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10 questions with filmmaker Malena Cunningham Anderson (ABJ ’80)

This post was contributed by Bridgette Burton (AB ’11, ABJ ’11, MPA ’17), marketing & communications chair, Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Where are you from? Born in Laurens, S.C., but grew up in Gray Court, S.C.

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia? I followed my father, Odell Cunningham (BBA ’72), who was an older student when he graduated from UGA in 1972.

Anderson on her high school graduation day with her father who is also a Georgia alumnus

What was your major? Journalism with an emphasis on public relations

What was your most memorable college experience? There are many but pledging Zeta Psi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority was the best!

Where do you live now? Atlanta

Where do you work and what do you do? I founded my own production company Newslady Productions last year. I’ve reinvented myself utilizing my journalism skills, and I’m a documentary filmmaker. My first film, “Little Music Manchild: The Malik Kofi Story” won Best Documentary at the BronzeLens Film Festival in 2017.

However, I spent 23 years working in television news as a reporter and anchor. I started my career working behind the scenes at CNN; I worked as a reporter in Lexington, Kentucky, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Savannah. I also worked in Birmingham, where I won two Emmy Awards for reporting and was part of the six o’clock news team that won an Emmy for Best Newscast. In 2004, I left TV News and founded Strategic Media Relations, a media consulting firm that I ran until 2014.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates? Don’t just search for a job. Instead, look for opportunities to learn and grow in your career so that you can be an owner or employer. We need more African American students to recognize the power in being the person who writes the checks, not just someone who waits to get a check.

Anderson with fellow award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault

What is the most important lesson you learned in college? I learned that it’s important to network and get involved in campus organizations. This helps prepare you to work and collaborate with others. The more you get to know people on campus, and the more they know you, the more they can serve as connections when you begin your career.

Malena (second from left) with friends on graduation day.

What do you know for sure? What I know for sure is that no one will ever ask ‘What was your GPA?’ Grades matter, but being a reliable, hardworking professional, who also makes a difference and goes the extra mile on the job and in the community is more impactful.

Is there anything else that you would like for people to know? I’m extremely proud to be a second generation African American graduate of UGA. Go DAWGS!

Godfrey Powell takes hold of technology

This post was contributed by Bridgette Burton (ABJ ’11, AB ’11), marketing and communications chair for the Black Alumni Leadership Council.  

Atlanta native Godfrey O. Powell, Jr. (BBA ’00), who leads product strategy for media partnerships at Facebook, delivered a talk at the TEDxUGA event on March 22. Powell majored in finance and management information systems at Georgia, and prior to joining the team at Facebook, he worked in investment banking at JPMorgan Chase, held leadership positions at Samsung and launched a film studio at Marvel Enterprises. His talk, titled “Taking Hold of Our Technophobia,” was about the intersection of media and technology.

Powell spoke about grappling with excitement around new technology and the fear of not being able to control the rate at which we are receiving information. He examines public opinion around technologies of the past, like the printing press and the automobile, to contextualize our fear of and relationships with technologies today. He also offered tips about how Wakanda, the fictional country in Black Panther, can serve as a model for how Americans can use technology as a tool, rather than forming unhealthy dependencies on smartphones.  

We caught up with Powell and asked him a few questions about his favorite things about the University of Georgia.

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia? 

I wanted a large state school with a combo of good brand name, strong academics, and great sports programs. The deciding factor was I got a full HOPE Scholarship.

What did you think you would be when you grew up? Do you still have plans to become that? 

I always loved the idea of being a businessman and entrepreneur growing up.  The specifics I never knew.  Due to the current state of tech, I am fascinated to be in it and feel a high degree of entrepreneurship. At a certain point in the future, I may explore starting my own business.

What did you learn from your TEDx experience? 

I loved, and was quite challenged by, the creating and delivering a TEDx Talk. The basics of this process are obvious but worth mentioning: getting the right topic that matches your credibility and educates the audience, structuring the talk and then being (hopefully) entertaining. UGA was quite impressive in the way they organized the event, making it a large community event, and providing tons of tools and institutional knowledge to guide me in crafting the talk. I know from talking to the other presenters they felt the same way.   

I spent the first six weeks ideating on what topic I wanted to speak on, and how it could resonate. Then, I spent the next three weeks writing an outline, getting feedback from the team and putting together visuals. Then, I spent the last three weeks writing out the full draft and in the process memorizing it. The last week, I practiced it six times a day and each day made slight tweaks. Along the way, I shared it with trusted friends and family for feedback, which was a critical step in mastering the tone of piece and making it my own. I finally felt good the day before after dress rehearsal and getting feedback from the TEDx Talk curator. 

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates? 

Throughout my career I’ve used this same thesis: I pursue things that just seem interesting and unique to collect experiences. Each step, I thought about the potential for growth and learning. Am I joining an area that has industry growth? When you look at industry growth, it matters less the exact role, but just getting involved.  

 

DeRetta Cole Rhodes helps women get to the C-Suite

This post was contributed by Bridgette Burton (ABJ ’11, AB ’11), marketing and communications chair for the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

DeRetta Cole Rhodes (BS ’92, PHD ’10), who is past president of the College of Family & Consumer Sciences Alumni Association, delivered a talk at the TEDxUGA event on March 22. Rhodes, who is the chief human resource officer for YMCA of Metro Atlanta, gave a talk titled “From Survive to Thrive: Women of Color in Corporate Leadership.” Prior to joining the YMCA, she held leadership positions at FirstData, Turner Broadcasting, Ernst & Young and ADP.

Rhodes spoke about her experience navigating the corporate ranks as a woman of color. Only 4 percent of C-Suite positions are held by women of color, and Rhodes has dedicated her work to increasing that number. In her TEDx Talk, which is linked below, she talks about giving a voice to underrepresented groups, the importance of mentorship and fighting for equity–from earning her Ph.D. to rising to her current position.

We caught up with Rhodes and asked her a few questions about her favorite things about the University of Georgia.

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia? 

I was excited about UGA and the opportunities. UGA was my first choice.

What was your favorite class at Georgia?

Business Law taught by President Morehead

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association? 

I have always wanted to be connected to UGA, even after graduation and the best way for me to stay connected was to be a part of the Alumni Association.

Describe Athens in three words.  

Quaint, fun, great restaurants (perfect for a foodie)

Describe UGA in three words. 

Inspiring, Insightful, education – continuous learning

What was your most memorable college experience? 

The friendship and relationships that I made while I was there

What do you know for sure?

I know for sure I don’t know everything.

What will you never understand?  

So many things I am still trying to understand, hence the importance of education and what you continue to gain from UGA – continuous learning.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?

Don’t quit and persevere.

Maritza McClendon reflects on the Olympics, fast cars and 40 Under 40

This post was contributed by Emily Clary, graduate student and talent management intern for the Division of Development and Alumni Relations.

Maritza McClendon (BS ’05) originally took up swimming as a way to alleviate the effects of her scoliosis, but it quickly became her passion. She began competing in her home state of Florida and eventually secured a spot on the UGA swim team. In 2004, Maritza became the first African American woman to be a member of the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. Her 400-meter freestyle relay team earned a silver medal at the Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

McClendon swam her last race at the USA Nationals in 2007 before she retired. Afterward, she took a marketing position at Nike, which had previously been her sponsor. She is now the Senior Brand Marketing Manager at OshKosh B’Gosh in Atlanta. She is also a motivational speaker and volunteers with Swim 1922, an organization that offers swim lessons to children of color around the country.

 

“Seventy percent of African Americans didn’t know how to swim,” McClendon said. “I felt that it was a mission that I wanted to take on… to change that statistic through access to pools, swim lessons and clinics. It’s more than just being able to swim up and down the pool, it’s about being able to save your life.”

Maritza’s dedication to the University of Georgia has not dwindled since her days on the swim team. This summer, she will speak as part of a new Women of UGA initiative called Mentorship Mondays. Learn more about this 2017 40 Under 40 honoree below.

On her fondest memory at Georgia

“After we won NCAA’s, we were invited to be on the 50 yard line at the next UGA football game and we were recognized for winning our national championship. I still have all the pictures from that weekend. It was so amazing to be “Between the Hedges” with all the fans cheering. Nothing beats a Georgia football game day. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”

On making history

“There is an element of pressure for every athlete, especially when it comes to making the Olympic Team, but for me it was really about focusing on all the hard work I had done previous to that event, and putting all of that hard work into action.”

On being named 40 Under 40

“It’s kind of like winning an Olympic medal! I’m extremely honored. One of the coolest things about college is when you graduate, you have something that most other people can’t really understand because they didn’t have your college experiences. To be recognized by my school for the things that I’m continuing to do beyond my school career is amazing. I think it’s fantastic that UGA has this program and that they continue to keep track of their alumni and celebrate their wins.”

On giving back

“When I received the 40 Under 40 recognition, I was approached by Women of UGA to be one of the speakers in the Mentorship Monday series. I want to make sure that I’m giving back as much to UGA as they gave me and that I’m encouraging the next class. I think it’s really important that we’re connecting… Growing up, I didn’t take advantage of all the mentorship opportunities I could have. I want to make sure that I am able offer that for other people, because I know there is value in it. I want to give back to the communities that have offered so much for me. We’re networking and offering advice, but we’re also handing the baton to the next class and reminding them to pay it forward.”

Maritza, right, and others at the 2017 40 Under 40 Celebration.

On living life in the fast lane

“I’m a huge Fast and Furious fan! My first paycheck went to my first car (a Nissan 350Z). Over the years I started to soup it up: I put in a twin turbo kit, gages, I had a spoiler on the back… I’ve always loved speed, hence I’m a 50 freestyler, so I used to take it to the track in Braselton, put on my helmet and race it down quarter mile runs. I did the whole Fast and Furious thing, I loved the thrill. I don’t race anymore because I’m a mom and I’m trying to be responsible, but put a fast car in front of me and I’ll take it for a spin.”

Meet TJ Snowden, Vice President of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. TJ Snowden (BSED ’04, EDD ’19) is vice president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed him to learn more about his UGA experience and what drives him to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated from UGA in 2004 with a degree in sports communications. After more than three years of work in retail management and collections, I returned to UGA to work as a financial aid counselor in 2007. In 2012, my wife Lesley and I moved to Washington, D.C. where I continued my career in higher education and graduated with a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Trinity Washington University in 2015. Currently, I am the director of financial aid at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and a second-year doctoral student in UGA’s Student Affairs Leadership Program.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I reconnected with a great group of UGA black alumni in D.C. where I learned that UGA was developing the Black Alumni Affinity Group. As my wife and I were planning to move back to Atlanta in 2016, it just so happened that Realenn Watters (AB ’04), a friend and alumna, was working for the Alumni Association and encouraged me to apply for a position.

Which Black Alumni event are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the work we have been able to do with the Admitted Student Reception. In two years, we have helped move the diversity needle at UGA, bringing in one of the most diverse incoming classes in 2017. Equally as important, the Black Alumni Leadership Council has been able to secure more than 40 black alumni at each of these events to welcome these new students of color to the Bulldog Nation.

 

TJ Snowden

How has serving on the leadership council benefited you?

Participating in the Black Alumni Leadership Council has allowed me tap into a larger network of UGA black alumni to help further our cause of recognizing and supporting black excellence at our alma mater.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

Embrace the space, and I mean that metaphorically. UGA is a special place, and a number of my greatest memories as a student came from getting involved on campus. Some 13 years after I graduated from undergrad, I still relish those experiences gained and relationships I cultivated. It was an environment that I was under-prepared for when I entered. Thankfully, I found ways to contribute to the university community, and more importantly, the Black UGA community, as a member of the Zeta Iota chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Network. There is only so much that a resume, diagnostic test or GPA can tell about your ability to excel at a task or job. Having someone who can vouch for your character and potential speaks volumes. Dawgs take care of Dawgs.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

I’m committed to increasing diversity and black philanthropy at UGA. UGA has only been integrated for a little more than 57 years, so there is a need to develop and sustain philanthropic efforts among black students and alumni to aid UGA in its support of students of color.

UGA Alumni Association Launches The 1961 Club

The date was January 9, 1961. Amidst a crowd of National Guardsmen, the figures of Hamilton E. Homes and Charlayne Hunter appeared on the University of Georgia’s North Campus. They were two students registering for their spring classes and simultaneously making history. Holmes and Hunter became the first African-American students to register at UGA, but it didn’t happen easily. After almost three years working to desegregate the nation’s first state-chartered public university in court, the young man and woman joined a population of 7,000 all-white students.

A young graduate student named Mary Frances Early, who had received her bachelor’s degree from Clark College in Atlanta, saw the crowds surrounding Holmes and Hunter on that winter day, and she decided she wanted to join them. Four months later, Early enrolled at UGA in the music education master’s degree program, and in 1962, became the first African-American student to graduate from the University of Georgia. Holmes and Hunter graduated the following year. They  faced hardships that led to riots and suspensions, but they remained resilient through it all. Thanks to Hamilton E. Holmes, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Mary Frances Early, the University of Georgia was forever integrated for the better.

To commemorate their strength and bravery, the UGA Alumni Association launched The 1961 Club, a new giving society for donors who support the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund. The 1961 Club was created to raise engagement for the more than 14,000 living African-American alumni from UGA. The name of the society comes from that momentous year when Holmes and Hunter-Gault arrived on campus.

The 1961 club officially launched on Jan. 9 during a networking event for alumni and students at Paschal’s Restaurant in Atlanta.

The Black Alumni Scholarship Fund was created in 1981 by professor James Simmons, Jr. and Horatio Lanier; and the fund provides renewable scholarships to undergraduate students who demonstrate promising leadership qualities and a commitment to advancing racial equality.

In accordance with the year and the name of the giving society, The 1961 Club asks UGA alumni, donors and friends to give a gift of $19.61, $196.10 or $1,961, to support the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund. Members of The 1961 Club will also receive donor recognition from other UGA giving societies that correspond with their giving level.

“It is imperative for black alumni to donate to the scholarship because it provides students with a community of support and opportunities to grow,” said Raymond Phillips, president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council. “Students are the future. Our students are at the precipice of achieving their dreams, and it is important for alumni to reconnect, guide and support them, so they can continue the legacy that was started in 1961.”

Join The 1961 Club by supporting the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund at give.uga.edu/the1961Club.

Meet Lisa Conley, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Lisa Conley (MED ’09, EDD ’20) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I attended UGA as a working graduate student. After completing my degree in 2009, I continued to work in the Professional Education Department at Georgia Tech. To expand my teaching skills, I obtained a part-time job at Literacy Action Incorporated in 2010. That was one of the best experiences I’ve had as an educator.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I received an email and showed up to a meeting.  The rest is history.

Which Black Alumni Event are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the Brunch and Learn: In the Black, A Discussion of Wealth and Finance in the Black Community event we had in March. I attended the new faculty tour last summer, and we met Dr. Kenneth White from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and talked with him about his work. I was thinking we have to find a way for him to come and speak about his research about financial planning in the black community. To be able to include a new black faculty member and a black alumni entrepreneur — Mr. Mohamed Massaquoi (BS ’08) — at our event was amazing. We had a great turnout and hit several of the goals of the Black Alumni mission. I feel like that event helped us reach a great cross-section of alumni.

Image result for lisa conley uga

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

It is difficult to engage graduate students at any school, as most people have an affinity to their undergraduate institution. It is also tough to engage the working/commuter graduate student who is there to get the degree and move on. My engagement with the university has increased a great deal being involved with the Black Alumni Leadership Council, plus it feels great to know people that went to UGA! They help me understand more about the background of certain things and provide a deeper insight. I no longer feel like an “outsider” as an alumna. More than once, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the President and the Dean of the College of Education. I am not sure I would have been able to do that as often as I have as a non-serving graduate. For me, that is a cool perk.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

I would say the most important experience I gained was confidence. I emerged from graduate school confident in my abilities. I was also more confident in my intelligence. It was as if I forgot somehow, but doing the rigorous work (and doing it well) was such a boost for me. I had that “I actually know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about” epiphany. It was great.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

My advice is to succeed anyway. There may be mean people that call you names or treat you unfairly. It isn’t about them, it is about you. Find a way around them and succeed despite their efforts to hold you back.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

I stumbled across this picture the other day from our winter event, and it says it best; I want to help the next generation at UGA to achieve their goals and dreams.

 

Meet Erica Parks, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

Last October, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Erica Parks (MPH ’11) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in May 2011. I got my master’s in public health from the College of Public Health. After I graduated, I was unemployed for 38 months. During that time, I volunteered with the Alumni Association and started attending the Women of UGA luncheons, where I started giving financial seminars. I drove to Fort Jackson and interviewed for a job. Before I got back, I was called and told I was the No. 1 candidate. I started screaming, because it took literally all I had to get to that interview.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

We hosted a networking event where we had a panel talking to students about life after college and the importance of networking. Stuff like that led me to serve on the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Which Black Alumni Event are you most proud of?

I have a very strong feeling about giving. The UGA Black Alumni Brunch and Learn: A Discussion of Finance and Wealth was the first event that we made about giving and “making the ask.” Giving is important, and if you want people to provide, you have to be the first person to give or show support.

Erica Parks

Erica and Lindsey Smith, recipient of the Black Student Scholarship, at Homecoming 2017. Lindsey was Erica’s guest at Sanford Stadium’s Skye Suite that night.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

I love being engaged, but I have not been able to be as engaged as I want to because I live in South Carolina. I’m still searching for ways I could be engaged more, either in the Black Alumni realm or the UGA realm. Since I can’t be heavily involved, I sponsor individuals. That’s how I give. I’m challenging myself to be more engaged in a variety of things.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

I had a lot of professors that stretched me. I was influenced greatly by one of my professors at UGA, Dr. Corso, and learned how to be a mentor thanks to her. You may not like it when you’re going through it, but you appreciate it once it’s over!

Erica at the 241st Army Birthday Ball with three of her mentees. From left to right: Jasmine Cunningham, Deborah Koleoso and Shay Alexander

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Build relationships, because that will cover everything. Building relationships is so important — you never know when you’ll have to reach back to have someone vouch for either the work you’ve done or your character.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

I’m committed to the G! I give with my time, my talents, and my money. I make sure that I’m diverse in my giving — now, I’m looking at what I can do for Women of UGA because of the opportunities they provided me with when I was unemployed. I’m committed to supporting UGA’s mission, its programs, and its students.

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