Best Barista: Victoria Fortenberry
(Cups Espresso Cafe, 2757 Old Canton Road, 601-362-7422, cupsespressocafe.com)
"I call myself the surliest barista in Jackson," Victoria Fortenberry, a barista at Cups Espresso Cafe in Fondren, says. Meanwhile, her coworkers, however, call her "Uncle Vic" for her loving and protective personality.
Since 2015, with a year-long stint in the middle as a bartender, the 24-year-old has served cortados and other drinks she can make with her eyes shut to scores of regulars and visitors alike.
The Rankin County native found a community at Cups "listening to music and drinking too much coffee," she says. "I pretty much grew up in this coffee shop."After graduating homeschool in 2015, Fortenberry tried out three majors at three different colleges before realizing it wasn't for her. She also plays the keyboard while her sister, Katie Fortenberry, plays the drums for Double Take, a musical duo they formed three years ago.
Fortenberry likes that Cups' beans are ethically sourced and locally roasted, and is grateful to keep working amid the COVID-19 pandemic. "I feel very privileged to work not only with the family we have at Cups, but with the family we have in the neighborhood," Fortenberry says. —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: Kree' Blackwell (Bar 3911, 3911 Northview Drive, 601-586-1468) / Cody Cox (Urban Foxes, 826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com) / Jessica Glenn (The Bean, 2914 N. State St., 769-572-5752, facebook.com/thebeanjxn) / Cameron Phillips / Joey Tannehill (Cups Espresso Cafe, multiple locations, cupsespressocafe.com) / Jordan White (The Bean, 2914 N. State St., 769-572-5752, facebook.com/thebeanjxn)
Best Chef: Godfrey Morgan
(Godfrey's, 2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602, facebook.com/Godfreys)
Godfrey Morgan, the owner and chef of Godfrey's, describes his restaurant and catering service on Terry Road as his "little island in south Jackson." Though the restaurant's menu and ambience are inspired by his Caribbean roots, the 41-year-old says his kitchen serves everything from oxtail and jerk chicken to veggie spring rolls and queso fries.
Born in Jamaica, Morgan grew up in the Cayman Islands before he moved to Jackson, where he completed culinary school at Hinds Community College in 2004. After working with world-class chefs in casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana, Morgan became the executive chef at Jackson State University in 2007, where he would stay for the next 11 years.
In 2018, after operating a catering service on the side, Morgan opened a full-time catering business that also served takeaway meals once a week. His food was so popular that he opened a full-service restaurant a year later.
Everything on his menu is made from his original recipes in house, fresh every day. He says he likes to go "over the top" to make sure every dish is "always seasoned to perfection."
"I love the joy that food brings," Morgan says. "To me, food is life." —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: Derek Emerson (CAET Seafood and Oysterette; 1000 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 9015, Ridgeland; 601-321-9169; caetseafood.com) / Hunter Evans (Elvie's, 809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Rashanna Newsome (Aplos Simple Mediterranean; 4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174; 601-714-8989; eataplos.com) / Pierre Pryor (Iron Horse Grill, 320 W. Pearl St., 601-398-0151, theironhorsegrill.com) / Enrika Williams (Fauna Foodworks, 601-287-1276, facebook.com/faunafoodworks) / Connor Wolf (Farmer's Table in Livingston, 1030 Market St., Flora, 601-506-6821, farmerstableinlivingston.com)
Best Bartender: Terrance "T.P." Patton
(Names & Faces Lounge, 224 E. Capitol St., 601-955-5285, facebook.com/namesandfaceslounge)
Terrance Patton, more commonly known by his nickname T.P., owns, manages and bartends at the Names and Faces Lounge in downtown Jackson.
Although his familial roots lie in Memphis, Patton has considered Jackson home since 2003 when he arrived with a band scholarship to Jackson State University. After graduation, he worked as a server, gaining enough of a following and skill that he eventually garnered a spot behind the bar.
"I love being around people. I'm just a people person," Patton says. "I like being the ear of people in everyday situations. I'm like a counselor behind the bar. I can feel what kind of day people are having based on body language and facial expressions."
He completed his bartending certification in Tunica where he learned about a panoply of drinks, signs of customer intoxication, proper wine storage, drink vehicles and other topics. The training comprised three months filled with eight-hour classes.
His motivation for opening the lounge derived from both a desire to be financially independent and a drive to place a friendly eating and drinking establishment where customers can feel comfortable staying for hours—and, perhaps most importantly, return again and again—in the city he calls home. Not only did Page design Names and Faces Lounge, he participated in the construction, and he plans to open a second location in Hattiesburg in the near future. —Mike McDonald
Finalists: Brandi Carter (Elvie's, 809 Manship St., 601-863-8828, elviesrestaurant.com) / Tristan Duplichain / Kurt Monaghan (Hal & Mal's, 200 Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com) / Ashley Pullin
Best Dressed: Angela Phillips
For as long as she can remember, Angela Phillips, 33, has enjoyed assembling outfits that look good and reflect her creative personality. "I can remember my dad when I was younger always saying, 'Wherever you go, you got to make sure you look presentable,'" she says, recalling how he would often wait for her to get her look right before going out.
Phillips grew up in north Jackson, graduated from Murrah High School, and earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Jackson State University in 2012 before completing her MBA at Belhaven University in 2018.
Phillips, now the local leasing manager at Northpark Mall in Ridgeland, strives for outfits that can go from the office to out on the town without sacrificing her personality or professionalism. Drawing inspiration from E! News correspondent Nina Parker, Phillips likes to keep up with what's next in fashion, from earth-toned tops and rose gold jewelry to leather joggers and Steve Madden sneakers. Though every piece bears her touch, Phillips says her personality really shows in her shoes and her earrings.
Offering advice on cultivating one's own style, Phillips believes being yourself is the key. "You are your own brand," she says. —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: Kyris Brown / Inez Doe / Eric Henderson / Jobeth Leigh Mcintosh / Alex Moore / Hannah Roland
Best Facialist/Esthetician: Arcadia Smith
(BeautifulGorgeous World Skin Care Studio, 5903 Ridgewood Road, Suite 103, 601-899-3154, facebook.com/BeautyBrandJackson)
Licensed esthetician Arcadia Smith has come a long way since graduating from
Magnolia College of Cosmetology. Now more than a decade later, Smith owns her own business: BeautifulGorgeous World Skin Care Studio. She works by appointment only, providing each client individualized treatments suited to their needs on that day.
"Your skin is completely new every 30 days, so I treat you with a fresh approach each time," she explains. "I offer pH testing, skin surface testing, infrared sauna, microdermabrasion, enzyme peels (and chemical peels). All facials include light therapy," Smith says. A personalized 30-minute appointment is $55, with consultations set at $25.
Smith is also trained to detect and identify melanoma skin cancers, referring them to a physician afterward. Teaching people to care for their skin and prevent problems is a real passion. "I love to educate," she says. "People tend to do better once you break it down so they understand how to take care of their skin and why." —Michele D. Baker
Finalists: Christine Cody (Makeup by Christine Cody, 601-760-2776) / Kellie Donaldson (Cole Facial Clinic, 204 E. Layfair Drive, Flowood, 601-933-2004, colefacialclinic.com) / Jess King (Jess K. Beauty, 769-233-3403) / Savannah Lloyd (Faces, 1115 Highland Colony Parkway, Ridgeland, 601-607-3033, facesdr.com) / Jennifer Palamono / Sara Tisdale (Blackledge Face Center, 1659 Leila Drive, 601-981-3033, blackledgefacecenter.com)
Best Fitness Trainer: Trey Jordan
(Burn Boot Camp, 115 Laurel Park Cove, Suite 107, Flowood; 769-572-4438; burnbootcamp.com)
Trey Jordan, a Ridgeland resident who became a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer in 2019, says he was quite surprised to be named a Best of Jackson finalist after such a short time.
"Honestly, it's such an honor being named for something like this and be recognized so quickly," Jordan says.
Jordan joined the U.S. Navy after graduating high school and discovered his passion toward helping others train while serving as a command fitness leader. After finishing his tour of duty in 2018, he began working to receive certification as a personal trainer from a company called ACE.
While working toward his certification, Jordan signed on as a trainee with women's fitness organization Burn Boot Camp under owner Shelly Key at the organization's Madison location, where he taught 45-minute "camps" that covered strength and weight training, body weight movement, athletic and metabolic conditioning and more. In January 2021, Jordan left Burn Boot Camp to return to college, but intends to work as a private personal trainer in the meantime. —Dustin Cardon
Finalists: Jasmine Brinson (Javatar Fitness, 601-613-9295, javatarfitness.com) / Jason Gibson (XplicitJ3, 1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 340, 601-850-3425, xplicitj3fitness.com) / Paul Lacoste (Paul Lacoste Sports, 601-398-0950, paullacoste.com) / Lenny Ross (Madison Healthplex, 501 Baptist Drive, Madison, 601-856-7757, healthplexperformance.com) / Oraeshia "Rhee" Unger (XplicitJ3, 1625 E. County Line Road, Suite 340, 601-850-3425, xplicitj3fitness.com) / Scott Young (Mettle Sports; 854 Centre St., Suite D3, Ridgeland; mettlesports.org
Best First Responder: Marcus Rounsaville
(Jackson Fire Department)
Even though he did not dream of being a firefighter when he was growing up, Marcus Rounsaville says "there is nothing greater" after serving with the Jackson Fire Department for the past 16 years.
Born in Chicago, Ill., the 41-year-old grew up between Illinois and Mississippi before settling in Natchez in the eighth grade. He says his twin brother Maurice is "his biggest supporter," and that he would not be the same without him.
Rounsaville joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998 after graduating from Provine High School. After four years and two tours of duty in Afghanistan, Rounsaville completed a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Jackson State University in 2004.
He remembers April 1, 2005, as the day that marked his transition from serving his country as a soldier to serving his city as a firefighter. While people often call about water leaks and other non-fire emergencies, Rounsaville says he will always show up. "This is my city," he said. "I love it, and I will never let it down."
Despite being eligible for retirement, Rounsaville wants to keep improving, and leave behind a legacy of dedication that his successor can pick up and continue. —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: John Cooly (Madison Police Department) / Hunter Grewe (Flora Fire Department) / Coty Hamilton (Richland Police Department) / Michael Hollingsworth / Christopher T. Sawyer (Law Enforcement and Safety Consultant, Motivus Momentum Agency) / Courtney Tullos (Paramedic, American Medical Response)
Best Hair Stylist: Amanda "Pretty Slayer" Williamson-Anderson
(Pretty Slayer Beauty Boutique, 115 N. State St., 601-918-4499, prettyslayer.com)
For Amanda Williamson-Anderson, hairstyling has been a family affair, getting her start by sitting in the salon with her mother, who worked as a stylist. Although her over-exposure to the industry at first made her reluctant to go into practice for herself, she eventually admitted that it was the "thing she gravitated toward" and opened Pretty Slayer Beauty Boutique.
Specializing in weaves, wigs, sew-ins and other hair extensions, Williamson-Anderson earned her "Pretty Slayer" moniker from her
clients, out of appreciation for the attractive hair styles she gave them.
In return, she cites her time interacting with clients as her favorite part of her daily work. "Women need to vent, so listening to them and making them feel pretty are important. I want them to leave out of (the salon) feeling totally different than they did when I came in," she says. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Lychanda Coleman-Brown (Shekinah Glory Hair Designs, 11055 Highway 467, Raymond, 601-857-9990, facebook.com/shekinahglory06) / Pollye Cooper (109 E. Main St., Florence, 601-213-6538, facebook.com/Pollye-Cooper-Cosmetologist) / Inez Doe (Ufancii Beauty Bar, 5735 Interstate 55, 601-790-0297, ufanciibeautybar.com) / Carly Temple (Turning Heads Salon, 498 Highway 16, Suite B, Carthage, 601-267-3544, facebook.com/Turningheadssalon2016) / Molly Gee Webster (Molly Gee and Co., 219 Garden Park Drive, Suite 200A, Madison, 601-853-0054, mollygeeandco.com) / Cammie Whitehead (The Glossary Salon, 109 E. Mail St., Florence, 601-845-1111, glossaryhairsalon.com)
Best Local Business Owner: Jeff Good
(Mangia Bene Restaurant Management Group, 3317 N. State St., 601-982-4443, facebook.com/MangiaBeneInc)
When Jeff Good hung up his apron at The Light House Restaurant (now closed) in the 1980s, his boss told him the restaurant business was in his blood. After 26 years of running three Jackson restaurants, Good, a self-described "57-year-old Pollyanna," says his old boss was right, "I'm just geared for hospitality."
Born in Iowa and raised in Utah, Good completed his senior year at Murrah High School when his family moved to Jackson in 1980. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Millsaps College in 1986. After selling computer systems for six years, Good reunited with Dan Blumenthal, a high school friend and professional chef, and re-entered the restaurant business.
The pair launched Bravo! Italian Restaurant and Bar in 1994, Broad Street Baking Company and Cafe in 1998, and Sal and Mookie's New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint in 2007.
Good says his restaurants are focused on quality food and quality service. "I'm thankful for the support we've received," he says, "and I hope we can keep going." —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: Tracy Branch (The Tracy Branch Agency, tracybranch.com) / Jill Jackson (Mississippi Medium, 601-706-9644, jillmjackson.com) / Godfrey Morgan (Godfrey's, 2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602, facebook.com/Godfreys) / Melissa Kirksey (BB'S LIVE - Bonny Blair's, 1149 Old Fannin Road, Suite 16, Flowood; 769-251-0692) / Jenni Sivils (The Prickly Hippie; 500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland; 601-910-6730, pricklyhippie.com) / Lee Vance, Jr. (Josephine's Kitchen, 4638 Hanging Moss Road, 769-572-4276, josephineskitchenms.com)
Best Makeup Artist: Christine Cody
(Makeup by Christine Cody, 601-760-2776, instagram.com/makeupbycody35)
Christine Cody is passionate about beauty. A professional makeup artist since 2001, Cody acts as a beauty guide and makeup instructor to women of all ages and races. The bulk of Cody's work is creating glamorous looks for birthdays, weddings, senior proms and family photo shoots, although she also does themed theatrical makeup for Halloween and other holidays.
"This is not a job, it's a personal mission," Cody says. "Bringing joy and confidence to women delights my soul. When they look in the mirror and are transformed, I'm overjoyed."
One-on-one appointments last between 60 and 90 minutes in her downtown Jackson studio, where Cody mixes and matches product lines to create a personalized "beauty recipe" for each client. Prices vary. "I've been lucky enough to find and live my passion," Cody says. "I love finding the special spark within each woman and bringing it forward." —Michele D. Baker
Finalists: Denavia Bell (Poisonous Stripes Makeup Artistry, facebook.com/poisonousstripesmakeupartistry) / April Epps (A. Renee Makeup Artistry, 601-850-7658, areneemakeup.com) / Kayla Jones (The Beauty Pantry, 504 N. Bierdeman Road, Pearl, 601-850-9038) / Bailey Marie New (Molly Gee & Co., 219 Garden Park Drive, Madison, 601-853-0054, mollygeeandco.com) / Carly Temple (Turning Heads Salon, 498 Highway 16, Suite B, Carthage, 601-267-3544, facebook.com/Turningheadssalon2016) / Cammie Whitehead (The Glossary Salon, 109 E. Mail St., Florence, 601-845-1111, glossaryhairsalon.com)
Best Massage Therapist: Tiffany Bennett
(Massage Envy, multiple locations, massageenvy.com)
Tiffany Bennett has been a licensed massage therapist since graduating cum laude from Antonelli College in 2013. Bennett has a thriving practice specializing in deep tissue, Swedish, chair and prenatal massage; reflexology; and hot stone therapy.
"Receiving regular massage helps relieve anxiety, tension and stress," Bennett says. "It can help you get focused and increase blood flow. Especially during this pandemic, it can help you relax, renew and revive mentally, physically and emotionally."
Bennett works from Massage Envy in Madison. She also does outcalls within a 30-minute driving radius (Jackson, Brandon, Pearl, Byram, Canton, Madison) and charges $80 an hour or 90 minutes for $120. She is also available for girls' night in massage parties and couples' massages.
Taking the dangers of COVID-19 seriously, Bennett offers parting advice during the pandemic: "Wear your mask, wash your hands, stay safe and protected. Be smart; be sure you and your therapist are taking the necessary precautions." —Michele D. Baker
Finalists: London Hamilton (NomiSpa; 734 Fairview St.; 601-948-3429; fairviewinn.com/spa) / Christopher Jordan (iRevive Bodyworks Massage & Spa, 1900 Dunbarton Drive, Suite C, 601-259-8918, facebook.com/irevivebodyworks) / Lashea Leggett (LaLa Spa, 220 Avalon Circle, Suite E, Brandon; 601-951-6436; lalaspa.biz) / Tiffany Melton (Massage by Tiffany; 4435 Mangum Drive, Suite B, Flowood; 601-317-1788, facebook.com/massagebytiff)
Best Nail Technician: Kristy Nguyen
(Rouge Nails Lash Wax, 5352 Lakeland Drive, Flowood, 769-572-4747, facebook.com/rougenailsms)
Kristy Nguyen put herself through college by working part-time and during summers as a nail technician, and this year, she'll celebrate her 10th year in the business.
"I didn't really think I'd ever do nails permanently, but I fell in love with it and wanted to learn more," Nguyen recalls. She regales her clients with this origin story at her place of business, Rouge Nail Salon in Flowood.
Customer comfort is a priority for Nguyen, who cites her relationship with her customers as the best part of her work. "I love meeting new clients, but my regulars feel like family," Nguyen says. "They've followed me since I've started my journey. They know everything about me, and I like to get to know them."
Nguyen believes that knowing her customers helps her meet their hectic schedules, as Rouge Nails is appointment only. "People don't have to wait," Nguyen says of the practice. This consideration for time allows Nguyen to do what she does best while tending to her clients' nail care needs: give them a space to be heard. "I'm a good listener," she reflects. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Shea Mitch (Nailfloetry, 601-918-6915, thenailpoet.as.me) / Diane Nguyen (Polished Nail Bar, 115 Village Square Drive, Suite K, Brandon; 601-398-3984; facebook.com/Polished-Nail-Bar) / Lambria Tillman (Lambo Nails, 307C Clinton Blvd., Clinton, 601-846-5077, facebook.com/shegotlamboed) / Kevin Truong (Kevin's Nail Spa, 655 Lake Harbour Drive, Suite 600, Ridgeland; 601-427-5211; facebook.com/Kevinnailsspa39157) / Victoria Walker (Cuticles Nail Studio, 2947-5 Old Canton Road, 601-366-6999, cuticlesnailstudio.com) / Rasheedah Williams (Shee' Nails, 115 N. State St., 601-668-9399, facebook.com/sheenail)
Best Photographer: D'Artagnan Winford
(D'Artagnan Portrait, 121 Millsaps Avenue, Jackson, 662-515-5989, facebook.com/DArtagnanportrait)
For fine-art portrait photographer D'Artagnan Winford, pictures keep records of specific moments in time, and he knows them when he sees them.
"I am looking for nuances, things in their gaze, a certain confidence, high self-esteem. I may say all of a sudden: 'Hold it right there!' They reply by asking 'Hold what right there?' And that's the moment I snap the picture," Winford says.
Raised in the Delta, Winford worked at Mississippi Valley State University as a senior graphic designer after graduating from MVSU in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. While he initially did not anticipate venturing into professional photography, he began taking photos for his job at MSVU. An art-director position at Jackson State University led him to the Jackson, where he opened D'Artagnan Portrait to hone his craft. He currently works for Ramey Agency as a senior art director.—Mike McDonald
Finalists: Bryan Mckenny (Bryan McKenny Photography, 601-530-0463, bmckennystudios.com) / Crystal Marie Thompson (Crystal Marie Photography, 601-691-0487, facebook.com/CrystalMariePhoto) / Leah Bardin (Leah Bardin Photography, facebook.com/Bardinphotography) / Michael Bilbrew (Bilbrew Photography, 601-850-6677, bilbrewpics.com) / Natasha Childers (Natasha Childers Photography, 601-720-4750, facebook.com/NatashaChildersPhotography) / Tristan Duplichain (Tristan Duplichain Photography, 601-946-3708, tristanduplichain.com) / Will Sterling (Sterling Photography, 300 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive S.E., Ridgeland, 678-429-9800, facebook.com/sterlingpics)
Best Professor: Erin Pickens
(Tougaloo College, tougaloo.edu)
During her 23 years as a morning news anchor, Erin Pickens heard generations of interns romanticize the "glamour" of television news. "It's so not glamorous," Pickens laughs. "I got into teaching because I thought it would be great for them to know what they're getting into—from a real-life perspective."
This led Pickens to apply to teach mass-communication courses at Tougaloo College, a position she's now held for seven years while continuing to work as an anchor for WAPT. "It's rewarding," Pickens says of her time at the historically Black college. "It's a chance to mold young minds, and even if TV news isn't glamorous, it's important. We're informing the public about what's going in their communities."
Pickens emphasizes community in her classroom, bringing the lessons she's learned at the station to her afternoon classes at the university. "The students (in my class) say, 'Wow!' when they see what all we encounter on a daily basis. The movies are really embellished, but this is real life." —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Natasha Childers / Noel Didla (Jackson State University, jsums.edu) / Miriam Gray (Jackson State University, jsums.edu) / Krisha Hawkins / Glake Hill (Jackson State University, jsums.edu) / Rodney Washington (University of Mississippi Medical Center, umc.edu) / Tracey Wells-Harmon (Jackson State University, jsums.edu)
Best Real Estate Agent: Meshia Edwards
(Community First Real Estate, 101 Business Park Drive, Suite I, Ridgeland; 601-956-6567; yourcommunityfirst.net)
Meshia Edwards started her career in credit repair, but her husband's position in the mortgage industry piqued her interest, and she began working in realty not long after.
"When I got into real estate in 2012, I came in with a five-year plan," Edwards recalls. "I wanted to get all the experience and exposure I could before starting my own brokerage."
Edwards achieved her goals, opening Community First Real Estate, which she has now expanded to include six agents and property listings in Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties.
The firm's community impact remains its primary goal. "My favorite part of my job is seeing the faces of the home buyers at the end of the journey," Edwards says. "Whenever I feel like I'm getting tired or second-guessing myself, I think of those smiling faces." —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Deanna Mikel (The Agency Real Estate Services, 350 Arbor Drive, Suite A, Ridgeland; 601-665-4869; deannamikel.theagencyrealestateservices.com) / Shadow Robinson (Next Level Real Estate, 5350 Executive Plaza, Suite 1, 769-251-0856, facebook.com/nextlevelrealestatellcms) / Dwanna Stanley (The Agency Real Estate Services, 350 Arbor Drive, Suite A, Ridgeland; 601-665-4869; dwannastanley.theagencyrealestateservices.com) / Shandra Thompson (The Agency Real Estate Services, 350 Arbor Drive, Suite A, Ridgeland; 601-665-4869; theagencyrealestateservices.com) / Rashida Walker (W Real Estate, 2160 Main Street, Suite B, Madison; 601-499-0952; wrealestatellc.com) / Kitcson White (Home Buyers Marketing MS; 129 Executive Drive, Suite G, Madison; 601-790-1772; homebuyersmississippi.com)
Best Server/Waitperson: Megan Evans
(The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, 1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601- 398-4562, themanshipjackson.com)
A julep leaf tattoo serves as a physical reminder of Megan Evans' time working as part of the team that worked for Julep Restaurant and Bar, a business that closed over five years ago. The environment that her coworkers and boss established for her made Julep feel like a second home filled with her surrogate family, and they still do their best to keep up with one another today.
Like many teenagers, Evans began waiting tables at 16 years old to earn some money and practice independence. Over time, though, her enjoyment of the job increased, and she's continued to serve patrons throughout the years.
"Being attentive to the customer is key," Evans says. "I have to let everything go at the door when I come in. I love working at a place that's good and consistently good. I know it's not a job for everybody, but I love it."
The Brandon native began working at The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen around four months ago, and she has already ingratiated herself into the family, feeling empowered. "They have me training people," she notes.
"I've been blown away by the business. People want to get out right now. People want to support local places. People have been really generous," Evans says. —Mike McDonald
Finalists: Zack Barret (Saltine, 622 Duling Ave., Suite 201, 601-982-2899, jackson.saltinerestaurant.com) / Amelia Brunson (The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, 1200 N. State St., Suite 100, 601- 398-4562, themanshipjackson.com) / Kayley Jones (BB's Live - Bonny Blair's; 1149 Old Fannin Road, Suite 16, Flowood; 769-251-00692) / Jillian Pitchard / Dani Vercher (Martin's Downtown, 214 S. State St., 601-352-9712, martinsdowntownjxn.com) / Ashliegh Wooten
Sexiest Bartender: Kree' Blackwell
(Bar 3911, 3911 Northview Drive, 601-586-1468)
When Kree' Blackwell isn't pouring drinks and serving laughs at Bar 3911, she has a desk job. "Bartending helps me with the monotony throughout my week," Blackwell says of her daily transition. "It's a relief and a release from sitting at a desk answering phones and doing paperwork."
Although she does appreciate the departure her work as a bartender provides, what keeps her coming back night after night is the people—on both sides of the counter. "I love the people that I work with and the customers. They make the night."
The customers have watched Blackwell progress throughout her entire tenure as a bartender, as she's spent her entire five-year career mixing drinks at Bar 3911, previously named "Wanderlust." Being recognized after such a short time in the field isn't an honor that she takes lightly, saying, "The amount of people who wanted to see me on the Best of Jackson ballot makes me feel good. Even though it's just a job, the customers and staff have made it so much more." —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Charlie Keister (Fondren Public, 2765 Old Canton Road, 769-216-2589, facebook.com/fondrenpublic) / Kurt Monaghan (Hal & Mal's, 200 Commerce St., 601-948-0888, halandmals.com) / Kristi Leigh Odom (Twin Peaks, 6010 Interstate 55 Frontage Road, 769-524-3552, twinpeaksrestaurant.com) / Lisa Palmer / Ashley Pullin / Colton Woodward (Fizz Mobile Bartending, fizzmobilebartending.com)
Best Teacher: Veronica Dykes
(Lanier High School)
Veronica Dykes has taught at Lanier High School for six years, but her love for teaching started much earlier. "My mother was a teacher for 38 years, so I had always grown up around education. Seeing my mom and the effort she put in endeared me to the profession," Dykes recalls. "Teaching is my own way of giving back. I can give to my students in the way my teachers gave to me."
The teachers who encouraged Dykes through her educational upbringing taught locally, as Dykes graduated from Madison Central High School before earning her teaching degree at Delta State University.
Her first five years at Lanier High School were spent teaching English II, which is a state-tested subject for high schoolers in Mississippi, so she found her move to English III this school year to be "a relief," she says with a laugh.
No matter the subject or grade level she teaches, Dykes is quick to point out that her students teach her as much as she teaches them. "(Empathy) isn't something I acquired on my own. My students taught me how to be a better person," she says. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Chinelo Bosah Evans (Early College High School @ Tougaloo College) / Noel Didla (Jackson State University) / Shelby Fant (Florence Middle School) / Alex Gibert (Ridgeland High School) / Blakeney McGraw (Olde Towne Middle School) / Jamie Moore (Olde Towne Middle School)
Best Urban Warrior: Maggie Wade
(WLBT-TV, 715 South Jefferson St., 601-948-3333, wlbt.com)
Maggie Wade has garnered over 500 awards for her work in journalism since going to work at WLBT during her senior year of college, but for the media maven, her truest work comes through advocating for disadvantaged youth in the metro area.
"To me, (being an urban warrior) means constantly being willing to take a stand for our children," Wade says. "When we meet a child, we have an opportunity to give them tools to be a better human."
The news anchor has provided youth with such tools by producing news segments on foster children in search of permanent homes through her platform at WLBT, and she also lends her passion for underprivileged children to Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth's advisory board.
Her commitment has not gone unnoticed in Jackson circles, as Wade was conferred an honorary doctorate by Belhaven University and meritoriously completed her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Mississippi College in December 2020. For Wade, the work itself remains more important than any accolades she has received. "When we have strong communities, we have strong families. That's one way we can all be urban warriors," she concludes. —Taylor McKay Hathorn
Finalists: Kaye Donald (Hartfield Academy, 1240 Luckney Road, Flowood, 601-992-5333, hartfield.org) / Clay Edwards (Clay Edwards Media, savejxn.com) / Jeff Good (Mangia Bene Restaurant Management Group, 3317 N. State St., 601-982-4443, facebook.com/MangiaBeneInc) / Judge Carlyn Hicks (Hinds County Court Judge, 407 East Pascagoula St., 601-968-6670, courts.ms.gov) / Rukia Lumumba (People's Advocacy Institute; 190 E. Capitol St., Suite 450; 601-885-3240; peoplesadvocacyinstitute.com)
Best Visual Artist: Wyatt Waters
(Wyatt Waters Gallery, 307 Jefferson St., Clinton, 601-925-8115, wyattwaters.com)
Wyatt Waters, an artist who specializes in watercolor, remembers playing a game as a child where he would look at something, close each eye in turns, and then compare the two images. Even today, the 65-year-old says his art, which is almost always done on location, is motivated by a curiosity for his subject.
"It's about discovery for me," Waters says. "It shows me that the world is different from what I thought before I was standing in front of it."
Waters has operated a gallery and studio in Clinton for 21 years, selling original works as well as prints and other merchandise. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Waters closed his gallery and reopened two months later after improving his online store and establishing guidelines for social distancing.
As an artist, Waters says he enjoys coming up with creative solutions to problems and projects. Recently, while painting outside, a bird dropped two times on his work in progress. "I had to take that and adapt it into something in my painting," he says, laughing. A longtime Mississippi native, Waters looks forward to continuing travels with his wife throughout the South painting for an upcoming book. —Kyle Hamrick
Finalists: Brian Ballou (facebook.com/btballou) / Cody Cox (facebook.com/cody.cox) / Sabrina Howard (601-940-6804, sabrinahoward.com) / Azha Sanders (azhatattoos.com) / Haley Toups (instagram.com/haleytoupz) / Ginger Williams (gingerwilliamscook.com)