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Sep. 18—ANDERSON — Jesse Reynolds Jr. sees a lot of potential in Anderson and Madison County.
And as the Leadership Academy of Madison County's new executive director, the Anderson native hopes to realize much of that potential.
"I want to be a part of the puzzle that helps move Anderson forward."
The son of machine worker Jesse Reynolds and daycare owner Elaine Williams Peel, Reynolds, 32, learned the value of hard work, starting LJ's Lawn Care business at the age of 9. He also has a stepfather, David Peel, who works in manufacturing.
"Most of my time in Anderson was either cutting grass, church or basketball," the graduate of the former Highland High School said. "I met a lot of people by doing that kind of work."
While growing up in Anderson, Reynolds also was heavily involved in New Hope Methodist Church, eventually transitioning to Ark of Deliverance.
After high school, where he played basketball, ran track and marched in the band, Reynolds entered Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, to major in business management with a minor in accounting.
"At the time, I was developing business ideas, and I thought having more training in the area of business would enhance my knowledge of the industry."
After college, Reynolds worked in financial services with Prudential, Royal United Mortgage and JP Morgan chase Bank. Most recently, however, he has served as director of community relations for the Lawrence Township Trustee in Marion County.
Though he, his wife, Rashai, who also is from Anderson, and their children, Princeton and Chandler, still live in Lawrence, they are in the process of moving back.
"We want our children to kind of grow up around their grandparents," he said. "That's how I grew up, around my grandparents."
It may seem like a departure from his past professional experience, Reynolds said, but there are some parallels to his new role, including leading from a place of service.
"In any leadership capacity, you have to believe in that mission, you have to be willing to serve in that mission and uplifting the people around me so they are able to thrive through that light and through that lens is how I plan to lead here," Reynolds said. "You are communicating a vision here at the LA how servant leadership can be effective in the community."
Reynolds said he's honored to be the first African-American named to serve as the Leadership Academy's executive director.
"I don't feel burdened because when you make it to a certain level in life, there is always going to be the first to be something," he said. "If you are setting goals and reaching those goals that you may be the first to serve. It's uplifting through a community that looks like me, speaks like me and walks like me."
In his capacity as an African-American first, Reynolds said, he wants to honor those who have paved the way.
"There's plenty of bricks that were laid here before me to get here," he said. "There's lots of people like me. I'm not the only one. There are plenty of us with the skill and mindset who carry themselves with dignity and pride."
But Reynolds stresses that his responsibilities cover all of Madison County and not just certain areas or types of people, and he expects to be visible as he manages existing relationships while building new ones through community events, emails and phone calls.
"There's already a great foundation built by my predecessors as far as reaching out to other parts of the county," he said.
LAMC board President Stephanie Moran said in a prepared statement she believes Reynolds will lead the organization into a new era of leadership development.
"He brings vision by drawing on the strengths of past programming and building innovative elements for future programs," she said. "He will assist the organization in addressing the gaps in opportunities for all stakeholders and organizations that desire to be served through leadership development."
Kim Townsend, executive director of the Anderson Housing Authority and chair of the Race, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, followed in her father's footsteps in 2001 and went through the Leadership Academy's program,
Though Townsend has yet to meet Reynolds in person, his appointment is a long time in coming, she said. Through the years, she added, she has felt the Leadership Academy could use more diversity in its membership and its curriculum.
"They put action behind what they have been strategizing about," she said. "I was pleased that they did that because I know that they have been working on diversity for a long time. It takes a while to figure out how to do that."
Reynolds' appointment to the high-profile position not only speaks to a visible broadening of the Leadership Academy's vision but also to the growth in the areas of race, equity and inclusion in Anderson as a whole, Townsend said.
"It is saying there are some sectors that are serious about (being) inclusive and being more diverse."
Through Reynolds' appointment, the Leadership Academy also is setting an example that other businesses and organizations are likely to follow, Townsend said.
"That's the learning platform for leadership," she said.
Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.