The Jackson metro area has a nifty habit of raising and attracting a number of is full of driven, innovative and community-focused residents. This year's Chicks We Love package showcases a number of influential women who do their part to bolster the city that we call home.
The current pandemic has created an environment of low-interest rates in the world of real estate, which has resulted in striking changes to the field, but Felicia Durham of EXP Realty helps her clients roll with the punches.
"We have more demand than we have supply," Durham says. "People who were previously content in their (living) situations are reaching out, so it's amazing because the market has opened up tremendously."
In the present climate, houses are going on the market and being put under contract 24 to 48 hours later. Because clients have so little time before making their decisions, they can often find themselves overwhelmed, which is why Durham aims to provide support and put them at ease during the process.
"I have to make sure that both the buyer and the seller understand the process," Durham says of her role. "Setting the expectation is the number-one key for both parties."
The expectations can be high in the present market, as Durham notes that many clients who previously had time to look for a new home while selling their own often find themselves with a pressing offer—and thus a pressing need to vacate their own home.
"I encourage patience with my clients," Durham says. "I tell them there's a house for everyone, but you must show patience."
Although Durham spends her days helping clients find their "perfect home," she has some definite ideas about what her own dream house would look like. "My husband was born in the city, but he has a country spirit. So (my ideal house) would be on some land, but I'm going for the kitchen first. That definitely has to be the 'wow factor' for me."
As much as she'd like some room to spread out, Durham jokes that she doesn't want too much space. "Dust builds up, and I'm so busy!" she laughs.
To make realty-related inquiries, find Durham's business page on Facebook. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
When Letitia Johnson ran for a seat on the Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees in 2017, she wanted to instigate positive change in the school district that serves nearly 24,000 students. Five of those students were Johnson's own children, making the mission to improve the local public-school system personal to the now-president of the district's governing body.
Johnson's biggest victory as a board member to date, she says, is seeing JPS initiate a 1:1 program that will provide technological learning tools for its students.
"The last supply of electronic devices (that were ordered) is going to be enough for each student to have their own device," Johnson boasts.
This program has been particularly needed in the current school year, as Jackson Public Schools students have been learning entirely remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the successes that Johnson has seen in her three-year tenure, she believes that her work isn't yet finished, however.
"I continue to serve because there's still a lot of work left to do," she says. "We've made a lot of progress, but there are still a lot of things I'd like to see done."
In Johnson's view, the biggest determining factor in the district's continued success lies in its teachers and students.
"I wish everyone knew that we have a body of committed teachers and a large spectrum of students who are eager to learn. I think a lot of people don't think we have great things, but those are our two greatest resources," Johnson concludes. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Jo Beth Murphree
When Jo Beth Murphree's parents gave her a name, they nearly predicted her life's trajectory, naming her after a family friend, the wife of the man who would go on to become her high school softball coach and present-day colleague in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"When I was in high school," Murphree recalled, "I went to FCA to get a free donut. I really didn't understand what it was supposed to be about, but my high school coach taught me what it was all about."
The mission of FCA is to "reach coaches for Christ," as the organization believes that coaches have the ability to have an impact on their players' spiritual development, just as Murphree saw in her own life.
"A lot of kids spend more time with their coach than they do with their parents," Murphree says. "We feel like the lasting impact that coaches will have on their athletes and ultimately on their families and communities will make a huge difference."
Murphree's journey to becoming an area director for FCA was a long one, as she supervised campus ministries at Belhaven University for 15 years prior to accepting her current position.
Presently, the FCA boasts chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges across the country. Murphree describes the work of "leading coaches and athletes into a lasting relationship with Jesus and the church" as ever-growing.
"I oversee eight counties in central Mississippi, and we don't have a staff in each of those areas yet," Murphree says of her present work. "The main focus right now are Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties. We have some coaches who are leading things, so I'm travelling to minister to coaches until we have staff in place there."
To learn more about the Mississippi FCA, you can visit mississippifca.org. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Monica Daniels began working at the Magnolia Speech School after her daughter, Callie Daniels-Bryant, was born profoundly deaf. "(For me), it was about teaching children to listen and to talk, to listen and to be understood and to self-advocate," Daniels says of her work with the school.
These lessons of self-advocacy were deeply ingrained in her daughter, as Callie went on to study journalism at the University of Mississippi, interning at the Jackson Free Press during her time there. Tragically, Callie died in a car accident earlier this year, but for Daniels, the work continues.
Now the president and CEO of Special Olympics Mississippi, Daniels says that the motto of the organization is "the inclusion revolution," which the Fondren resident finds fitting. "When I was offered the position," she recalls, "I thought to myself, 'That's what I've been doing for 27 years—bringing everyone to the table."
One way that Special Olympics Mississippi does just that is through its partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in the Mississippi Delta. A Delta native herself, Daniels reached out to the organization and helped the Special Olympics become part of a national project to form unified teams, matching athletes with intellectual disabilities to peers within the Boys and Girls Club.
"The bar is set high for physical fitness, health awareness and social engagement," Daniels says of the teams. "We took a flag football team to Seattle, Wash., and we won bronze. Our quarterback is a girl, so we're pretty proud of that."
The Special Olympics in Mississippi offers more than victories on the field, however. "It's a vehicle to promote inclusion," Daniels says. "We bring a movement; we are in the constant motion of educating people." Visit specialolympicsms.org for more information. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Each year, Butterflies by Grace Defined by Faith gives a "Shero" award to a survivor of domestic violence, celebrating the recipient's ability to overcome.
"There's a photo of (a past winner) in tears as she accepted her award, and that's worth a million dollars," Eva Jones, founder of the program, says.
Butterflies by Grace Defined by Faith isn't about raising funds; it's about raising awareness of domestic violence, which Jones believes is still enshrouded by a pervasive culture of silence.
"There's a silence because of fear," Jones states. "When it comes to wanting to share or to speak out about their experiences, they're fearful because there's so much victim-blaming. People ask, 'Why does she stay? Why can't he can't just get out of it?'"
Jones asserts that the catalyst to enlightenment for these outsiders-looking-in stems from public education on the topic. "Education is key," Jones says. "Many people don't know what constitutes domestic violence or that it affects both women and men."
Regardless of the form the violence takes, Jones believes that it "robs people of their security, value and hope." Jones' and her organization's role, then, is to grant victims a full restoration of their self-worth, she says. "We have to create a network of people—such as churches, schools, workplaces and agencies—to provide advocacy and safe and effective services to eliminate domestic violence."
Advocates, however, cannot walk in the shoes of a survivor. "Survivors have been let down by so many people who are meant to love them," Jones laments. "So when we tell them that we're going to award them on a night when they put on their best—even if their best is just a smile—you give them so much hope."
Learn more at bbgdf.org. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Jordan Hankinson, a visual artist, once spent much of her time peddling her wares at pop-up art festivals around the Jackson metro area. While COVID-19 has cancelled many such events, Hankinson is looking forward to getting back to her booth at the upcoming Women's Art Pop-Up at Fondren Public, slated for Dec. 12.
In the interim, Hankinson has adapted to online sales. "I've started an art Instagram, and I've opened an Etsy shop. I think everybody is collectively trying to get their stuff online, and people have definitely been shopping online more lately," Hankinson says.
These online shoppers have plied the artist with commissions, her favorite thus far being a Halloween-themed project she did for a friend to display at her salon opening in Memphis. "It was nice to draw something personal for my friends—something that was happy and fun."
"Happy and fun" also serves as Hankinson's mantra for her art, as she draws inspiration from nostalgic scenes from her childhood. "I still have my 'Madeline' books, and I have a copy of 'Where the Wild Things Are.' Old cartoons inspire my work, too, and I still keep stuffed animals. It's a safe space to me, where I can dive into a different world," she says.
Holding on to these nostalgic memories has helped Hankinson navigate the gloom of the pandemic, and she hopes that her customers will feel the same way. "There are still joyful things going on, so I hope other people get to see things through a child's perspective through my work," she says.
To view Jordan Hankinson's art or to commission an order, find the artist on Instagram or Etsy, or you can visit her website at jordanhankinson.com. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Over a decade ago, Chrissy Cheshire helped with a fundraiser at an animal shelter. Before she left, the organizers asked her if she wanted to see what she had been raising money for, and Cheshire said yes. The experience was shocking: There were more than 300 dogs at the shelter that day.
After her self-proclaimed "life-changing moment," Cheshire founded Cheshire Abbey, a rescue organization for abused or homeless dogs. "Once we rescue them, we immediately take them to the vet to see what's going on with them," Cheshire says of her nonprofit's work. "We get them spayed or neutered, and since we're foster-based, we then start trying to match people with dog personalities and situations. In essence, we rehabilitate them and find great homes for them."
Not all of Cheshire's rescues find homes in the South, however, given that many southern rescues and shelters are completely overwhelmed, as most southern states do not have the spay and neuter laws common in the northern parts of the country. "There are vans that go north weekly, since (their shelters) don't have the overpopulation problems that we have," she says.
Regardless of where the dogs find their eventual homes, Cheshire's goal for each rescue is the same: for the dog to know the love of a human being.
"A lot of our rescues or abused, neglected or otherwise injured," she says. "A lot of them don't know what it's like to just be a dog and be able to be a companion, and we want to get them into a wonderful home that will give them that."
Presently, Cheshire Abbey is requesting for fellow animal lovers to donate to their cause so that the nonprofit can better pay for the dogs' medical and other bills. Donors can give via PayPal at [email protected] and through Venmo at cheshire abbey. —Taylor McKay Hathorn