Posts

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?

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-foot-1, 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.”   

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. Read their accomplishments here: desegregation.uga.edu  

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

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: 

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: 

Across the decades: UGA’s 60th anniversary of desegregation

On January 9, 1961, Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) and Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63) enrolled as the first Black students at the University of Georgia. 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation.

The legacies of Holmes, Hunter-Gault and Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67), UGA’s first Black graduate, sparked 60 years of growth at UGA. Because of these students, UGA now boasts a diverse campus made of numerous nationalities, races and ethnicities. The university is commemorating the anniversary and Black History Month by hosting a series of events this spring. And this week, we’re sharing Pandora photos of Black students on campus since the 1960s. Check them out …

The 1960s

From the classroom and lab to campus organizations, these snapshots recognize Black students who joined the Bulldog family in the 1960s.

The 1970s

Continue to stroll with us down ‘Memory Lane’ to the 1970s and check out these students’ campus moments.

The 1980s

Ah, the 1980s! What a time for fashion, pop culture and continuing to build on a legacy that was established just 20 years earlier when UGA was desegregated in 1961. Black students were continuing to make history on campus as orientation leaders, drum majors and in Greek life. Recognize any of these Bulldogs?

The 1990s

These ’90s throwback photos are definitely giving off Tony! Toni! Tone’! “It Feels Good” vibes. Some of your favorite Bulldogs’, favorite Bulldogs were UGA-made in the 1990s.

The 2000s

Let’s swing back through the early 2000s to see a few Black students sharing the first few “side eyes” and “hard” looks caught on camera … and some fun, too!