to have even one staff member with extensive computer proficiency. The two were pleased to be approached with the task of building and maintaining the bookseller's Web site in 2000, and later with designing a new space for events and additional housing for the bookseller's proliferating inventory. Hence, the LemuriaBooks.com building—fondly called "LemCom"—was born, and remains a highly successful synergy of art and event.
In addition to maintaining the Web site and dot-com building, Carner and Keane are behind booking many of the events and creating new ones. Among these is the "Originals" event, which highlights local talent and includes music and reading, among other mediums. The two have also proposed upcoming design changes for the Web site, such as including open-source software—only the next in a long line of innovations yet to come.