From locker room to board room: UGA helped Chuck Kinnebrew learn to get around any block  

Written by: Charles McNair

Most Bulldog fans need no introduction to Georgia trailblazer, Chuck Kinnebrew (BSED, ‘75) 

They already know that, in 1971, he lined up with Larry West, Clarence Pope, Horace King and Richard Appleby to play football between the hedges of Sanford Stadium – one of UGA’s first five Black college football players. 

Fifty years later, Chuck’s office in Smyrna, Georgiahas a wall of fame – a floor-to-ceiling display of UGA memorabilia. His Bulldog letter jacket hangs there. So do postgraduate achievements, awards and photos. He’s proud of his diploma. 

“I received a degree in education,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the kind of former athlete that ends up with nothing to hang his hat on. I wanted to leave the university with something tangible, something to use. I wanted to be an alum.” 

He played nose guard, though small even for that football era (6 feet 1 inches tall, 260 pounds). What he lacked in size, he made up in strength, toughness and quickness. And, like every Black Bulldog on that first integrated team, he held himself to impeccable standards of performance, behavior and discipline. He and his Black teammates felt they had something to prove. 

If one of us started slipping up, the other four would get on him and make sure he got headed in the right direction again, Chuck explained to UGASports writer Patrick Garbin in a February 2021 interview We had a tight bond and nothing was off-limits, be it football, academics, dating. We knew how important it was that we succeed. We weren’t going to let one another down.  

Because they successfully blazed the trail, others would succeed. The Bulldog Nation would come to marvel at hundreds of Black football players in years to come, including legends named Herschel Walker and Champ Bailey and Hines Ward. 

Those football heroes followed Chuck as he buckled his chinstrap and trotted onto the field. 

Servant leadership

Yes, most Bulldog fans know about Chuck’s football career. But they don’t know the rest of his success story. 

Chuck has never stopped blazing trails. 

He first wanted to be a coach. He had it worked out with legendary Bulldog head coach Vince Dooley that he’d get his degree, then stick around to become a graduate assistant and maybe climb the coaching ranks.   

And he did become a coach – of teams in the corporate world.  

While waiting for his UGA whistle, he half-heartedly accepted an interview for a suit-and-tie job. To his surprise, he got an offer. 

“That job paid twice the salary of a graduate assistant,” Chuck says. “I talked it over with my dad. He said, “That sounds like pretty good money, son. I think I’d look pretty hard at that offer.” 

Suddenly, the kid from Rome, GA, found himself managing a team of 30 in a DuPont textile plant in Athens, Ga. 

Now Chuck did start climbing the corporate ranks. He brought along UGA lessons from classes and coaches. 

“My style of leadership is coaching,” he says. “I see myself as an inclusive servant leader. Ever since I was exposed to that concept, it’s made sense to me.”  

Servant leadership

Yes, most Bulldog fans know about Chuck’s football career. But they don’t know the rest of his success story. 

Chuck has never stopped blazing trails. 

He first wanted to be a coach. He had it worked out with legendary Bulldog head coach (and later athletic director) Vince Dooley that he’d get his degree, then stick around to become a graduate assistant and maybe climb the coaching ranks.   

And he did become a coach – of teams in the corporate world.  

While waiting for his UGA whistle, he half-heartedly accepted an interview for a suit-and-tie job. To his surprise, he got an offer. 

“That job paid twice the salary of a graduate assistant,” Chuck says. “I talked it over with my dad. He said, That sounds like pretty good money, son. I think I’d look pretty hard at that offer. 

Suddenly, the kid from Rome, Georgia, found himself managing a team of 30 in a DuPont textile plant in Athens, Georgia. 

Now Chuck did start climbing the corporate ranks. He brought along UGA lessons from classes and coaches. 

“My style of leadership is coaching,” he says. “I see myself as an inclusive servant leader. Ever since I was exposed to that concept, it’s made sense to me.”  

The biggest challenge

Chuck gained expertise at DuPont in manufacturing operations, planning, marketing, and supply chain. His achievements there took him to The Home Depot where, in time, he led a department with a $7 billion budget overseeing the supply company’s indirect sourcing purchasing team, part of the supply chain operation.  

Often, he found himself among the first, and only, Black faces in meeting rooms.  

“It was actually no big deal,” Chuck says. “All my life, I’d been in predominantly white environments, from junior high school through UGA and now in the business world. I’d grown accustomed to it. When you’ve been the first one here, the first one there, you get used to it.” 

The biggest challenge?  

“Honestly, it was getting white people accustomed to me. I was familiar with being who I was, comfortable in my skin. I learned to be approachableto help people see Chuck Kinnebrew the person instead of Chuck Kinnebrew, the Black guy.” 

He’s still a trailblazer – in his latest role, Chuck serves as the first DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) officer at Floor & Decor, based in Atlanta. He and his team have responsibility to develop and execute best-in-class strategies to help the growing company become an industry leader in hardsurface flooring and something else hard: diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

He looks back in gratitude at the UGA experience. 

“Georgia and my fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, helped prepare me for life,” he says. “They set me up to succeed.” 

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles UGA Black alumni who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today.

Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA.  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her. Learn more at: 

Where commitment meets community: Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) pairs passion with community empowerment

On August 23, 2017, University of Georgia alumnus and 40 Under 40 honoree Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) was driving from Jackson, Wyoming, to Aspen, Colorado, on a business trip. As he attempted a U-turn in the large van he rented for the trip – the only vehicle the rental company had available – he was T-boned by a tractor-trailer.

“As I saw the truck coming and realized I was going to die, the only thing that came to my mind was one question: What have I done positively for the world and other people?” Hartpence said.

Walking away from the accident unscathed, Hartpence felt that he had been given a second chance to answer that question.

After graduating from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2015, Hartpence worked in politics, with think tanks and for campaigns. He used his previous experience with research and data to determine where the world struggled most.

“Water is the world’s most pressing problem,” Hartpence said. “Sustainable access to safe drinking water is the foundation for quality of life on earth today. With access to safe drinking communities can move to address secondary and tertiary quality of life indicators such as gender equality, economic opportunity, education, and health.”

In 2018, he co-founded Powwater, public benefit corporation that builds transparent technology and makes impact investments to improve access to clean water in East Africa and South Asia and empower the communities which they serve.

“A marathon, not a sprint”

As Hartpence explored how to address access to clean water, he noticed that many wells drilled by Western organizations provided only temporary solutions across Africa, Asia, and South America. With an average shelf life of only 18 months, donated wells weren’t a sustainable solution, the key problem being that they weren’t engaging the communities they affected.

Hartpence contacted Nobel laureate and professor Muhammed Yunus, the founder of microfinance. Through the mentorship of Yunus, Powwater established itself as a social business. Funding is reinvested into communities that lack access to clean water, allowing those communities to establish their own water systems that enhance their economy.

With this model, Powwater doesn’t have to rely on donations or outside funding. Instead, Powwater can “make money to do good for the world,” Hartpence said. By doing so, Powwater has brought sustainable drinking water to over 80,000 people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) gives a thumbs up with the Powwater team in Mombasa, Kenya.

Fueled by passion

Hartpence’s experience at UGA showed him the importance of doing what you love. He wasn’t fulfilled by what he was learning as an economics major, so he became an English major during his sophomore year. That program gave him a sense of purpose and creativity. .

“There were students who were far better writers than me, but I was passionate. I loved it,” Hartpence said about a senior class project that was recognized at graduation as the English department’s best work in digital humanities. “That lesson has played through my life. Passion is everything.”

After his accident in 2017, Hartpence found a renewed passion for life and improving the world. That commitment fuels Hartpence and his team as they consider the future of clean water across the globe.

Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) spoke on behalf of Powwater at the 2019 United Nations Global Assembly. Hartpence poses for a photo with Nobel laureate and professor Muhammed Yunus, a mentor of the company.

The future of clean water

As Powwater looks to the future, the company is using technology to create transparency around water, and better serve communities around the world with safe drinking water.

This spring, Powwater will launch the Powwater app, a mobile marketplace for water. The app will provide transparency around the quality of water, cost and timing of delivery from the thousands of private water suppliers that exist across the globe today. By creating transparency and empowering consumers, Hartpence believes Powwater can lead the way for higher quality and more affordable water globally.

With this app, Hartpence aims to optimize the private water market for the 2 billion people in the world relying on it today.

“We want to be a company that shares ideas and works with partners to get the job done,” Hartpence said. “I’m committed to empowering communities around the world with sustainable access to safe drinking water. I’m committed to doing everything I can do to be better tomorrow than I was today.”

A day in the life

In September 2020, we invited Jack to host an Instagram story takeover as a member of the 40 Under 40 Class of 2020. Watch the video below to check out a day in the life of operating Powwater:


WHERE COMMITMENT MEETS COMMUNITY

Whether life takes them to new cities or to the neighborhoods where they grew up, Georgia Bulldogs do more than get jobs – they elevate their communities. Bulldogs lead nonprofits, effect change and create opportunities for others. Wherever people are suffering, wherever communities are looking for effective leaders and whenever the world cries out for better solutions, Bulldogs are there to answer the call to service. It’s more than our passion. It’s our commitment.

Caroline Odom, an intern with UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, brings you a spring blog series that celebrates Bulldogs who embrace that commitment to helping others in their communities thrive.

Want to read about other Bulldogs impacting their communities?

Learn about Toyin Adon-Abel (ABJ ’05) bringing equity to art and Erin Tatum (BBA ’08, AB ’08, MPA ’14) intersecting music, culture and education.

Haiku for U(GA): celebrate Haiku Poetry Day 2021

Seventeen syllables never sounded so good. Snap your fingers as you read a few haikus we wrote to celebrate this year’s Haiku Poetry Day. Happy reading, Bulldogs!

 

The Fountain HaikuUga HaikuThe Arch Haiku Sanford Stadium Haiku

From midfield to Capitol Hill: Sanford Stadium means the world to Christina Swoope Carrere

Written by: Charles McNair

Christina Swoope Carrere (BS ’11) first stood on the 50-yard line in Sanford Stadium in the fall of 2004The nervous teen from Alpharetta, Georgia was only a junior in high school. 

It was halftime during a University of Georgia football game, and she was conducting the Redcoat Marching Band as it spelled out GEORGIA on the gridironShe had earned this opportunity after winning the UGA Summer Marching Band Camp Drum Major Conducting Competition, representing Atlanta’s Johns Creek High School. 

Christina dreamed of one day leading the splendid UGA troupe, even though she didn’t match the typical profile of a Redcoat Drum Major. “Most notably,” she recalls, “I was not a music major.” 

Three years later her dream came true. She raised both arms at midfield at the head of that same Redcoat Band – the first Black female drum major in UGA’s history. 

In 2009, she once again stood at midfield in Sanford Stadium. This time, she raised a rose bouquet as one of the first Black homecoming queens in UGA historyChristina’s 100-watt smile shone through tears. The Redcoat Band – her Redcoat Band – erupted in celebration.

That was the moment I realized how much of my life has been changed because of this university,” Christina says. “Some of the most special moments in my life took place on that field. 

Marching into a bright career

Christina’s 50-yard line has now moved north, to Washington, D.C.  

At graduation, she was named a Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholar, working in the office of then U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe. The Jordan program brings talented young scholars to Washington, D.C., to work in congressional offices and learn health policyChristina showed an aptitude for health policy analysis, with a focus on issues affecting underserved populations. She went on to earn a Master of Science in public health at Johns Hopkins University, then became policy analyst at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Today she works in the White House Office of Management and Budget, focused on Medicare and the 60 million Americans it serves. She’s tasked with informing views on complex and sensitive policy areas like Medicare eligibility and prescription drugs.  

It’s meaningful work. Christina led the development of a Medicare prescription drug reform package that produced nearly $90 billion in savings to the Medicare trust funds, reduced drug prices and modernized drug benefits. She also earned recognition for her pivotal role in developing a balanced government policy to reduce the supply and demand of addictive opioids. 

Christina brings the same boundless energy to government work that she brought to UGA. 

“Some people burn the candle at both ends,” she says. “I’m the kind who just throws the whole candle in the fire.” 

This kind of zeal marked her years at UGA. She was Student Alumni Council vice president and Events Committee chairOmicron Delta Kappa secretary, a 2009 Presidential Scholar, UGA Outstanding Senior Leader, INROADS Rising Star (and Intern of the Year), UGA EXCEL Award recipient, and UGA Choice Award recipient.  

And her UGA honors still haven’t stopped.  

In 2020, Christina received UGA’s Young Alumni Award, given to those who attended the university in the past 10 years, and who have embodied the Pillars of the Arch—wisdom, justice and moderation–and provided notable service to UGA. 

View from a bridge 

Christina loves a quote from former United States First Lady Michelle Obama: 

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

“I like to expand on that,” Christina laughs. “Not only do you not slam the door, but you also open all the emergency exits and windows and get a bigger table and pull up chairs.”   

As a trailblazer, it’s my responsibility to make sure I am not the last. A path is only useful if others know it exists, and I’m committed to reaching back to help others find it. 

She’s as good as her word. She stays close to UGA as the immediate past president of the Redcoat Band Alumni Association Board of Directors, the founder and chair of the Redcoat Young Alumni Council, and a 40 Under 40 Class of 2016 honoreeShe returns regularly to speak to UGA students and alumni, building new bridges to her alma mater.  

And on the subject of bridgesSome of my favorite UGA memories are of walking across campus with friends and standing on the bridge looking into Sanford Stadium, Christina says. 

From there, Christina can see the 50-yard line. 

“It’s a really special place,” she says. “So much happened there that made me who I am.” 

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles Black students at UGA who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today. Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA.  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her. Learn more at: 

Who let the pets out: National Pet Day

We invited the Bulldog family to share pictures of their pets just in time for National Pet Day. Do you enjoy browsing pictures of adorable animals as much as we do? Paw through these pictures of furry (and feathered!) members of Bulldog Nation.

Wendy Hsiao's Dog

Wendy Hsiao: This little monster is named Georgia after her mom’s beloved football team. She was adopted 5 years ago – and it’s been the best years of my life!

Kathryn McHugh's Dog

Kathryn McHugh: Honey was rescued from the Athens-Area Humane Society in March 2019. She now lives with my husband and I, and her pup sister Annie, in Athens. Her favorite place to be is at the lake and she loves to snuggle. She is happy to be chewing on a bone, taking a nap, or sneaking an extra treat. Honey has a sweet personality and is so loved!

Mary Ann Hawthorne's Cats

Mary Ann Hawthorne: Smokey and Bandit are 8-month-old rescue kittens who are brothers. They are super adorable when they aren’t trying to kill each other.

Anna MacKenzie Clark's Dogs

Anna MacKenzie Clark: Kirby is my Dudley lab on the left, named after Kirby Smart. He loves chasing squirrels and sunbathing! Lutzenkirchen (Lutzie) is my dark Golden on the right, named after one of Auburn University’s tight ends. He loves snuggling his mama and his squeaky donut toy!

Grace Stewart's Dog

Grace Stewart: Star. Cheering on the 1980 Championship team.

Kristin Joyner's Dogs

Kristin Joyner: Bella and Rocky were surrendered. My neighbor adopted Rocky and we adopted Bella. Both are Boykin Spaniels and are inseparable. Go Dawgs!

Kim Wuenker Eilers's Parrot

Kim Wuenker Eilers: Ziggy is our 1-year-old pocket parrot. He’s an American Yellow Celestial Parrotlet. Ziggy loves to say “peekaboo” and “what are you doing?” We are trying to teach him to say “Go Dawgs!”

Denise Spangler's Dog

Denise Spangler (dean of UGA’s Mary Frances Early College of Education): Lucy is a 13-year-old Maltese who loves walks, treats, chasing squirrels, and sleeping on the couch while I watch Georgia football.

Stephanie Calhoun's Dog

Stephanie Calhoun: This is Oakley. She is the best ‘rufferee’ in Dawg Nation. Her speed and bark make her great on the field. She takes off every fall football Saturday, though, to watch the Dawgs between the hedges.

Diane Maddox's Cat

Diane Maddox: Bogo is a big hunk of snuggles!

Dr. Kristy McManus's Dog

Dr. Kristy McManus: Mr. Bigsby is a French Bulldog who was rescued from a horrible breeding situation in Tennessee in October 2015. This picture is of his first visit to the pet store to get his UGA jersey. Of course this made for a great Halloween picture, too! He had a rough first few years of life, but he is well-loved and living like a king now in Athens, Georgia. He is loving life as a member of the Bulldog Nation!

Ginny Henry's Dog

Ginny Henry: Gus is a sweetheart and in this pic was sporting a new ‘do. He was looking dandy with the tie that the groomer gave him. He loves long walks and playing catch and fetch.

Donna Nesmith's Dog

Donna Nesmith: We are a house divided. Meet Tebow Big Dawg Dooley and Georgia Natty Rose. Tebow and Georgia provide lots of entertainment around our house with their mischievous shenanigans. If you have never been around an English Bulldog, let me sum up their personality with a phrase, “I will only do it my way.” They take the word stubborn to a whole new level.

Mark Dzikowski's Dog

Mark Dzikowski: Daisy is a 16-year-old Georgia beagle by birth, but a Georgia Bulldog by the grace of God.

Patricia Dobbins Kirby's Dog

Patricia Dobbins Kirby: Dixie is a hard-playing farm dog! She loves going for rides, taunting her older siblings and running through as many mud puddles as she can find. But, she also loves quiet mornings snoozing between Mom and Dad. She is smart and beautiful!

Kelcie Willis's Dog

Kelcie Willis: Sasha is a beagle/Chow Chow (and more!) mix. She was adopted from DeKalb County Animal Services in 2019. On top of being extremely cute, she’s strong willed, food-motivated and eager to learn and play. She’s also quick to bow-wow-wow when she thinks something is amiss or wants a game of tug. She loves to get pets and likes other dogs, but she is very much a people lover. She’s never met a stranger!

Carolina Brown's Dog

Carolina Brown: Riley is a 2-year-old golden retriever who loves to play, sleep, and chase after golf balls in the yard! He is named after that Sanford Stadium favorite, “Baba O’Riley” since my husband and I met at a pre-game tailgate when I was a student.

Mark Anthony Thomas blazes trails from The Red & Black to the wide world

Written by: Charles McNair

Our steps are all taken in fears― 
our doors open with hands that shiver;  
our microphones echo voices that crack … 

 we tumble into the crowds, 
lessened by life’s fall-downs, 

-From “Self Portrait” by Mark Anthony Thomas,

Copyright © 2011. Thomas has published two books of verse,

As I Look and The Poetic Repercussion: A Poetic & Musical Narrative, along with many articles.

 

Mark Anthony Thomas took a deep breath one morning in 1997 and stepped onto the campus of the University of Georgia.

A change began.

“My time at Georgia altered the whole trajectory of my life,” Thomas says. “It gave me a preview of what was possible for myself.”

At Redan High School in south DeKalb County, Georgia, Thomas had enjoyed the security of sameness – a familiar environment “with safety to it,” he recalls, “where everybody looks like you.” He’d been a NMOC (Nice Man on Campus), lauded as Most Congenial in the Redan Raiders yearbook.

Now?

“I found that UGA,” Thomas says, “created an equal space for everybody; a space for African-Americans and Latinos, and also a space for those who flew Confederate flags. It was a microcosm of society at large. I can’t say it wasn’t a challenge sometimes, but UGA was always a welcoming environment invested in my success.”

Mark Anthony Thomas

Creating his space

Thomas hit the ground writing.

He joined The Red & Black, putting in the long hours of a reporter as he studied for a business degree. After three years mastering his craft, Thomas’s talent, leadership and vision paid off. In 1999, he became the first Black editor in the 122-year history of the student newspaper – a true Georgia trailblazer.

“Growing up in Georgia, I had always taken an interest in people who created their own spaces,” Thomas says. “I admired those who were great at their craft, people like playwriter August Wilson

Mark Anthony Thomas

and basketball player Michael Jordan. I also took pride in the accomplishments of the first Black students to enroll at UGA, Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63), people who took non-traditional paths to reach their goals.”

Thomas is a writer at heart. He’s published two books of poetry and won awards for journalism, editing and publishing. UGA introduced him to a non-traditional path for writers.

The Red & Black was an inflection point,” he says. “We were just evolving into digital media. We had our first website while I was there. My initial engagement with technology actually encouraged me to branch out into corporate communication for my career.”

After graduation Thomas first took work with Georgia-Pacific, the Atlanta-based pulp and paper giant, where he managed economic, philanthropic and environmental initiatives. He went on to compile a growingly diverse  and impressive  resume.

He held a deputy directorship at a New York-based think tank, Center for an Urban Future, relaunching the organization’s magazine, City Limits, and turning it into an influential news source.

He swapped coasts in 2014, serving the city of Los Angeles in an executive role focused on improving the city’s economic development operations. Two of then-Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive orders and several legislative bills enacted his recommendations.

He returned to the East Coast in 2016 as the first-ever senior vice president of partnerships at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. He helped lead New York’s efforts to woo and win the prized Amazon second headquarters project, although civic protests ultimately drove the multi-billion-dollar project to Arlington, Virginia.

Today, Thomas oversees the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, where he works with the metropolitan region’s leaders to dream into being the Pittsburgh of tomorrow.

He’s created his own space.

Mark Anthony Thomas

Renaissance man

Even with a dazzling professional resume, Thomas has somehow found time, at only age 41, to write his books, pick up master’s degrees from Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and throw his energies into dozens of civic, academic, and philanthropic initiatives.

He hasn’t forgotten what he means to UGA. In 2013, the university called him home as a 40 Under 40 honoree, and he keynoted UGA’s inaugural TEDxUGA conference.

He opened his TEDx talk with a story.

At Redan High, he wrote for the school newspaper about local lack of access to technology. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked up the story. County planners contacted Thomas and met him. Action followed.

“When I ride back through DeKalb County now, it brings joy to my heart to know I was officially part of a process that changed things for the better,” Thomas says.

He’s still part of the process. In fact, he’s driving the process now;  the space of achievement he’s carved out, then and as a UGA Trailblazer, just gets bigger.

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles UGA Black alumni who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today.

Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA.  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her. Learn more at: 

Where commitment meets community: Erin Tatum (BBA ’08, AB ’08, MPA ’14) intersects music, culture and education

In 2019, the annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF) in Savannah, Georgia, hosted 107 musical performances across 17 days. The performances were hosted in 15 different performance venues, required 35 piano moves and combined the efforts of 625 artists and personnel from 25 countries.

The conquering of such a logistical feat requires passion and commitment. It’s a task for which Erin Tatum (BBA ’08, AB ’08, MPA ’14), University of Georgia alumna and managing director of the festival, is well-suited.

As managing director, Tatum schedules performances and works with artists to find accommodations, arrange travel and execute contracts. This role merges the alumna’s background in management and music, both of which she studied at UGA.

 

Erin Tatum (BBA ’08, AB ’08, MPA ’14) is the managing director for the Savannah Music Festival. Photo: Elizabeth Leitzell

SMF connects artists with audiences. Throughout the year, it hosts educational programs for local schoolchildren and young musicians. Then, SMF culminates in an internationally-acclaimed cross-genre music festival that is also the state of Georgia’s largest musical arts event.

“Seeing the music performances is the reward at the end of the rainbow,” Tatum said. “Our artistic director does the programming, but I’m working with him closely to ensure that the logistics and details are right by the time we get the performers on a stage in front of an audience.”

Seeing the impact

While at UGA, Tatum knew she wanted to work in the nonprofit performing arts space.

“To me, it was about the community impact,” Tatum said. “I wanted to actually be in a community and see the impact that an organization can have.”

A connection made at UGA introduced her to a job with the Oconee Performing Arts Society in Greene County, but a fondness for Athens led her back to the Classic City in 2009 to work for UGA’s Performing Arts Center. The mission-based, education-focused atmosphere gave her a taste of the community impact she was seeking.

“The work that I did there really attracted me to the Savannah Music Festival,” Tatum said.

After an evening of the Savannah Music Festival, managing director Erin Tatum chats backstage. During the festival, Tatum’s bike is her preferred mode of transportation. Photo: Elizabeth Letizell

When Tatum joined the Savannah Music Festival in 2014, it was preparing to launch its Musical Explorers program. Through Musical Explorers, SMF brings music education into local elementary school classrooms. Through a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, students learn about three diverse music genres each semester and attend an end-of-semester performance featuring the artists they’ve studied.

“These kids experience a concert – some of them for the first time. They know all the words, even words that are not in English,” Tatum said. “The entire curriculum is based on this multicultural experience, so they’re not just learning about the music. They’re making social studies, reading and writing connections.”

In 2019, SMF’s educational programs like Musical Explorers reached 10,658 participants. When the program pivoted to a virtual format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SMF expanded its reach. The 2020-2021 program includes participants in 31 states and 15 countries.

SMF also stimulates the greater-Savannah economy. In 2019, nearly 40% of the festival’s 29,065 participants traveled from more than 100 miles away. When they aren’t attending performances orchestrated by Tatum, these visitors support the city’s restaurant and tourism industries.

Returning to the stage

After a year of silent concert halls and empty stages, this year’s festival will bring music back to Savannah’s stages. Instead of the typical 17-day format, the 2021 festival will take place from May 23 to May 30 at two indoor venues with limited capacity crowds and social distancing. Even with the changes, Tatum looks forward to bringing live music to the stage again.

“It is sad that we haven’t seen live music for a year, but we’ve also been able to make some really cool adjustments,” Tatum said. “We’ve gotten through it. We’re resilient and we did it thanks to the support of our community and donors. Those things make me hopeful we can move forward.”


WHERE COMMITMENT MEETS COMMUNITY

Whether life takes them to new cities or to the neighborhoods where they grew up, Georgia Bulldogs do more than get jobs – they elevate their communities. Bulldogs lead nonprofits, effect change and create opportunities for others. Wherever people are suffering, wherever communities are looking for effective leaders and whenever the world cries out for better solutions, Bulldogs are there to answer the call to service. It’s more than our passion. It’s our commitment.

Caroline Odom, an intern with UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, brings you a spring blog series that celebrates Bulldogs who embrace that commitment to helping others in their communities thrive.

Want to read about other Bulldogs impacting their communities?

Learn about Toyin Adon-Abel (ABJ ’05) bringing equity to art and Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) pairing passion with community empowerment. 

Meant to be—a UGA Mentor Program testimonial

In honor of Women’s History Month, the UGA Mentor Program is highlighting two strong Bulldogs. Holli Hines Easton (BBA ’93) mentors Olivia Kernels, UGA Class of 2023. Here, in their own words, is the story behind their incredible connection.

Holli Hines Easton (BBA ’93), Mentor

When Olivia contacted me via the UGA Mentor Program platform, she wrote the most endearing, kind, earnest note sharing her class year, major, and volunteer experience with the Humane Society (an organization dear to my heart). Lastly, she mentioned she was in a sorority holding a leadership office. Olivia’s note captivated me through her gracious, poised words. I responded immediately that I would be honored to serve as her mentor and that I, too, was a member of the same sorority and that I was in the same leadership role while I was at UGA. Meant to be!

Olivia and I scheduled a standing bi-weekly call. On our first call, I learned that beyond us being sorority sisters, we lived in the SAME BEDROOM in the sorority house — the same bed, same side of the room. Amazing! Olivia and I immediately bonded. We have had an incredible experience talking through Terry College of Business applications, resume crafting, cover letters that set you apart from other candidates, study habits, thriving academically during a pandemic. I cannot put into words how special this mentor-mentee relationship is. This is such a rewarding experience and I am grateful to serve as Olivia’s mentor. This was meant to be, and I am thankful to the University of Georgia for creating this special program.

Olivia Kernels, (UGA Class of 2023), Mentee

When Mrs. Easton was suggested to me via the UGA Mentor Program platform, I immediately reached out to her and I am so grateful that I did! We clicked due to our shocking similarities—both marketing majors, both in the same sorority, and we both held the same leadership position in that sorority. She even lived in the same room I am in at the sorority house!

Aside from this, Mrs. Easton has helped me set goals and educated me more about the marketing industry. I had no idea what I’d want to do after I graduate. Thanks to Mrs. Easton, I am gaining a better understanding of the ins and outs of a career in marketing. She encouraged me to grow as a student and has provided me with knowledge and support ranging from resume building to learning about her career.

Mrs. Easton and I have cultivated an awesome mentor-mentee relationship. I look forward to talking with her bi-weekly. One of my favorite parts about the UGA Mentor Program is that you are not only gaining a mentor, but also a friend. From my experience, your mentor really cares about you and what’s going on in your life. While I enjoyed learning from Mrs. Easton regarding the business and career sphere, I have equally enjoyed getting to know her as a person. I cannot say enough good things about the UGA Mentor Program and the amazing connection it has given me.

Sign up for the UGA Mentor Program and create an amazing story of your own!

Where commitment meets community: Toyin Adon-Abel (ABJ ’05) brings equity to art

On the outside of Krog Street Market in Atlanta, a mural titled “History of Good Trouble” depicts the life of former U.S. representative and Civil Rights activist John Lewis. The mural is part of The Civic Walls Project, an initiative founded by University of Georgia alumnus Toyin Adon-Abel (ABJ ’05).

The Civic Walls Project combines Atlanta’s outdoor art scene and storytelling to advocate for racial justice and civic engagement in Atlanta. The project completed its first mural last summer and has since created nearly 10 murals throughout south Atlanta.

“We’re here to support Black and minority artists to paint pieces that focus on social justice,” Adon-Abel said. “We’re painting these murals to get people out to vote and to be engaged in civics.”

Civic Walls is in partnership with Adon-Abel’s marketing agency and brand initiative, MeddlingMinds. Adon-Abel founded MeddlingMinds after he became disillusioned with experiences in corporate marketing. Through MeddlingMinds, Adon-Abel wants to encourage conscious capitalism that empowers communities.

 

Toyin Adon-Abel (ABJ ’05) founded MeddlingMinds and The Civic Walls Project.

“I believe that marketers are best positioned from a skill set to actually cause social change,” Adon-Abel said. “We know how to communicate with people. We understand storytelling.”

The UGA grad hopes to prove that a brand can prioritize community service while attracting an audience and growing sustainably.

The Civic Walls Project isn’t limited to Atlanta. Since the project’s inception, Civic Walls has gained attention from Miami and Boston. Adon-Abel has been asked to take the project to Nigeria, where he is from. He hopes to expand Civic Walls to the United Kingdom, where his family lives.

Neither is the project limited to walls. Civic Walls has renovated and redesigned two basketball courts in Atlanta, and is exploring augmented reality and digital crypto art.

“Community,” a mural by artist Cassandra “Honey Pierre” Hickey, is located in Atlanta.

For Adon-Abel, the message of the John Lewis mural encompasses the mission of The Civic Walls Project: for people to get into “good trouble” using their expertise to promote justice for all and improve lives.

Adon-Abel credits Eric Johnson (ABJ ’86), director of the UGA Visitors Center, with making the biggest impact on his time at UGA. Adon-Abel worked with Johnson as both a Visitors Center tour guide and an Orientation leader.

“The biggest thing that I learned from EJ [Eric Johnson] is authenticity,” Adon-Abel said. “It ties into what my business model is.”

For Adon-Abel, an authentic commitment to community means a commitment to equity and a constant pursuit of innovative solutions.

“Part of the tagline for my business is ‘creativity conscious,’” Adon-Abel said. “My commitment is finding creative solutions to community problems.”


WHERE COMMITMENT MEETS COMMUNITY

Whether life takes them to new cities or to the neighborhoods where they grew up, Georgia Bulldogs do more than get jobs – they elevate their communities. Bulldogs lead nonprofits, effect change and create opportunities for others. Wherever people are suffering, wherever communities are looking for effective leaders and whenever the world cries out for better solutions, Bulldogs are there to answer the call to service. It’s more than our passion. It’s our commitment.

Caroline Odom, an intern with UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, brings you a spring blog series that

Want to read about other Bulldogs impacting their communities?

Learn about Erin Tatum (BBA ’08, AB ’08, MPA ’14) intersecting music, culture and education and Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) pairing passion with community empowerment. 

The mentoring relationship from both sides

Hunter Smith (AB ’18 ) mentors Bryson Henriott (Class of 2023). Here, they share their perspectives about the mentoring relationship in their own words.

The Mentor (Hunter Smith [AB ’18])

The cinematic legend Steven Spielberg once said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” When you step back, the role of a mentor is more akin to that of a producer or director — they help the writer, the mentee, to see their goal through; to advance their vision. When I was first contacted to serve as a mentor, I felt woefully unprepared to fulfill the role. What benefit could I, a young professional having only graduated two-and-a-half years earlier, really provide a student only a few years my junior? Since graduating, I had not seen the realities of the “real-world” which would have warranted me to give sage advice on the best career and life moves. Instead, I had spent my time in law school and currently was juggling my own fears concerning life and career moves. In my mind, I was not yet an individual worth emulating; I was not yet a mentor.

Upon reflection, though, I realized mentorship is not a demonstration of excellence to be emulated, but is instead a journey towards one’s truest potential—both for the mentee and the mentor. When I thought back to my mentors in college, I realized that the importance of my experience was not in their title or who they were, but instead in how they made me feel, the opportunities they gave me, and in who they allowed me to be. A good mentor provides mentees a chance to develop themselves by acting as a sounding board and guiding light. Mentorship is not a map, but a compass. My best mentors in life, have been with me every step of the way, not telling me what to do or where to go, but have given me a refuge to run to when times get tough, stability in times of uncertainty, and a light when things seem dark.

By stripping the idea of mentorship as the pinnacle of excellence, I have also come to understand that mentorship can have lasting effects for the mentee as well as the mentor. Though the few ages difference between my mentee and me worried me at first, I have since come to understand this as a benefit. Though he is my mentee, he is also my friend; I see myself in him and when I give him advice or answer his questions, I feel as though I am talking to my younger self. In helping him navigate this time in his life, I also feel compelled to reflect on my own journey and those who helped me and may also be able to provide mentorship to him. My mentee challenges me to see the world from new perspectives, reminds me of where I have come from, and challenges me to reach new heights. Mentorship is a pursuit of self-development and, as such, it is a recursive and reiterative lifelong process. What good is knowledge and experience without someone to share that wisdom with? And the sooner we do so, the better the world. Even as I provide mentorship to others, I look to my own mentors for guidance in my life. Mentorship is a crucial relationship in life—whether you are old or young, you have value as a mentor because you can advise and counsel others and provide them an opportunity to create themselves. Each day I strive to be like the visionaries that came before me and light the way for the generation that will follow.

 

The Mentee (Bryson Henriott, Class of ’23)

As a rural first-generation college student, the process of thinking about graduate school, choosing between internships, and deciding on a career overwhelmed me. There was a moment during freshman year when it hit me that although I made it to college, I had no idea how to navigate the steps during and after college. I was interested in law school, but did not have anyone that I could talk to about the LSAT, applications, how law school realistically is, and how to make such an important decision when you have uncertainties.

I knew the best way to tackle these issues would be to find a mentor who had gone through the same decisions. The UGA Mentor Program is an incredible platform that allows students to connect with alumni who have the same passions and the experience to help you answer the questions you do not know. I remember looking through the available mentors, and Hunter immediately stuck out. We both came from rural Georgia to UGA; he graduated with the same degree I am pursuing, and took part in several organizations that I was involved in. Hunter and I both have a passion for the intersection of law and politics, and I knew he would be able to provide meaningful advice. The fact that he was in law school was helpful, and he has been able to deliver authentic answers to my law school questions.

Although our mentorship is relatively new, it is been an incredible experience. Hunter has reviewed my resume, advised me on internships, and shared about his personal journey behind attending law school. There was no awkward transition period once we matched, and we quickly began sharing our journeys and stories. A mentor is not there to have an answer to every question, but rather is a guidebook to share their journey and advice. There is a comfort in knowing that whenever I am facing a decision in my college career, I have someone in my corner one call away. I cannot recommend the UGA Mentor Program strongly enough; it is an incredible way to connect with professionals who can share a vast amount of knowledge and who want to see you succeed. It has shown me what a mentor is supposed to do and has prepared me to (hopefully) be a mentor after graduation so I can give back to a program that has given me so much.