Time and time again, members of the under-40 group in Jackson demonstrate just how successful Mississippians can be with a little ambition, creativity and perseverance. Take a look at this year's Young Influentials crew.
When Calyn Stringfellow turned 18, she drove herself to the Hinds County Courthouse to register to vote.
"I knew it was something I had to do," Stringfellow says. "My grandmother worked in voter registration in Jackson in the '70s and '80s, and (voting) was embedded in me as a child."
Her grandmother, Elizabeth Moore, was not the only member of her family to emphasize the importance of politics and civic responsibility.
"We always talked politics in my house," Stringfellow says of her upbringing. "I know you can't do that with everyone, but we were always told, 'This is your right; this is your opinion, and you vote how you choose—as long as you vote.'"
She participated in her first local election the fall following her July birthday, and she heeded her parents' advice at the federal level for the first time during the Obama-Romney election of 2012.
"I knew if I didn't vote, I would have had to come home and deal with my grandmother," Stringfellow quips.
The youngest of Moore's 36 grand-children, Stringfellow kept the activist's legacy alive by organizing a voter-registration drive earlier this year, at which she registered 10 people to vote.
"I was beating myself up about the low number," the Jackson State University graduate recalls. "But I had people who helped me realize that even one person counted."
With millennials surpassing baby boomers as the largest eligible voting bloc in the country, Stringfellow considers every vote from the younger generation to bear significance, she says.
"I feel that if we all voted, the change would be so phenomenal. It would be bigger than what one could even fathom. We could implement so much change if we voted on what mattered to us," the 25-year-old concludes. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Agent of Change
John Lassiter, 39, recalls being a student at Mississippi College when Mississippi held a referendum to replace the state flag in 2001. He says he felt disheartened when the vote passed against changing it. "I became pretty frustrated by that," he says.
Lassiter graduated with bachelor's degrees in English and history and became an attorney. A lifelong Mississippian and lifelong fan of college baseball, Lassiter has worked at Burr & Forman for 14 years and is presently a partner with the firm.
In December 2019, the state flag still loomed in Lassiter's mind. Noticing a correlation between the controversial emblem on the state flag and young people leaving the state, he concluded that Mississippi needed a symbol for all its citizens, so he made a cold call to the NCAA. The threat of losing college baseball regionals over the state flag, Lassiter reasoned, "would really cause an economic and social impact that would be felt by the lawmakers," Lassiter says.
From January to June, Lassiter worked with the NCAA to expand its 2001 policy that banned championships and tournaments in states that fly the Confederate flag.
"We were calling it Operation Flag-Drop," he says with a laugh. He drafted a statement, and 31 current and former student athletes, including Lindsey Hunter, signed it. In May and June, the social consciousness catalyzed by the death of George Floyd and many others revived the effort to get the Mississippi Legislature to bring the flag down. Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill on June 30.
Lassiter says he is thrilled to have joined the multitudes working to change the flag. "(That day was) one of the most fulfilling days of my life and career, because it was just an idea. ... The state flag to me was a very simple issue. It had to come down," he says. —Kyle Hamrick
Analyse Mullican never imagined that she would be a notary public. The Mississippi College graduate completed a degree in homeland security in May 2019 before going on to law school. However, after her first semester, Mullican realized that path was not for her. She started work as a paralegal at Danks, Miller & Cory in March shortly before the statewide quarantine descended.
Identifying as a helper by nature, Mullican finds satisfaction in helping clients in her current role.
"A lot of my identity is really tied into trying to be a resource," she says. "That's what drives me more than anything."
This personal policy led Mullican to offer her services as a notary for Hinds County absentee ballots for free, which she announced on her Instagram story in late August.
During the last presidential election, Mullican was a freshman in college, so she applied to send a ballot back to her hometown of Pearl.
"I felt like I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off," she recalls, noting that she found the absentee ballot process "overwhelming" with everything else she was juggling at school.
"I've always had this weird, ingrained passion for the betterment of the people here," Mullican says, citing that mindset as the reason why she wants to help college students and others in the Hinds County area complete their absentee ballots. Because she understands how unfamiliar and stressful the process can be, Mullican wants to do what she can to guide those she assists.
"I'm just here to help," she concludes. To get in touch with Mullican for help notarizing absentee ballots, email [email protected]. —Kyle Hamrick
A man of many passions, Timothy Young works as an artist and graphic designer who distributes his talents into a variety of causes to benefit his community. From coordinating music videos as the creative director for WOLFPACK and the rapper DevMaccc, to creating graphics and communication content for Mississippi Votes, Young works to give back to the city he loves.
"I try to keep the community behind me, and they have pushed me to be able to produce so much good for myself as an artist and for the work I do in the community," the 22-year-old Jacksonian says.
Young traces his creativity back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Living for days without power and limited resources, he found enjoyment and solace in an art set. "Since then I have just been engulfed in art and being able to create, create, create," he says.
His pension for design began with a class T-shirt for his middle-school graduation and has continued to develop since then. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in marketing at Jackson State University has taught him how to network and promote himself and his talents.
In June, Young and 14 other students coordinated a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter Mississippi that attracted over 3,000 people downtown, after only five days of preparation.
"We all wanted to do something for our community," Young recalls. "We were never doing it for publicity, but because it was a necessity. It was amazing to see how wide we were able to cast our net. You are not ever sure of your power, unless you set your mind to do something." —Kyle Hamrick
Adviser & Guide
In the eight years since her 2012 graduation from the Mississippi University for Women, Symone Bounds has served four years—half her time as an alumna—on the university's alumni board.
"You're a board member for three years," she explains. "Then you rotate off but can still chair a committee." During her three years on the board, Bounds worked in membership recruitment, helping with events aimed at inspiring inactive members of the alumni association to become active by donating or attending the events.
Bounds also used the degree in paralegal studies she earned from the university to work for diversity and inclusion.
"We look into the bylaws of the alumni association to be sure that there is inclusive language within those documents," Bounds says, also noting that the task force hosted webinars and roundtable discussions for interested alumni.
Since her service on the board is now complete, Bounds chairs the mentoring committee. "Once you graduate (from MUW), we say that you join the 'long blue line,'" she says. To ease the transition of juniors and seniors at the Columbus, Miss., college to graduate school or to the workforce, Bounds and her team work to ensure that students make contact with alumni who can advise them in respect to their goals.
"We host BLUE (Building Leadership, Understanding and Education), and we even fix the seating arrangements, putting alumni and students in similar fields together in order to foster conversations," she says.
Connecting people is nothing new for Bounds, who is currently the office manager for Volunteer Mississippi. The 30-year-old works to recognize volunteers who do good work in the Magnolia State and also implements statewide events so that eager Mississippians have an opportunity to get involved in supporting their home state. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
"I do believe in karma," Jennifer Welch says, "and I definitely think that what you put out is what is returned to you."
Inheriting this philosophy from her grandmother, who is Buddhist, and her father, who taught her to "leave places more beautiful than you found them," Welch demonstrates these values through her work as the owner of Belhaven Residential, which works to renovate Class C properties into high-quality residences for the people in the city she loves.
A Jacksonian born and raised as one of nine children, Welch received encouragement from her father to enter college with a specific vision in mind. After initially attending Sweet Briar College to study medicine, Welch then transferred to Millsaps College to "try things in business."
After reading Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," Welch decided to pursue real estate and property development through an unpaid internship with Waddell Nejam at Nejam Properties. Two months later, she accepted a full-time position with his company.
In 2007, Welch bought her first property; now she owns close to 200 apartments and houses. Through Belhaven Residential, Welch provides quality multi-family units and houses to the Belhaven Heights community.
Over the past 15 years, she has seen her renovating touch and intentional management have "a very stabilizing effect on Belhaven Heights." In a city with so much need, Welch says she sees so much potential.
"I want to work toward making this area better for everyone," she says. "What I really like about my neighborhood, what I really love about Jackson, is that it is very diverse. That makes Jackson great, and I want that to be embraced." —Kyle Hamrick
Margaritas was one of the first Mexican food restaurants in Jackson 24 years ago and has remained in force to this day. The Garcia family, originally from the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico, opened the restaurant near County Line Road in 1996.
After that, the Garcias opened another restaurant, Papitos, which today has several branches in the Jackson area. Following his family's legacy, Jose Garcia, 27, son of Margaritas' and Papitos' founders, has already opened two Mexican restaurants on his own.
"I was 3 years old when my dad's family opened Margaritas. I have been involved in the restaurant since I was a child. I started by carrying chips and cleaning tables," Garcia says. "I learned to work with discipline and over time I learned to run the business."
Although continuing the family legacy was always an option, Garcia nearly left Mississippi to work in Texas after a company offered him an appealing job following his graduation from the University of Mississippi four years ago.
However, Garcia saw the opportunity to take a place in Gluckstadt, and he preferred to stay to open his first restaurant, Las Terrazas, which he says has been successful and has allowed him to quickly recover the investment. In October 2019, Garcia opened his second restaurant in Oxford under the Uno Mas brand. "Uno Mas" means "one more."
"The restaurant's architecture is modern and simple. The menu focuses on Mexican street tacos, and our bar offers cocktails made with fresh juices and an incomparable selection of tequila and mezcal," he says.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the temporary closure of these restaurants, but Garcia says that he was able to keep businesses running by dedicating his time to delivering takeout until finally being able to reopen the doors to the public on May 15.
Garcia plans to open more restaurants and has his sights set in Fondren, where a developer offered him a commercial space that should be ready in the near future.
Margaritas fue uno de los primeros restaurantes de comida mexicana en Jackson hace 24 anos y se ha mantenido vigente hasta la actualidad. La familia Garcia originaria del estado de Tamaulipas en Mexico abrio este restaurante cerca a County Line Rd en 1996.
Despues de eso, los Garcia abrieron el restaurante Papitos, que hoy cuenta con varias sucursales en el area de Jackson. Siguiendo el legado de su familia, Jose Garcia, 27, hijo de los fundadores ya ha abierto por su cuenta dos restaurantes de comida mexicana.
"Yo tenia 3 anos cuando la familia de mi papa abrio Margaritas. Desde nino me involucraron en el restaurante. Empece llevando chips y limpiando mesas," dice. "Aprendi a trabajar con disciplina y con el tiempo aprendi a manejar el negocio˜
Aunque siempre fue una opcion continuar con el legado familiar, Garcia estuvo apunto de irse a trabajar a Texas donde una empresa le hizo una excelente oferta laboral luego de que hace cuatro anos se graduara como contador de la Universidad de Mississippi.
Sin embargo, Garcia vio la oportunidad de tomar un local en Gluckstand, y prefirio quedarse para abrir su primer restaurante, Las Terrazas, que segun dice ha sido exitoso y le ha permitido recuperar la inversion rapidamente. Hace un ano, en Octubre de 2019, Jose abrio su segundo restaurante en Oxford con la marca Uno Mas.
"La arquitectura del restaurante es moderna y simple. El menu esta concentrado en los tacos callejeros de Mexico y nuestra barra ofrece cocteles hechos con jugos frescos y una seleccion de tequila y mezcal incomparable," dice.
La pandemia del Coronavirus obligo al cierre de estos restaurantes pero Garcia cuenta que pudo mantener los negocios a flote dedicandose a entregar comida para llevar hasta que finalmente el pasado 15 de mayo volvieron a abrir las puertas al publico.
Garcia tiene planes de abrir mas restaurantes, uno de ellos en Fondren donde un urbanizador le ofrecio un local comercial que pronto debera estar listo. —Mauricio J. Quijano