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Representation matters

In honor of Black History Month, the UGA Mentor Program highlights the warm relationship between two outstanding student mentees, current UGA law student, Sydney Cederboom (AB ’21, AB ’21), and Belen Gad, Class of 2022, and their phenomenal mentor, Stacey Chavis (MSL ’19).

The UGA Mentor Program understands that representation matters. Students want to feel seen and validated by a mentor who shares aspects of their identity. Advice from a mentor who previously dealt with a common circumstance is more credible than recommendations from someone who has never had to handle the same situation.

“I would encourage all our Black alumni to mentor,” says Stacey. “Open yourself to the process. There are so many resources available to help guide you in building a relationship. Mentoring opened my eyes to different things and I learn a lot in return.”

“I’m not alone in my experiences”

In honor of Black History Month, the University of Georgia Mentor Program is highlighting the support available to Black male students through a partnership with the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program.

Jakhari Gordon (Class of 2025) is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems Engineering in UGA’s College of Engineering, far from his Virginia home. He considers himself a family-oriented person, but has learned to stand on his own two feet at UGA thanks to support from others who traveled the same path before him.

“UGA has a community around it and a very big alumni network; UGA is full of opportunity” said Gordon. He took advantage of those opportunities, becoming involved in the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program and the UGA Mentor Program.

The GAAME Scholars Program provides holistic support to undergraduate African American male students who are seeking to enhance their UGA experience through activities that honor and affirm their identities. It was through GAAME that Gordon met Marques Dexter (MS ’09, PHD ’24), interim director of the program, who encouraged him to join the UGA Mentor Program.

“It’s been amazing to support students like Jakhari, particularly through the UGA Mentor Program,” said Dexter. “I know what it’s like being an out of state and far from home student, just like Jakhari. It was through connecting with others who looked like me–faculty, staff and alumni–that I was able to thrive at my institution. Having the privilege to instill the mindset that mentoring works, while emphasizing that I am where I am today because of mentorship, brings me full circle.”

Gordon found common ground with his mentor, Raymond Phillips (BS ’12, MBA ’18), and the two connected on many levels. In addition to being a senior technology and process improvement consultant in metro Atlanta, Raymond is a past president of the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council.

“It was important that my mentor was a male African American like me. Growing up, I did not have much of a male influence,” Gordon said. “You think you’re the only person who has been through your situation, but I enjoyed talking with Raymond and seeing the differences and similarities between our times at UGA. The people ahead of us want to help us avoid  pitfalls. Everyone should look to connect with a mentor. That one person can change the course of what you’re doing or confirm the path you’re on.”

Dexter agrees, “My mentors saw more in me than I knew existed. The example my mentors set guides me now as I empower young men such as Jakhari to aim higher and dream bigger.”

Black alumni-owned Bulldog businesses bring pride to UGA

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous voice rang out these words, he might have been speaking directly to the stellar UGA Black alumni who appear on this year’s Bulldog 100 list. Their businesses are among the top 100 fastest-growing enterprises owned or operated by UGA graduates.

Entrepreneurs. Risk-takers. Leaders. Movers and shakers. Culture-shapers. These business owners each earned a place of pride—first as students of intelligence, character and commitment to UGA and its values… and now they’ve extended that commitment as professionals to their communities and the people they serve there. Together, these UGA alumni bear witness to the value of a degree from the birthplace of public higher education in America.

We’re tremendously proud of these business leaders and their successful leadership within their communities, industries and organizations.


The Barnes Law Office

Latasha Barnes (AB ’05, AB ’05)

Latasha Barnes hung out the shingle for her law firm in 2015 to serve metro Atlanta in criminal, family and personal injury law. She’s earned a reputation as an effective litigator and skilled negotiator in dozens of trials and thousands of criminal cases. In 2016, Barnes was named Top 40 under 40 in Criminal Defense by the National Trial Lawyers. For the past four years, she has been named a Rising Star on the Georgia Super Lawyers listing, a distinction only received by 2.5 percent of attorneys in the state. As a student, Barnes served as president of the UGA Chapter of the NAACP from 2003-2004.

 

The Brogdon Firm LLC

Gino Brogdon Jr. (JD ’11)

Gino Brogdon launched The Brogdon Firm in 2014, and it didn’t take long for his reputation to spread. Brogdon has earned selection as a Super Lawyer Rising Star each year since 2017, and he was recently featured as an Attorney to Watch in Atlanta Attorney and Law Magazine. His firm specializes in cases of catastrophic injury, personal injury and wrongful death. Brogdon is also making his mark as a legal innovator, co-founding FourthParty with his wife, Melissa. The web-based application gives lawyers remote access to legal information. In 2021, Google For Startups awarded FourthParty $100,000 as a high-potential legal-tech startup.

 

Edwards & Hawkins LLC

Cameron Hawkins (JD ’08)  

Cameron Hawkins became a partner with Donald Edwards at Edwards & Hawkins in 2019, bringing an outstanding track record in personal injury, commercial litigation and immigration law to a venerable five-decade-old firm. Recognized in 2017 as a University of Georgia School of Law Young Alumni of Excellence, Hawkins’s other accolades include a Thompson Reuters selection as a 2021 Super Lawyer, a 2021 Super Lawyers designation and selection to the national Top 40 Under 40 Black Lawyers. Hawkins holds a passion for community service, serving as a program director for the Fulton County Youth Leadership Academy, among other roles supporting the development of youth and young professionals. He’s a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

 

LeaseQuery

George Azih (BBA ’03) 

George Azih launched his software company, LeaseQuery, in 2011 with his roommate, Chris Ramsey (BS ’05), while still working as a full-time accountant. The promise of the startup, which uses innovated software to help accountants and financial professionals reduce lease accounting errors, lured him into full-time entrepreneurship in 2014. Azih hasn’t looked back. From 2018 to 2019, LeaseQuery’s client base doubled from 500 to more than 1,000, and it’s grown since to more than 2,000 clients in 93 countries. The dynamic expansion landed Azih as a finalist for the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® 2020 Southeast Award. In 2020 and 2021, LeaseQuery was named the No. 1 fastest-growing Bulldog 100 business, making it the first company to receive that title two years in a row. On Azih’s LinkedIn profile, he describes himself as “Founder & CEO of LeaseQuery. Proud father. UGA Bulldog.”

 

OSC Edge

Tiffany Bailey (AB ’02)  

Tiffany Bailey has parlayed an English degree from UGA into a notable entrepreneurial career. After a post-college position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she founded OSC Edge in 2010. Her vision? Providing expert solutions in IT to government and businesses. As CEO and president, Bailey’s visionary management of day-to-day operations has led to contracts with IT clients and the Department of Defense. OSC Edge employs staff across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. Bailey is an alumna of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Program, a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

 

YouthServ360 Inc.

Christina Guillen (AB ’04, AB ’04)
Hilary Carruthers (AB ’04, BSW ’04, MSW ’06, DRPH ’21)
Jazmin Briggs (AB ’05)

Christina Guillen graduated from UGA and went immediately into the classroom at age 20 with Teach For America. That influential experience led her back to Clayton County, Georgia where she was determined to transform local education. In 2008, she created YouthServ360 to help young people experience travel and community service, the gifts that transformed her own life. Students in YouthServ360 programs have now performed 100,000 community service hours, taken 40 college tours and attended 200 life skills workshops. With colleagues and fellow UGA alumnae, Hilary Carruthers and Jazmin Briggs, Guillen and YouthServ360 also launched 7 Pillars Career Academy, the first charter school in Georgia to allow students to set their own pace in curriculum and place of engagement.

 


Written by Charles McNair

Mentorship smooths the path for a first-generation UGA student

The UGA Mentor Program is celebrating first-generation students during November. Here, in their own words, is the story of a first-generation student, Tatiana Anthony (BS ’20, MED ’23), and her mentor, alumna Shanelle Smith (BS ’16, MED ’18).

FORGING A CONNECTION

Shanelle: I have always valued mentorship. As a dual-enrollment student in high school, I received a mentor to help me navigate both the academic and personal challenges of being in the accelerated program. When I learned about the UGA Mentor Program, I knew it was my time to help others just as I had been helped.

Tatiana: When the UGA Mentor Program launched, I was extremely excited! I connected with my mentor, Shanelle, through the program during the first semester of my senior year in Fall 2020. As a first-generation college student that wanted to pursue mental health counseling, I have always valued representation and mentorship by other Black women in the field. The UGA Mentor Program was the perfect platform to find additional support during the graduate school admission process.

I was drawn to Shanelle’s profile because she was an alumna of the graduate program I wanted to pursue, and she has proven to be a great resource for me!

Shanelle: I had the pleasure of connecting with Tatiana at the beginning of her senior year. I was both shocked and honored to know that she had chosen me to be her mentor. Witnessing her journey to graduate school has been the most remarkable part of this mentorship.

A BUMP IN THE ROAD

Tatiana: When I was not accepted into the graduate program the first time I applied, I was devastated. During this time, Shanelle was very intentional about providing me with emotional support and encouraging me to apply again.

When I decided to move to St. Louis during my gap year to do service work as an AmeriCorps member, she was genuinely happy for me. We had dinner the day before I moved, and she got me housewarming gifts for my first apartment.

My entire gap year away from home, she called me regularly and helped me apply to graduate school again. The time difference between Georgia and Missouri did not stop us from connecting.

When it came time to interview for graduate programs, she and I interview-prepped in the evenings to make sure I was prepared. Once I was accepted into my graduate program and offered an assistantship, she was one of the first few people I called.

Shanelle: Many believe the idea of mentorship is to help the mentee grow both professionally and personally, but I can say Tatiana has pushed me to grow in many ways as well. Tatiana taught me that perseverance is always the answer, and to pursue my true wants in life. From getting to know each other, to processing all the nuances of a counseling grad program, this has been an exceptional journey.

The mental health field is forever growing, and it is an honor to work alongside such an inspiring Black woman—one who I know is going to do incredible things in this field. This is only the beginning for Tatiana.

WHY MENTOR?

Shanelle: Since 2020, it has been a pleasure getting to not only provide insight and knowledge to Tatiana, but also grow from the experience myself. I am grateful to the UGA Mentor Program for the connection to not only such a great mentee, but also with a lifelong friend.

I truly believe that in order to impact future generations, no matter what your academic field may be, becoming a part of the UGA Mentor Program is a meaningful way to not only give back to UGA, but also to grow personally as well. 

Tatiana: Shanelle has been through this journey with me every single step of the way. Even now, she continues to support me in my graduate program. I can confidently say that I would not be who and where I am today without her support. Thank you, Shanelle! And thank you, UGA Mentor Program.

Discover the joys of providing mentorship.

See other ways UGA is celebrating first-generation students, staff and faculty.

The Natural: UGA showed Jackie Mattison new trails to blaze

This story was written by Charles McNair. 

Jackie Mattison (BS ’76) didn’t have a gymnastics team at her school in Covington, Georgia. She simply tumbled around in the gym and in her backyard, head over heels, like any kid.

She didn’t lead cheers on the sidelines in high school either. Instead, she wore a Newton County Rams costume, boosting school spirit as the team mascot.

With this background, what were the chances that Mattison would one day graduate as University of Georgia’s first-ever Black gymnast … and first-ever Black cheerleader?

“I never thought I’d be doing something like that,” she confesses. “There I was at UGA as a student, just enjoying what students do. I didn’t try to become a gymnast and cheerleader on purpose. It just all fell together.”

Tumbled, she might have said.

Her freshman year, 1973, Mattison took Tumbling 101 as a physical education elective. In one class, she practiced forward rolls on a battered wrestling mat. A sharp-eyed coach was passing through the gym.

“You look like you’re light on your feet,” the coach told her. “Why don’t you come try out for the gymnastics team?”

Jackie Mattison performing 1975

Jackie Mattison performing a gymnastics routine in 1975.

That day changed everything.

“If it had not been for the kind, inspiring voice of Melinda Airhart (1973-1976 UGA women’s gymnastics coach), my success as a student at UGA would not have manifested the way it did,” Mattison says. “She saw my little bit of talent and worked with me to make it bigger.”

Every Monday through Friday during summer semesters, Airhart waited for Mattison in the gym at Stegeman Hall. They practiced for two hours every day, one-on-one.

Mattison started team practice in fall 1973, the first year UGA fielded a gymnastics team. Her initial competition came in January 1974. She placed first in the vault in several meets that season.

From its humble beginnings, Georgia’s women gymnasts went on to win 10 NCAA national championships. The team has also claimed 16 Southeastern Conference Championships and 22 NCAA regional titles.

Today, Georgia women’s gymnastics–the Gym Dawgs–are generally recognized as one of the nation’s premier program.

Mattison and her teammates blazed the trail for them.

A vault into cheerleading

As Mattison worked out with the gymnastics team, she began to notice the UGA cheerleaders practicing nearby. Intrigued, she tried out for cheerleading in the spring of 1974.

“I got cut,” she remembers. “That hurt so bad. I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never try that again’.”

But she did. Convinced that her white cheer partner had let her fall on purpose during tryouts, she teamed up with a Black partner, Ricky Bivens. They scored highest of all the competitors in initial competitions, and among the highest in a nerve-wracking second tryout at Stegeman Coliseum.

That fall, Mattison found herself shaking pom-poms on the sidelines of Sanford Stadium. Home game Saturdays, she and her cheer teammates led tens of thousands of Bulldog fans in full-throated support of notable teams fielded by then-Coach Vince Dooley. Mattison even held Uga III’s leash as they ran onto the field for home games.

Jackie Mattison gymnastics team 1976

Jackie Mattison with her gymnastics team in 1976.

At the 1976 Cotton Bowl, UGA vs. Arkansas, she turned after a cheer to find herself face-to-face with Georgia native singer James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. Brown had a recent hit song, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs,” which has the following lyrics:

Uh, ha, Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
They’ll hit ya, they’ll knock ya, ha 
They’ll haul right off and sock ya 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs

As rich as her gymnastics team and cheer team memories are, Mattison holds other moments equally dear. She became one of the very first UGA female student athletes to be awarded a scholarship, thanks to the enactment of a national education amendment, Title IX. And she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., joining “a sisterhood that still exists today,” she says.

“The camaraderie of Black sororities and fraternities at UGA closely bonded the few minority students,” she says. “Among my best memories are Black student gatherings in the dorms and dining halls, social activities, and greetings as we passed on our way to classes.”

UGA also readied Mattison for life after Athens.

“I feel that the professionalism, support and encouragement of my instructors in the health and physical education department had a major role in my success as a student at UGA,” she says.

“I was motivated by the commitment, energy and excitement in their voices as they taught and engaged students. There was a feeling of a great deal of mutual respect between students and professors. To me, that was a formula for success.”

She took that formula into the world.

Passing it forward

Earning a 1977 master’s degree in health and physical education, Mattison launched a 33-year career as an educator.

She began as a K-5 physical education teacher at Barnett Shoals Elementary School in Athens. She shaped young minds and bodies at subsequent posts in Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee.

Along the way, she and her husband Larry had two sons, Landy and Ryan, and one grandson, Sean.

She spent the last 12 years of her career back home, at Newton High School in Covington, teaching health and physical education. In three decades-plus of education, she coached co-ed cross-country and golf, as well as girls’ softball, tennis, and gymnastics. She retired in 2016, her career distinguished by awards and the achievements of her students.

UGA has been with her along all the trails she blazed.

“I left UGA with confidence that I could make a difference in the lives of students from every walk of life,” Mattison says.

“I followed my heart. To this day, I have no doubt that the major reason I was successful in a career as a health educator, physical educator, and coach for 33 years is because I was prepared for life – and made highly qualified in my field – by the University of Georgia.”

Dawgs through the Decades: UGA in the 1990s

As the birthplace of higher education, UGA is guided by a respect for history and tradition. We’re taking a trip down nostalgia lane to learn about college life through the decades. So dust off your flannels and grunge band T-shirts as we go back to the 1990s.

The 1990s were defined by pop culture and innovative technology. It was a spirited decade in America and that was no different on UGA’s campus. The university hosted three Olympic competitions in 1996, putting Athens on the map as an internationally recognized hub for sports, culture and entertainment. During this decade, our historic campus also expanded with new buildings like the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities and the Georgia Museum of Art.

Students in the 1990s were committed to creating better communities around the world and empowering the next breed of Bulldogs to continue that tradition. They embodied the world-class spirit of UGA, promoting diversity and inclusion year-round, worldwide and lifelong. UGA’s distinguished alumni from this decade include retired NFL player Terrell Davis (BSFCS ’95), Congolese ambassador Dr. Faida Mitifu (PHD ’94), sports journalist and NYT best-selling author Mark Schlabach (ABJ ’96), Pulitzer Prize winner Brad Schrade (AB ’92, MA ’95). Bulldogs from the ’90s continue to inspire pride among alumni, students and fans.

Campus Highlights

Here are some important moments in UGA’s history in the 1990s:

1990

1991

1993

  • Telvis Rich (BSW ’94, MSW ’95) became the first Black student to serve as president of the Student Government Association

1994

  • School of Ecology established within the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; environmental literacy requirement instituted for all undergraduates
  • UGA was chosen as site for Olympic soccer and volleyball during the 1996 Olympic games

1995

1996

  • UGA hosted three competitions during the Centennial Olympic Games
  • The Georgia Museum of Art opened a new building on East Campus as part of the Performing and Visual Arts Complex, which includes the School of Music, the Performing Arts Center and the Lamar Dodd School of Art

1997

  • The late Bernard B. Ramsey left the university its largest single gift (at the time), $18.8 million

1998

  • UGA converted from quarter terms to semester terms
  • UGA Professor Edward J. Larson won a Pulitzer Price for History

1999

  • University campus dedicated as an Arboretum
  • UGA at Oxford opened, making it the first university-owned residential facility abroad
  • Hilton Young (BSED ’79) became the first Black president of UGA’s National Alumni Association (now the UGA Alumni Association)
  • Mark Anthony Thomas (BBA ’01) became the first Black editor-in-chief of The Red & Black
uga campus 1999

UGA’s campus in 1999. Notice any differences from today?

Classic City Entertainment

Following the creative ascent of bands like R.E.M and the B-52s in the ’80s, Athens was established as a cultural epicenter for music. Students flocked to venues and bars like the Flying Buffalo, Rockfish Palace, T.K. Harty’s Saloon, The Odyssey, Georgia Bar and Boneshakers.

The Uptown Lounge, a popular music club, became the Atomic Music Hall in the mid-’90s. Atomic gained recognition as one of the most vital underground rock clubs during the 1990s. It hosted punk-rock bands like Trash Fest, Harvey Milk, Jucifer, Trinket, Space Cookie and Buzz Hungry. The club also attracted national acts such as Hole, the Oblivions and Drivin’ N Cryin’.

Other popular acts during the ’90s included Of Montreal and Drive-By Truckers. The Elephant 6 Collective, a group of like-minded indie bands, gained nationwide exposure in the mid-1990s with the rise of Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power and Olivia Tremor Control.

In 1998, a week after the release of their first live album, Light Fuse, Get Away, Widespread Panic closed the streets of Athens to put on a free album release party for 100,000 fans. The live concert broke Metallica’s record for the largest record release party.

Music Essentials

The 1990s were filled with a range of pop, rap and alternative artists. Girl groups and boy bands like Destiny’s Child, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, TLC and the Spice Girls took center stage. Meanwhile, solo artists like Mariah Carey, Tupac Shakur, Alanis Morrissette, Whitney Houston and Madonna pushed the boundaries of pop culture with their eccentric styles and cutting edge performances. Reminisce on the ’90s with this UGA Alumni throwback playlist!

Fashion Trends

Fashion returned to minimalism in the 1990s, sharply contrasting the bold and elaborate styles of the ’80s. Wardrobe staples included cardigans, long, fitted skirts, straight-legged pants, cropped T-shirts and overalls—all in neutral tones. During the early to mid-1990s, grunge and alternative bands like Nirvana influenced an “anti-fashion” movement which consisted of oversized clothing, flannel shirts, distressed jeans, Doc Martens and bucket hats. Students on campus could be seen wearing a combination of these styles, but most opted for a UGA T-shirt with high tops or white, chunky sneakers.

TV Shows

The 90’s gave birth to television shows and sitcoms, entertaining sporting events, blockbuster movies, and video games. Students could be found huddled around bulky, flat-screen TVs watching the latest music videos on MTV. Here are some TV shows that further revolutionized the decade:

  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • Family Matters
  • Friends
  • Seinfeld
  • Law & Order
  • Sister, Sister
  • The X-Files
  • Full House
  • Martin

UGA fosters lifelong relationships with alumni, because we are committed to the growth, success and connection of the Bulldog nation. Whether you passed through the Arch in the 1990s or just caught a game inside Sanford Stadium, you’re a Georgia Bulldog and you will Never Bark Alone.

Don’t forget to check out the 1970s and 1980s posts in this series!

*Shannon Moran, writing/communications intern for UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, is researching and writing this special blog series.

Mistress of Cultural Affairs: Nawanna Miller’s legacy of diversity and inclusion at UGA

This was written by Charles McNair.

In fall 1970, Nawanna Lewis Miller (ABJ ’73) took on a daunting mission: showcasing the traditions of African American culture at UGA. The student body at that time was overwhelmingly white, and Miller remembers—painfully—how some classmates did not welcome Black faces.

Miller and her Black classmates resolved to stand up and stand out.

Bannered under the theme of Pamoja, the Swahili word for togetherness, Miller founded a pantheon of Black cultural organizations unlike anything seen before at UGA.

The Pamoja Dancers daringly expressed the Black experience through artistic motion. (Miller danced completely alone at first.) The Pamoja Singers gave beautiful a cappella concerts on the plaza outside Monument Hall. The Pamoja Drama and Arts troupe recounted Black life in stories. (Again, Miller performed solo shows at first.) Finding still more ways to share the importance of Black culture, Miller launched the landmark Journalism Association for Minorities (JAM), and that group produced Pamoja Newspaper.

The ripples of Miller’s work would spread through the next five decades into currently active UGA groups (The African American Choral Ensemble, the Black Theatrical Ensemble, etc.). Thousands of UGA students have taken part in these performing arts ensembles. A 50th Anniversary of Pamoja event in 2020 commemorated their contributions to UGA.

Miller’s leadership came with a unique title: Mistress of Cultural Affairs.

Nawanna Lewis Miller 1970

Nawanna Lewis Miller in the 1970 Pandora yearbook.

“I didn’t know what it meant. Nobody knew what it meant,” Miller laughs. “I went and typed out a job description and took it from there.”

The Pamoja movement excited Black students and left them optimistic … to a degree.

“We only had a minuscule number of Black students on campus,” Miller says, “but they made for a supportive audience.

“A few white students,” she smiles, “were curiously polite.”

New success against long odds

After earning a broadcast journalism degree in just three years–Miller took 20 hours each semester–Nawanna and husband George C. Miller (her sweetheart since junior high school), moved in 1977 to Washington, D.C. George took a high political post in the United States Department of the Treasury in President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

The Millers started a family, eventually to grow to six children and seven grandsons. Though the home front kept her busy, Miller now set her sights on another lifelong dream–the ministry.

“My first encounter with Jesus Christ came while I was still in a high chair,” she says. “Through my whole life, I have vigorously served in the church.”

It would turn out that becoming a female minister at a time when men dominated the clergy would take more determination than she ever imagined.

“I can say that the physical, mental, and emotional impact of attending UGA as a minority student in those early years of integration was very, very costly,” Miller says. “But I believe it was even harder to be accepted among Black people—men especially—as Black preacher.”

Miller approached her pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington about her yearning. As a first step, she served as director of metropolitan youth ministries, offering spiritual guidance to children in 30 organizations. Then, in 1989, more than a decade after moving to D.C. and over the objections of other pastors, Miller was licensed to preach by Reverend Dr. H.B. Hicks, Jr.

Finally, in 1992, Miller was welcomed fully to the gospel ministry following a substantial public catechism by clergy who “courageously ordained her,” she says.

“The beautiful part is that this revolutionary moment happened in front of about 1,500 people. That was a powerful affirmation.”

She became one of the first female pastors in the Baptist church.

Miller went on to earn a master’s degree in divinity from Howard University. When the Millers returned to the Atlanta area, she founded the Messiah’s Temple Christian Ministries, serving as pastor there until 2016.

The Gospel of Great Health

After a stroke in 2015, Miller reduced her time in the pulpit. She now serves as a personal pastor to people “from all walks of life,” she says, sharing spiritual guidance through The Institute for Christian Fellowship, yet another organization she founded, this one in 1996.

She spends time writing books. She has five titles in all, with a new one, B.O.L.O. – Be On the Look-Out for Satan’s Top Ten Tricks, due in 2021.

Nawanna Miller 2021

Nawanna Miller in 2021.

Doctors gave Miller only a 15% chance of surviving her stroke. Yet, once again, her unbreakable spirit prevailed. Turning the setback into something positive, Miller designed The Gospel of Great Health program, teaching what she calls “supernatural energy techniques for healing and wholeness” to students and churches.

She’s seen many changes since her days at UGA, but Miller insists that one thing in her life has always stayed the same.

“Excellence was our brand for all of the Pamoja groups,” she says. “And I’m grateful to say that’s still the standard I’ve been blessed to attempt in everything I’ve done all these years.”

Vaughn’s Victory: Terry College’s first Black female graduate shares remembrances 

This story was written by Charles McNair. 

Margaret Vaughn (BBA ’70) didn’t realize she was making history.

“I did not set a goal to become the first Black woman to graduate from the Terry College of Business,” she says. “I knew at the time that two Black males had preceded me. But even at graduation, I did not attach any great significance to that moment.”

Vaughn may have been distracted by job offers.

It was 1970, and businesses and the federal government were just waking up to the potential of a diversified professional workforce. Vaughn heard from NASA, the Big 8 accounting firms, the U.S. Department of Labor and others.

“I attribute that attention,” she says modestly, “to the fact that a University of Georgia business degree was highly respected by employers.”

But, hello Houston, there was a problem. The potential employers all wanted Vaughn to relocate–to Texas, New York or New Jersey.

“The U.S. Department of Treasury won out,” Vaughn says, “because the Internal Revenue Service did not require me to leave Georgia.”

In 1970, she started a distinguished career with the IRS, retiring in 2004 after serving in multiple roles with increasing responsibility.

In an unexpected way, Vaughn says, her UGA classroom experience prepared her perfectly for the 1970s business world.

Margaret Vaughn 1970

Margaret Vaughn in the 1970 Pandora yearbook.

“Initially, my work environment was a near mirror image of my environment at UGA,” Vaughn says. “Predominately male and white.”

“I was the only African American and one of only two females in my first tax training class. I was one of only two or three African Americans and the only African American female employed as an IRS field agent in Georgia. I remember being one of only two African Americans in the swearing-in ceremony when I became a certified public accountant.”

“So not only did my UGA experience provide me the technical knowledge to become an expert in my field,” she says, “it also fully prepared me for the environment where I would have to work.”

Roads not taken

Vaughn never plotted to enter the business world.

As a student at Pearl High School in Madison, Georgia, she loved to write. She created the school’s first yearbook and wrote the school’s alma mater. She had her heart set on making a living by the paragraph and page.

That changed in her senior year. The principal of her high school called Vaughn into the office with news.

“You’re going to be the senior class valedictorian,” the principal said. “And you’re going to the University of Georgia. I’ve already talked with your father about it, and he agrees.”

Goodbye Spelman. Goodbye historically Black universities and colleges.

Vaughn, in retrospect, sees two powerful reasons behind that decision made for her.

First, her principal wanted to show that a student from her school could excel at UGA. Second, Vaughn’s dad had come home from the military and had been denied an opportunity to attend UGA. His daughter’s admission would mark an achievement for the Vaughn family. (Margaret would be the first in her immediate family to go to college.)

Dad also had a very practical concern. He felt sure that a business degree could ensure that his brilliant daughter would find a job with steady paychecks and financial security instead of rejection slips and unsold manuscripts.

Taxing times

Vaughn speaks thoughtfully and philosophically about the challenges she faced as a young Black woman in the late ’60s at a newly-integrated Deep South university.

“I entered UGA feeling that a personal sacrifice had been made to enroll,” she says, “but the remaining unanswered question was whether the struggle for representation and inclusion would be worth the sacrifice.”

“Of course, I was also concerned about more immediate matters. What would I face in the classroom? Would I be marginalized? Would I face open hostility? Would I have help in my studies, if I needed it?”

Terry proved an education.

“It felt as though each class held a different UGA experience with different challenges,” she says.

“I specifically remember a speech class. I was the only Black student in a white, predominantly male class, and I was deeply concerned that it would be the worst experience of the quarter.”

“The icebreaker was that I could write. I shared a few of my discarded speech drafts. Contrary to my initial fears, it went exceedingly well. I had initially dreaded the class and my study group, but that was a time I experienced inclusion from fellow students.”

Helping others blaze trails

Solving challenges on her own, class by class, turned out to be an important part of Vaughn’s education.

“UGA showed me in many ways that I was strong and resilient,” she says. “The university taught me that if I want my life to matter, I must live it on my own terms, unselfishly, with responsibility for my own happiness.”

Vaughn often recalls how, in 1966, she felt alone and without support in classrooms. It’s why she is now passionate about giving special attention to small, often unsupported, businesses through her tax consulting practice, Margaret Davis Vaughn, CPA.

She also serves on the boards of organizations that provide guidance to promising young people.

“Being a trailblazer in 1970 meant there were no African American female role models, no mentors, for me at UGA,” Vaughn says. “There was no one to call to ask for directions.

“This is why I am determined to have an impact on the lives of as many students as I possibly can. Just as someone saw a possibility for me, I am certain there are CPAs waiting among the students within my reach.”

UGA Alumni Association names new president, board members

The UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors has elected its 77th president, Yvette K. Daniels (AB ’86, JD ’89), and approved eight new board members. Their terms began July 1.

Daniels has been on the board since 2015 and succeeds Brian Dill (AB ’94, MBA ’19), whose two-year term concluded June 30. Her passion for policy, mentorship and relationship-building has guided her career. She spent six years as an assistant state attorney in Florida, and then joined the Georgia Department of Public Health where she has held lobbying and director positions. Today, she is the director of university relations for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“Yvette is a valued leader among this group of passionate alumni,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00, MED ’16), executive director of alumni relations. “She embodies the spirit of UGA, is committed to the UGA community and goes above and beyond to serve our university.”

The Atlanta native graduated from the University of Georgia in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and in 1989 with a law degree. She resides in Stone Mountain, Georgia, with her husband, Frederick L. Daniels Jr. The couple has two daughters – Kasey is a second-year student at UGA, and Kinsey is a senior at Arizona State University. Daniels will be the first Black woman president of the UGA Alumni Association.

Alumni joining the board on July 1 include:

  • Charlene Johnson Benn (BS ’85), Director of Operations and Technology Strategy, Fiserv; Suwanee, Georgia
  • Ericka Brown Davis (AB ’93), Chief Communications Officer, State Road and Tollway Authority and Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority; College Park, Georgia
  • Deretta Rhodes (BSFCS ’92, PHD ’10), EVP/Chief People Capital Officer, Atlanta Braves; Atlanta
  • Paton Faletti (BBA ’99), President and CEO, NCM Associates; Atlanta
  • Ashley M. Horne (ABJ ’01), Chief Marketing Officer, Womble Bond Dickinson (U.S.); Atlanta
  • Adam C. Johnson (MBA ’16), Director, Jabian Consulting; Atlanta
  • Christian Robinson (BBA ’04), Executive Director, JP Morgan Chase & Co.; Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Marisa “Marsay” Simpson (BSW ’97), Director of Legislative and Governmental Affairs, Atlanta Gas Light; Greensboro, Georgia

The executive board members who will serve alongside Daniels include:

  • Lee Zell (AB ’96), Vice President — Account Executive, Turner Sports; Atlanta
  • Bobb Watts (AB ’10), Secretary — Associate, Jones Day; Atlanta
  • Dominique Holloman (BS ’01, AB ’01, MED ’04, JD ’04), Nominating Committee Chair — Government Affairs Manager, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority; Atlanta
  • Stephanie Powell (BSED ’94, MED ’97, EDS ’99), Student Engagement Committee Chair  — Director of Internal Affairs, Joe Powell and Associates, Inc.; Cumming, Georgia
  • Corey Dortch (BSA ’03, MED ’05, PHD ’11), Affinity Committee Chair — Associate Dean, Evening MBA Program, Emory University Goizueta Business School; Mableton, Georgia
  • Cheri Leavy (BSED ’97), Events Committee Chair — Editor/Creative Director/Founder, guide2athens/Bulldog Illustrated/The Southern Coterie; St. Simons Island, Georgia
  • Todd Phinney (BBA ’88), Chapters Committee Chair — Business Consultant-Field Operations, Chick-fil-A, Inc.; Bishop, Georgia

“These new board members represent an array of diverse perspectives and alumni experiences at the University of Georgia,” said Johnson. “Their dedication to leadership and service are invaluable in engaging alumni and inspiring Bulldogs year-round, worldwide and lifelong.”

Board members concluding their terms on the board include:

  • Bill Caldwell (BLA ’97), Smyrna, Georgia
  • Jody Corry (ABJ ’88, JD ’91), Watkinsville, Georgia
  • April Crow (BSEH ’95), Atlanta
  • Shelly Hutchinson (MSW ’00), Snellville, Georgia
  • Lex Kenerly (BS ’78), Jesup, Georgia
  • Luther Lockwood (BBA ’89), Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Bonney Shuman (BBA ’80), St. Simons Island, Georgia

The UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors works closely with UGA’s alumni relations staff to promote, support, and advance the programs and services that are offered to nearly 340,000 living alumni around the world.

Erika Parks Headshot

Where commitment meets community: Erica Parks (MPH ’11) advocates for veterans

Erica Parks (MPH ’11) refers to herself as a “vetpreneur.” The UGA alumna leverages her experiences with the armed forces, public health and entrepreneurship to advocate for veterans through Camouflage Me Not.

The seed of advocacy was planted in Parks as a young girl, but her experiences in the United States Army Reserve and as a veteran helped the seed grow. When Parks deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2003, her leadership roles and a near-death experience taught her the importance of speaking up for herself and others.

“That time in Afghanistan means so much to me,” Parks said. “The unity I have with my comrades is unmatched.”

When she returned from deployment, Parks earned an undergraduate degree from Kennesaw State University and then applied to UGA’s Master of Public Health program. The program exposed her to health policy and the idea of working with veterans.

Parks founded Camouflage Me Not in 2018 to increase social awareness around veterans’ transition to civilian life. Through the advocacy nonprofit, she shares a specific message on behalf of veterans: “Don’t hide me.”

Erica Parks (MPH ’11) served as a medical supply sergeant with Fort Gillem’s 427th medical logistical battalion in the United States Army Reserve. Parks served almost nine months of active duty in Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2003.

The need for support

After earning her master’s degree, Parks experienced 38 months of chronic unemployment. She felt that as a woman of color and a veteran, that she was overlooked and undervalued.

“The song says, ‘And the Army goes rolling along,’” Parks said. “And it does.”

The armed forces offer housing, training, and employment services to members. When veterans transition to civilian life, many of those services are no longer available, Parks said. Women and minorities may feel the challenges of the transition into veteran status even more deeply—as Parks knows from her own experience.

“There is so much training to prepare a soldier, but not the same training when they leave,” Parks said. “Transition programs need a serious overhaul.”

 

Erica Parks (MPH ’11) was honored at the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s inaugural Veterans in Business Awards with the Veteran Owned Business Award. The audience listens to a video of Parks discussing her military service, lessons learned from service, Camouflage Me Not and her transition from the military to the business world.

Starting conversations

Through advocacy, research, and collaboration, Camouflage Me Not ignites conversation around veterans’ transition and uses public health initiatives and current issues to start a conversation around veteran transition. Since founding the organization, Parks has brought veterans non-veterans to the table while partnering with communities and local governments. But Parks isn’t stopping there.

Her next goal is to attain 501(c)(4) status, which transform Camouflage Me Not into a social welfare organization. With this status, Camouflage Me Not can extend the conversation about veteran transition to legislative assemblies through lobbying.

“Camouflage Me Not means don’t hide me and don’t throw me away,” Parks said. “I’m committed to people who deserve support but might not know what they need.”

Camouflage Me Not presents “Food for Thought – Mental Nourishment for Everyone.” In partnership with Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Lotus Family Wellness Clinic, Radio One, Mental Health America, Erica Parks (MPH ’11) and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian served as co-hosts.

Advocating for the next generation

After UGA prepared Parks to launch her nonprofit, Parks dedicates time to UGA’s next generation of change-makers. She helped establish the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council and was named a Class of 2016 40 Under 40 honoree. She is also a member of the College of Public Health Alumni Working Group dedicated to connecting and uniting alumni of the College of Public Health.


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?