In a nation and state that, according to some, are more divided than ever, it’s refreshing to read about The State’s 20 under 40 class for 2021.
The class, not surprisingly, is as diverse as the other 17 groups of young adults we have recognized since 2004. We didn’t ask the 20 to declare whether they are liberal or conservative, although it’s clear the class has both.
The class members work in a variety of professions, from the law and education to business and government. They grew up in different communities, and their paths to the Midlands were varied. Some were born here; others arrived to attend college or for other reasons and stayed. All indicate a pride in calling this area home.
But the 20 young adults are united by characteristics that make us proud to honor them. They each have a history and a dedication to serving others.
The class includes veterans of the Marines and National Guard. One is a volunteer firefighter. Others have created programs to serve young people not only in the Midlands but around the nation. Some are passionate about supporting the arts, feeding the hungry, and serving the homeless or those living in inadequate homes.
We asked this year’s class members to share the best advice they had received from a mentor. One of them wrote: “The only life worth living is a life dedicated to serving others.”
We usually recognize our 20 under 40 class in March, but the pandemic delayed the project this year. Still, we received nearly 65 nominations for people under the age of 40, all of them strong. All talked about the nominees’ service to others. Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit nominations.
This is one of our most enjoyable projects. Each year, we are introduced to people who, while embracing themselves and their beliefs, also work to improve our community. These 20 young people, along with the 340 honored before, prove that while the Midlands, our state and nation have challenges, young people from all walks of life are working to overcome them.
We think they’re succeeding.
Professor/Higher Education Administrator
Education: Doctorate in Early Childhood Education (University of South Carolina), M.Ed. in Divergent Learning (Columbia College), and B.S. in Elementary Education (Benedict College)
Family: Mother, Vera Broughton; father, James Anthony Broughton; stepmother, Deloris Broughton; sisters, Anastashia, Shakaisha, Shiquita, and Dakota.
Community and professional highlights: Claflin University Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year/awarded tenure and promotion; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Alpha Psi Lambda Chapter, Director of Educational Activities, Chapter Brother of the Year, 2021; S.C. Outstanding Alumni Brother, 2021, S.C. Association for the Education of Young Children Board member; the Inaugural SC Black Pages Top 40 under 40; S.C. Early Childhood Association; Orangeburg County First Steps; Brookland Baptist Mime Ministry; Call Me MISTER graduate and program director and Columbia Urban League Young Professionals (CULYPSC). I also serve the community through my educational consulting firm as “MiSTER B,” to promote literacy and positive self-identity through my books and educational videos on YouTube.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.” - Dr. Damara Hightower Mitchell. This advice has really reminded me of the essence of self care. You cannot control everything. You cannot save everyone. You cannot be all things to all people. Be intentional in how you devote your time and energy.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I adore the parks! My favorite park is Riverfront Park. I also enjoy visiting my alma mater, Benedict College; the Soda City exhibits and vendors every Saturday morning; and spending time at the Capital City Club. I enjoy interfacing with the brilliant minds of tomorrow when visiting schools and child care centers in the Midlands with the Call Me MISTER program. I also love networking in the Midlands with my fraternity brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
My life changed when … When I realized that some people will still weaponize my Blackness regardless of my titles, credentials, community contributions, service, or achievements. Although I enjoy jogging in parks and in my community, I can still be racially profiled. Thus, I have committed my life to promoting and advancing equity to counter and address racism and the social injustices of our communities. We must operate out of love.
Preservation consultant, Rogers Lewis Jackson Mann & Quinn LLC
Education: Bachelor of Arts in History, minors in Sociology and American Culture, Randolph College; Master of Arts in Public History (concentration in Historic Preservation), University of South Carolina
Family: Parents Chip and Leslie Campbell in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and two older brothers, John in Fredericksburg and Scott in Austin, Texas.
Community and professional highlights: Receiving Honorable Mention for Excellence in Consulting from the National Council on Public History in 2020; serving as the secretary of Historic Columbia’s Palladium Board; member of Junior League of Columbia; One Columbia for Arts & Culture board member; former steering committee member of Young Leaders Society of the United Way and Girls on the Run Planning Committee; member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral; member of Females in Action.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: I think the two most important things I’ve learned are to always listen more than you talk, you’ll learn more that way, which is difficult for an extrovert like myself, and to pace yourself, life is long. Everyone will fail at some point, but you will learn more from your failures than from your successes.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love Columbia’s sense of community. Moving from a larger city where it was difficult to meet people, I immediately felt so welcomed when I first moved here and found it easy to join different organizations and meet a diverse group of people, all of whom are passionate about this wonderful city.
My life changed when … I moved to South Carolina! Having lived in Virginia my entire life, I had a large built-in network of friends and family. When I moved to Columbia for graduate school in 2014, I didn’t know a soul and loved the adventure of forging my own path and creating a life in Columbia.
Dr. Kendria L. Cartledge
Optometrist/Owner, Vista Vision Optometric Center
Education: Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a concentration in Pre-Professional Health Studies (magna cum laude) from Clemson University, 2006; Doctor of Optometry Degree from Southern College of Optometry, 2010.
Family: Husband, Deshawn Cooper; daughter, Kennedy; step-son, Keshawn; parents, Billy and Elaine Cartledge; sister, Kymmie Cartledge
Community and professional highlights: 2020 SC Black Pages Top 20 under 40; Brookland Girls Rock “Fight the Good Fight” Award, 2020; Clemson University Health Sciences Alumni Spotlight, December 2019; Nyla Denae’ STEMsation Spotlight, December 2018; First Nazareth Healthcare Ministry Award, 2014; featured in the “Up and Coming” section of the Midlands Black Pages, 2011; member, National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc. Columbia (SC) Chapter; president, First Nazareth Baptist Church Healthcare and Wellness Ministry; board member, Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services; member, Midlands Optometric Society; member, South Carolina Optometric Physicians Association; member, National Optometric Association; member, American Optometric Association; member, Bridge Creek Elementary School PTO; member, Glam Squad rec league kickball team.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “Life is like a camera. Focus on what’s important. Capture the good times. Develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out take another shot.”
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? As a Columbia native, the Midlands is home. I have enjoyed watching the area grow and develop over the years. I like living in the Midlands because I am able to “give back” to the community through my professional and volunteer work. Being able to make a positive impact in the community that has given so much to me brings me great pride.
My life changed when …My life changed on October 10, 2014, at 11:21 a.m. when my daughter was born. Being a mother has been the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life. Being a mother is truly a gift from God that I will never take for granted. Becoming a mother gave me a reason to continue to strive to be the absolute best person that I could be, because I know my daughter is always watching.
Manager of local campaigns, Everytown
Education: University of South Carolina, BA in Political Science
Family: Father, Martin Eldridge Powers; mother, April Letra Cathcart (deceased); grandparents, Hilda and Leonard Cathcart; twin sister; two older brothers
Community and professional highlights: Director of special projects for Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin and community leader for the Obama Foundation.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The diversity of the Midlands. We have residents who represent 194 sovereign nations.
My life changed when … I chose to keep going when I had every reason to stop.
Steven Diaz, USMC retired
Purple Heart Marine Veteran, Financial Advisor
Education: Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina
Family: Wife-Laura, Son-Thomas, 4 years old
Community and professional highlights: Philanthropist, Veteran Advocate,
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Be honest, transparent, passionate, and treat others the way you want to be treated.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Military Friendly, we take care of our own, great place to grow, and family.
My life changed when … Two times. When I was severely injured by a roadside bomb and when I had my son. As an immigrant here I want my son to be as proud of this country as I am. To show him how free we are and the costs of that freedom.
Tonia M.P. Dunbar
Program Director, Professional Services, Trimble
Education: Tonia earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from North Carolina Central University. She also has her Master of Business Administration in Management from Strayer University. Tonia also holds certifications in her field as a Certified Scrum Master, Change Management certification, and certification in Diversity and Inclusion from the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.
Family: Tonia resides in Columbia with her husband, Jason, and daughter, Kyndall.
Community and professional highlights: Board of Director Member for Trimble Fund Foundation where I serve on the DEI Subcommittee. Chair of Trimble Black Professional Network. Member of Columbia (SC) Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Founder of Young Black Consultants organization focused on providing knowledge and resources for underrepresented groups to help close the racial disparity gap in communities across the world.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Always remember to be the leader you wish you had!
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? As a native of Columbia, SC, it is truly home to me. I have enjoyed watching the city evolve and grow from a small city feel to a metropolitan hub for business economic growth and entertainment yet small enough to still raise a family.
My life changed when …I found the power in my voice and how to use it to bring about change not only at work but within my community in invoking meaningful actions for change. I learned to use my voice, experience, and talents that provides impact in a way that helps promote empowerment not only for women, people of color, people of other underrepresented groups, but promote empowerment for all groups. Learning the power of my voice allowed me to live up to the Malcom X words “If not now then when, if not me then who?” I want to assure not only a better Columbia, SC, but a better country and world for my daughter’s generation and those to come after. A reminder to be the leader you wish you had daily!
Donna Tillis Fyall
Attorney, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Communication and Minor in Political Science, Columbia College; Juris Doctor, University of South Carolina School of Law
Family: Husband, Lamar Fyall, assistant solicitor, 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office; daughter (newborn), Camille Juliette Fyall; parents, Dr. Marc and Yvette David
Community and professional highlights: Richland County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., secondary advisor of the Upsilon Chi Chapter of Delta (Columbia College); Richland County Bar Association Public Service Committee; Nelson Mullins Lawyers 4 Vets Program; Nelson Mullins Wills for Heroes Program; Eviction Diversion Project. First Black editor-in-chief of the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal at UofSC School of Law; graduate of the South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys’ Association Trial Academy and the International Association of Defense Counsel’s Trial Academy; attorney/policy advisor to Nelson Mullins diversity and inclusion goals; mentor to students through the UofSC School of Law’s Black Law Students Association (“BLSA”); spearheaded the BLSA Writing and Practical Skills Workshop.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “Stay in your own lane.” This advice is not about being less than your best or not assisting others. This advice is about being the best version of yourself and not comparing yourself to other people who have a different set of talents and skills to contribute to the world. Staying in your own lane is about being rooted in your purpose and using your unique set of abilities to maximize your contribution to whatever cause you pursue. This advice was given to me by my lifelong mentor — my mother.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The thing I like most about living in the Midlands is the access. Access to a range of experiences including food, sports, arts, festivals, and people of different backgrounds make the Midlands a place where I can be enriched by all of the cultures that impact my community. With Columbia being the capital, I have direct access to many of the political and governmental entities that impact my life and the lives of everyone in the state. The central location also allows me to access friends and family who live all across South Carolina, as well as in Georgia and North Carolina. I also enjoy having access to my alma maters; living so closely to both schools allows me to support local initiatives, participate in speaking opportunities, and serve as a mentor to students.
My life changed when … Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans, Louisiana, in August 2005, causing me to relocate, without my parents and newborn sister, from Louisiana to Hampton, South Carolina. I was a junior in high school at the time. I had to adjust quickly to a new environment, become more independent, and also deal with the fact that my desire to attend a college “close to home” suddenly meant something very different. Due to my father’s career at Dillard University in Louisiana, I continued to attend school away from my parents for two years. I graduated from Wade Hampton High School with honors as the salutatorian. Hurricane Katrina was a stark lesson that nothing is promised, life can change in an instant, but with a positive outlook and dedication to your goals, your future is what you make it.
Lindsey Spires Griffin
Senior Vice President, Private Client Advisor; Bank of America
Education: Master’s of Business Administration, 2008; Bachelor of Science, Political Science, Presbyterian College, Clinton, S.C., 2006; The Washington Semester, School of Professional and Extended Studies, American University, Washington, DC, 2004
Family: Husband, Charlie Griffin; sons, Gray (3) and Elisha (2); parents, Ann and Dan Humphries, Charles Spires (deceased); brother, Charlie Spires; and a wonderful group of friends near and far who are like family.
Community and professional highlights: A native of Columbia, Lindsey has a passion for advocating for this region she calls home. In addition to her role as a private client advisor with Bank of America, she serves in many volunteer capacities: SustainSC membership committee, Historic Columbia advisory council, Multiplying Good board, Central Midlands Habitat for Humanity advisory board and as a Bradley Elementary Backpack Buddies volunteer. She also serves as chairwoman of Bank of America Community Volunteers and Champions, the Bank’s community engagement efforts. Lindsey is behind the popular Instagram account @ColaTownFoodieandFun, where she highlights the region’s food and beverage scene as well as family activities around town. During the pandemic, she helped Midlands’ businesses navigate changes brought on by COVID 19.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: A seasoned Midlands professional once shared with me that it is not always about looking ahead in career and life. The real success and joy is found in the present and through fully engaging in what is right there in front of you — whether it be a community project, helping a client navigate a life-changing event or a special outing with your children on the weekend. The present is the perfect gift — and is what should truly be appreciated and embraced throughout career and life.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Aside from it being my hometown and a wonderful place to raise a family, Columbia is a great place to grow as a professional. I have been fortunate to meet individuals along the way who have helped me grow as a person, a professional, a colleague and a mother. Columbia is also a place which provides a “live, work and play” standard that makes it a great place to be at any stage or season of life. The past 15 years working in Columbia have been an absolute joy — and I can not wait to see what the next 15 have in store.
My life changed when … I met my husband. Charlie is not only a wonderful spouse and father to our children — he is my biggest cheerleader and motivator. An equally life-changing event was the birth of my children — they motivate me to be my best in all facets of life. Building a family has truly been life changing — and a lot of fun!
Associate Vice Provost, Midlands Technical College
Education: Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, 2020, University of South Carolina; Master of Science in Mathematics, 2006, University of South Carolina; Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, 2004, College of Charleston
Family: I have a wonderful wife, Kathy, and two awesome kids — Charlie (12) and Anna Claire (12).
Community and professional highlights: Leadership Lexington County, class of 2021; 2019 $50k Google Impact Challenge winner, which funded a program to assist youth in foster care in connecting to higher education; 2018 Chair for the SCTCS Distance Education Peer Group; 2013 Founding Director of Online Learning at MTC; MTC Faculty of the Year award in 2012; 2012 founded FireflyLectures.com, providing free math help videos to students worldwide with 3.7 million views currently; long-time youth basketball coach in the Lexington area.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Good leaders serve those they lead. A good leader in any organization must have the mindset that they truly and sincerely work for their employees and not the other way around.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love everything about living in the Midlands. Our family loves to be outdoors and the Midlands area allows us to be equally close to the mountains and the beach. Even right here in the Midlands we have so many great places like Lake Murray, the Saluda River, and downtown Columbia. A few other things I love about the Midlands includes the people, the schools, and the diversity in the area, all of which make the Midlands such a great place to live and raise our family.
My life changed when … My life changed when I crossed paths with my undergraduate advisor at the College of Charleston, Dr. Dinesh Sarvate. At the time, I was a Mathematics undergrad major with no concrete plans after college. Dr. Sarvate was a mathematics professor who gave me summer internship opportunities, allowed me to co-author a few papers with him, and basically told me I was going to graduate school to further my studies. That belief and confidence he had in me changed the trajectory of my life. From there I went on to become a college instructor and eventually moved into higher education administration.
President, Palmetto Garage Works, LLC
Education: Wofford College, Bachelor of Arts in Finance, Economics, and a Minor in Accounting. Heathwood Hall Episcopal School — 1st through 12th grade — Class of 2006
Family: My wife, Charlotte Harvin Herlong. My parents, Jimmy and Meekin Herlong, and sister, Anne McMeekin Herlong. Also my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Cam and MaryAnne Harvin. Brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, Cameron and Lauren Harvin, Andrew and Amber Harvin, Peter and Caroline Harvin.
Community and professional highlights: President, Palmetto Garage Works LLC. We operate 13 Midas Tires and Auto Service locations and six SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service locations. I was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster to the S.C. Small Business Regulations Review Committee. Community involvement: Camp Cole Founding Donor; involvement with Harvest Hope Food Bank, Low Country Food Bank, Heathwood Hall, Wofford College, and American Red Cross. Appointed to International Midas Dealer Association Board of Directors, representing 1200+ locations across North America. Currently serving as president. Appointed co-chairman, alongside Midas International’s CEO, to lead the Franchise Advisory Council. Appointed to board for Constellation Software Company, based in Toronto, to advise on $8M investment into “RO Writer” Point of Sale System.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Do the unthinkable. Never convince yourself “that will never work for me; that will never work in my market; that will never work in my business; etc.” If you tell yourself something won’t work for you, you will prove yourself correct every single time! Always set your vision towards the Power of the Possible!
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Easy — The People! I love how South Carolina is a close-knit, small town kind of place. Living in the Midlands brings this into perspective so much more. Seeing consistent amazing responses by our local communities for Harvest Hope food drives/raise money for Camp Cole/or any local initiative – the people in the Midlands amaze every time! Who would come to an auto service location, asking the local community to donate canned food? Yet our stores were overflowing with donated food and running out of space to put the food donations in our waiting rooms, and truckloads of donations going to the food bank every other day! I was born and raised here in the Midlands, went to school here, my family dates back for many generations living here in the Midlands. I could not imagine living anywhere else.
My life changed when … When I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my now wife, Charlotte. Since being married, she has helped me realize the importance of family time, enjoying being together, and that there is much more out there for us than just work.
Skyler B. Hutto
Attorney, Williams & Williams Attorneys at Law
Education: BA - Vanderbilt University; JD - Indiana University, Maurer School of Law
Community and professional highlights: After clerking, has worked as an attorney at Williams and Williams, Attorneys at Law, as an Adjunct Professor at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, and as a public defender. In 2019, successfully brought two habeas corpus cases challenging the validity of indefinite jail stays for vulnerable inmates. In 2020, filed two noteworthy cases, a suit challenging the governor’s decision to redirect public emergency education funding to private schools, a case decided unanimously in the South Carolina Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiffs, and a suit representing the Orangeburg Revitalization Coalition challenging the validity of the Heritage Act. For several years, has served as the president of the Orangeburg County Bar and as a Scouting volunteer with the Indian Waters Council.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Judge Perry Buckner, the judge who I worked for when I graduated law school, reminded me often that, “the most dangerous words in the legal profession are ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? From day one in Orangeburg, I have been able to get into the courtroom. Everyone — judges, court staff, solicitors, other lawyers, and of course our clients — has been incredibly welcoming. That extends outside of my professional life and experience here as well. There could not have been a better community to support me and for me to support than Orangeburg.
My life changed when …I began to work part-time as a public defender. This work has become incredibly important to me, and it has given me a chance to work for people from every possible walk of life. Public defenders, I believe, are uniquely aware of how our system of justice is not equipped to deal with issues like homelessness, addiction, and untreated mental health issues.
Representative Dr. Jermaine Johnson Sr.
South Carolina State Representative
Education: Doctorate in Business Administration from Northcentral University
Family: I am married to Dr. Evan Patrice Johnson. I have 3 children: Jermaine Jr (13), Khloe (7), and Kobe (1)
Community and professional highlights: First Black State Representative for House District 80, Owner of DT Consulting Firm, adjunct professor at Webster University. Former CEO of New Economic Beginnings Foundation, former Richland County Recreation Commissioner. Former S.C. campaign chair for Andrew Yang. Former vice-chair Young Democrats of the Central Midlands. Former College of Charleston basketball player, former professional basketball player. Managing partner of the Carolina Coyotes Professional Basketball organization.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “Jermaine, you’re exactly the kind of leader our community needs. You are the future.” - the late Rep. Joe Neal
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is an amazing place to live because it is small enough to know everyone but big enough to provide an individual with ample opportunities to grow professionally.
My life changed when … My life changed when I met Pastor Sammy Wade of St. Johns Baptist in Hopkins, S.C., and he became a mentor and spiritual advisor to my family and I.
Funeral director, Caughman-Harman Funeral Homes; program director, Homeless Veterans Burial Program
Education: Mortuary Science and Funeral Services
Family: Wife, Kelsey Lynch; daughter, Taylor Grace Lynch (1 year); baby boy Lynch due September 2021
Community and professional highlights: I was once told that no matter where you are, make sure to make an impact. Striving to make an impact has led to many professional highlights like starting the Homeless Veterans Burial Program in South Carolina, winning a Jefferson Award or being the 2021 Chapin Chamber of Commerce board chairman. To me, though, giving back to my community has always been a little more important. Being in the community, whether it be a civic organization, being in the press box to announce a Chapin Eagles football game, or helping a fellow citizen on a call as a volunteer firefighter with Lexington County, those roles have given me some of the most cherished life highlights.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Learn how to communicate with others through communication styles. This has taken personal and professional relationships to a level of trust and reliability I never thought was possible.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is home. It’s where I was raised and where I’ll raise my family. It’s full of life and loving families that have made it my favorite place on earth. Don’t get me wrong, we have the ideal location being central to our great Upstate and beautiful Lowcountry, but at the end of the day, there’s no place like home.
My life changed when … I think my life has changed many times like the day I met my wife, the day my daughter was born, or the day I buried a classmate and had to decide if that was the career I wanted. I think it’ll probably change again and again. If I had to pinpoint a day in time when I think my life and professional career changed forever, it would be February 2018 when I realized that many people, especially veterans, die alone every day. That harsh realization changed the way I approach work every day, the way I talk with every family experiencing a loss, the way I explain the importance of funeral services and has influenced so many decisions going forward.
General counsel for LTC Health Solutions and SC House Calls; property developer; local business owner
Education: Juris Doctorate, University of South Carolina School of Law, 2017. Sherwin B. Nuland Institute in Bioethics Certification, Yale University, 2016. Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Health Care Management, Winthrop University, 2014.
Family: Excited to marry my fiancé, Jordan Styles, this June. Wonderful parents and role models, Scott and Evelyn Middleton, and brother, Greg Middleton.
Community and professional highlights: Historic Revitalization and Preservation of Columbia’s Main Street; City Center Partnership Board Member (2020-present); United Way of the Midlands Board Member (2020-present); North Columbia Business Association Board Member (2021-present); South Carolina Bar Association Member (2018-present); Sigma Sigma Sigma Alumni Association (2014-present); Women in Leadership Founding Member (2020-present); vice president of Forest Hills Neighborhood Association (2020-present); Leadership Columbia Graduate (2019-2020); Columbia City Council runoff candidate (2019); Columbia Museum of Art Gala Chair (2019-2020); Washington Street United Methodist Church Communications Committee (2018-2020); USC Health Law Society (2014-2017)
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: People always tell you, “Find your passion and you’ll have a career you will always love.” As if finding that one, single passion is all you will ever need. I have several learning disabilities, including severe ADHD and Dyslexia, and have always struggled to force my mind into focusing on only one thing. Instead, a mentor once told me to always make a conscious effort to continuously search for and discover everything you’re passionate about. To make an ongoing list of all of your passions and every once in a while, glance at it and make sure that whatever you’re doing in life includes the things on that list.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Over the years, I’ve heard, “If Columbia did *this* they could be like Charleston or Charlotte.” All the while I can’t help but think — we are Columbia so let’s be Columbia. Within our beautiful, historic Main Street are restaurants, live music, and Soda City Market. Restaurants and boutiques spread throughout The Vista, Five Points, and Devine Street. You can spend the day outside at the river walk, kayaking on the Saluda, or enjoying Riverbanks Zoo. On famously hot days, there’s virtual golf clubs, boutique bowling, and an expansive array of the arts — ballet, theatre, museums, and music venues. Whether you live, work, or are just visiting, there’s always something exciting happening, and yet we’re still growing and have so many opportunities available for residents and businesses alike.
My life changed when … My life changed when I truly began to understand the importance of saying, “Yes” to opportunities and experiences for personal and professional growth. Keeping in mind that opportunity does not always knock, sometimes you have to move a few rocks to find it.
Melissa Watson Ward
Executive director, Emerge South Carolina
Education: Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts in Experimental Psychology and Criminology and Criminal Justice; a Master of Public Health; and a Master of Social Work, all from the University of South Carolina.
Family: Melissa lives in Columbia with her husband, Keith B. Ward Jr.
Community and professional highlights: Melissa serves on the board of directors for the LRADAC Foundation. She is a member of the Columbia (SC) Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and recently served on the Board of Directors for Emerge. She is also president of her homeowners association. Melissa is a 2017 graduate of the Modjeska Simkins School of Social Justice, a 2016 alumna of Leadership South Carolina and a graduate of the Sisters of Charity Nonprofit Leadership Program. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: The best advice I received from a mentor is “it’s not what you know but who you know.” I believe in the importance of relationship building, no matter what industry you are in. A strong network of relationships will carry you further in life then anything else.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The best part about living in the Midlands is the fact that it is a growing city. It has been amazing to watch the transformation of the Midlands over the last few years into the busy city it is now. I’m proud to be from the Midlands and to call the Midlands home.
My life changed when … My life changed when I became an auntie. One of the greatest joys in my life is my nieces and nephews. They give me the professional drive to change the world — and especially South Carolina — to be a better place for them to live.
Site coordinator for Communities in Schools. Campus director for Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands
Education: Dual Degree: Bachelor’s in Human Services, Behavioral Science, Anderson University, 2018
Family: Mother, Ida Washington. Father, D.D. Washington. Sister, Octevia Darby. Brothers, Brien Washington and Landrum Washington (deceased). One niece, Kamryn, and one nephew, Kyron
Community and professional highlights: I am the creator of the Social-Emotional Learning and culture-building program, The Greenprint. The Greenprint had several after-school programs via the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands to utilize its concepts. In October 2020, I became an author of the book about the program, “The Greenprint: A Guide To Help Students Succeed in Education, Sports and in Life.” Serves as a member of the Strictly Running team while serving as an active participant in local 5k races; 2016-17 staff member of the year at Windsor Elementary; national Tier 1 Trainer via Boys & Girls Club of America; certified Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) instructor; member of the Resilient Richland team via United Way; member of the Talented Tenth of SC (2018); AIMs Mentor for Richland 2
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Dr. Tonya Rhett always told me to embrace the person you are, and Dr. Johnathan Abney told me never to stop being a learner, no matter how accomplished you become.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina, so I love the diversity of this area. I love grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s in Forest Acres, going for a run downtown or in the Northeast, and shopping in the Harbison area. But most importantly, I love the people that are here and visiting other places in the Midlands.
My life changed when … My life changed two ways: On June 13, 2015, I decided to commit to healthy living with plant-based eating and exercise. I went to the doctor and saw I weighed 278 pounds. I have lost 106 pounds since then and 120 total since 2014.
The second was during the creation of The Greenprint during the 2018-19 school year. Watching students come together within a culture that promoted community, social-emotional learning, and teamwork changed not just how I operated as an educator but how I wanted to work as a person. If young people can help curate an environment where their peers could feel safe, we as adults can ensure our friends, family, coworkers, etc., can feel comfortable around them, too. It changed my life for the better and taught me to value human connection.
Julian D. Wilson
Principal, Wilson Kibler Commercial Real Estate: Industrial and Lexington County Specialist. Deputy chairman and principal, JJE Capital Holdings, private equity; a vertically integrated manufacturer and retailer (Palmetto State Armory)
Education: B.A. Political Science, Clemson University, US Army SOBC, US Army Logistic University
Family: Wife: Joy Wilson; children: Jack (10), Sally (8), Katherine (5). Parents, Congressman Joe and Roxanne Wilson; brothers, Attorney General Alan Wilson, Dr. Addison Wilson, and Hunter Wilson
Community and professional highlights: Wilson Kibler Commercial Real Estate, Top Producer. Named youngest partner in Wilson Kibler company history. CoStar power broker for industrial, retail sales, and leasing. Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). River Alliance Board Member, supporting the further development of the Three Rivers Greenway. Executive committeeman, Boy Scouts of America-Indian Waters Council. Eagle Scout. S.C. National Guardsman for 13 years, Signal, Ordinance, and Logistics Officer. National Guard Association of SC, lifetime member
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: My dad taught me to focus on my strengths and surround myself with people who complement my skill set. Being able to bring together a team of people who individually add value to the whole makes difficult tasks attainable and enjoyable to undertake.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The Midlands is a trifecta of good people, good logistics (three interstates), and good resources. I was born and bred here and I am fiercely loyal to my region and state. I am proudly a river rat from West Columbia/Springdale and growing up near or on the river gave me a keen respect for the beauty and history that the rivers have brought to our area. Our cities would not be here without the rivers. Our gorgeous lakes and rivers once spurred industry and trade but now offer an unmatched place to raise our three children.
My life changed when … There are two major turning points in my adult life. The first is when I met my lovely wife when she was a bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding. She is my biggest supporter and her strengths are my weaknesses. I could not imagine living my life without her or our three children. The second was in 2009 when I was Signal Staff Officer with the 351 Aviation Support Battalion, Sumter National Guard. My friend Jamin McCallum, who I had met in Clemson ROTC, joined me on the battalion staff and pitched a business venture to me which we have been able to grow to over 1,000 employees across multiple states.
Jennifer Lynne Wise
Instructional services specialist, Lexington School District Two
Education: Currently enrolled in the doctorate program for Teaching and Learning, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC., (expected graduation May 2022); completed masters +30, May 2013, Coastal Carolina University, University of South Carolina, and Winthrop University; Master of Education in Secondary Mathematics, May 2008, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.; Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, May 2007, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Family: Michael Wise (husband), Walter Wise (son)
Community and professional highlights: 2017-18 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Awardee 2017; South Carolina State Teacher of the Year 2017; University of South Carolina Outstanding Young Alumni 2016; South Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics Leadership Fellow 2016; Hand Middle School/Richland County School District One Teacher of the Year 2015; Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching; University of South Carolina Young Alumni Council, August 2018–present; Columbia Ultimate Disc Association, president, December 2017–present; South Carolina Leaders of Mathematics Education, president, May 2020-May 2021; Junior League of Columbia, education and development chair, June 2020–present; Shandon Baptist Church, Babies and Ones director, February 2012-present
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Several years ago, I had the privilege to participate in a program with Marc Drews at EdVenture Children’s Museum. To begin the day he stated that our norms were simple, we were expected to: “Be who we are,” “Be where we are,” and “Make an impact.” I have carried these words with me since that day, and I try to approach every experience with them in mind.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love being able to take part in all that the Midlands has to offer. I am originally from the Upstate (Gaffney), but I have been in Columbia since August 2003. As a college student, I eagerly attended every UofSC event that I could work into my schedule and explored outdoor trails and parks. As a wife and mom, my love for our area continues to grow. Each weekend we have a wide range of options: libraries, museums, river, zoo, sports events, and the list continues. Even more than that, I really love the people. It is refreshing to know that whether going to the grocery store or out for a walk, we are going to see a friendly, smiling face. I am delighted to call the Midlands home.
My life changed when … My life changed when I began volunteering at Epworth Children’s Home my sophomore year in college. Several mornings each week, I had the opportunity to work in elementary and middle school classrooms at the campus school, Barnes Learning Center. While I had known for several years that I wanted to be a teacher, my time at Epworth solidified those desires. In fact, knowing that the students with whom I worked would soon be entering Richland One schools was what led me to remain in the Midlands after graduation and pursue a job with Richland One.
Regional manager, Financial Planning and Analysis
Education: Master of Science in Finance, International School of Management, Munich, Germany; Master of Science in Management, Cost Accounting, Groupe Sup de Co La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France; Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (majors: Management, Real Estate Finance; Minor: Spanish), University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.
Family: Faith Wolfe, my beautiful, supportive wife
Community and professional highlights: Stanley Martin Homes — I’ve been blessed to serve as the regional finance manager for much of the Carolinas. My team as well as the organization as a whole has seen great success as we continue to serve the community. We were even awarded as the 2021 National Builder of the Year. Volunteer, Oliver Gospel Mission — A wonderful opportunity to meet members of our community that had found themselves in need. ALD Honor Society — academic competitions, clothing drives, and canned foods. I was honored to serve as president while at USC and our organization was also honored as the national chapter of the year that same year. Volunteer WKHS Wrestling — Some years more than others but what never changes are the champions on and off the mat that come through this fantastic team of coaches and staff.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: “You can achieve anything through hard work and dedication.” “The only life worth living is a life dedicated to serving others.”
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The sense of community and adventure. On nearly every street corner there’s a church or a shelter. The genteel and hospitable nature of the South still carries a tune in the Midlands. Here, family and relationships are still worth slowing down for and I’d rather live nowhere else. Another great attribute of the Midlands is adventure is never far away. There are limitless places to explore and skills to hone. Leisure or extreme, there’s something for everyone.
My life changed when …I began to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One day in grad school I picked up the Bible and started reading the gospels for the first time. I have attended church throughout my life and even became familiar with apologetics in college, but my knowledge never developed into a relationship. As my reading progressed, I began to spend more time in prayer. The combination of the two has certainly drastically changed who I am today. I’ve seen burdens and dead ends become blessings and open roads before my eyes. It’s common to hear about what faith gives you but my experience has been that faith also takes. I’ve felt temptation, anxiety, depression, and anger melt away as my relationship with Jesus improves. I’d highly recommend it. I go to First Baptist Church of Columbia.
Manager, Power Supply Contracts and Audit
Education: BS in Engineering and Economics from Vanderbilt University
Family: Married to Jason Wolfe, two Wolfe Cubs (Connor and Brady)
Community and professional highlights: I enjoyed a challenging All-American golf career at Vanderbilt and shortly after earned my Ladies Professional Golf Association tour card. After deciding to hang up my spikes, I entered into the energy industry where I have (to this day) spent most of my career. I’ve held roles in Engineering, Nuclear Operations, Corporate Planning, Integration Management and Executive Engineering Management. I currently manage power supply contracts and audits on behalf of twenty member Cooperatives, primarily focused on creating efficiencies and economies of scales for members. Current board member of City Year Columbia, president of the Midlands Junior Golf Foundation, founder of the Brady-Wolfe STEM Achievement Scholarship, member of 2020 Liberty Fellowship Class, MWM-SC Steering Committee Member.
What’s the best advice you received from a mentor?: Focus on meaningful work and meaningful relationships: the rest will take care of itself.
What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love how the Midlands feels like a community. It’s not too big, traffic is still manageable and it doesn’t take 30 minutes to get across town. The Midlands is growing with new restaurants, businesses and attracting new and fantastic people. It’s the perfect size for those of us who came from a big city and need a break from the hustle and bustle.
My life changed when …I met my husband, Jason Wolfe. He taught me what joy really is and brought laughter and love into my life after a very serious and focused athletic career. We haven’t looked back since... moving from Charlotte to the Midlands, building a business, leaning into career pivots, staying focused on our family and enjoying every minute of life that we can. He’s also my biggest cheerleader and motivates me to always get better.