Meet The State’s 20 under 40 class of young leaders for 2022

Meet The State’s 20 under 40 class of young leaders for 2022

Meet The State’s 20 under 40 class of young leaders for 2022

Meet The State’s 20 under 40 class of young leaders for 2022

As the Midlands joins the rest of South Carolina and the nation in apparently emerging from the pandemic, we’re introducing you to a group of young adults dedicated to making our region and state better than ever.

This is the 19th year The State Media Co. has recognized 20 people under the age of 40 who are making a difference in the Midlands. With this year’s class, The State has now recognized 380 people. We’re proud that so many of the people we’ve honored through the years have continued working to make all of our lives better.

We know this year’s class will do the same. The honorees come from a variety of professions and backgrounds. Several are dedicated to improving the lives of children through education and improved physical and mental health. Others have worked to improve the health of all South Carolinians, particularly during the pandemic.

Some class members seek to use the law to bring justice to the less fortunate, to serve women and girls impacted by abuse and violence, to care for wildlife in the Midlands, to help law enforcement and first responders cope with the demands of their jobs, and to defend our country.

The State solicited nominations for this year’s class in January. We received nearly 115 nominations for 79 people. Each nomination was strong, and we appreciate everyone who took the time to submit one.

Editors at The State selected this year’s class.

Spotlighting the contributions of 20 young adults is one of the highlights of the year for us. Each class convinces us that while our world has challenges, the Midlands of South Carolina is fortunate to have a lot of young adults working to make our part of the world better.

We’re grateful for them. We think you will be too.

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Tyler D. Bailey

Tyler D. Bailey

Founder and managing attorney, Bailey Law Firm, L.LC.

Age: 33

Education: Southern University Law Center, Juris Doctor, 2014; Hampton University, Bachelor of Science, Business Management, 2011; Hammond School, Class of 2007

Family: Wife, Allyce Bailey; son #1, Tyler Jr. (aka Ty); Son # 2 on the way and will be here June 2022, David. Parents, Bishop Herbert Bailey and Dr. Marcia Bailey

Community and professional highlights: Vital Connections of the Midlands Board of Directors; Sistercare Board of Directors; Greater Columbia Community Relations Council Board of Directors; Hammond School Alumni Council; Wiley Kennedy Foundation Board of Directors; The Original Six Foundation Board of Trustees; Right Direction Church International Board of Directors; Compass Community Development Corporation Board of Directors; SC Bar Young Lawyers Division Military Support Committee, former co-chair; SC Bar Young Lawyers Division, Diversity Committee, former co-chair; The Talented Tenth, Board of Directors, former vice-chair; South Carolina Association for Justice, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, chair; South Carolina Bar Solo/Small Firm Committee, co-chair; Columbia Business Monthly’s 2017 Best & Brightest 35 & Under

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? If you’re not too moved by the applause, you won’t be too bothered by the boos. It’s good to stay even grounded and not to allow your feeling of self-worth to be determined by what other people think of you at the moment. Some days are great, and people may shower you with praise like you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Other days are terrible, and people may criticize you or tell lies about you to others as if you’re the scum of the earth. The key is to not be moved by the highs or the lows.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love the diversity of the Midlands. I’ve had a diverse upbringing in the Midlands that has allowed me to get to know people all over the Midlands and experience first-hand our diversity. My parents are pastors of a predominately African American church on Broad River Road. I attended both public schools and private schools in the Midlands. I also recently had the privilege of traversing the entire City of Columbia during a prior political campaign for city council that allowed me to get to know people more intimately in vastly different communities like Greenview and Wales Garden. Although we are a diverse community, when it comes down to it people want the same things. Safe neighborhoods, opportunities for success, a community that they can enjoy, good roads, etc.

My life changed when … My life changed forever after the birth of my son. It opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective about everything. Over the years I have unfortunately witnessed far too many eulogies of young people whose lives were cut short as a result of gun violence. However, it wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I could begin to comprehend the magnitude of pain that a parent must feel when they lose a child. We have a gun violence problem here in Columbia and we need to address it with real solutions. The future of our children is at stake if we do not stop this upward trend in violent crime.

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Justin Bamberg

Justin Bamberg

Attorney and state representative

Age: 35

Education: 2005 graduate of Bamberg Ehrhardt High School; Bachelor of Arts and JD from the University of South Caroline

Family: Son of Ronda Bamberg (retired SCLEO) and Kenneth Bamberg (Bamberg County sheriff); one brother, Leo; no children but proud uncle of a niece and soon to be born nephew.

Community and professional highlights: Multi-Million and Million Dollar Advocates Forum Lifetime Member, National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Top 40 under 40, National Black Lawyers Top 40 under 40, member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Success is never owned, it’s leased and rent is due every single day.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Our sense of community is much stronger than many other places. Often during times of need, we rally behind one another. This is also a very beautiful place to live, especially if you enjoy Mother Nature like I do.

My life changed when … I was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives…I didn’t know that being a Democrat in state government and fighting the good fight would make me age in dog years!

Ernesto Bernal - 20 under 40
Ernesto Andres Bernal

Ernesto Andres Bernal

World languages and ESOL coordinator – Richland County School District One

Age: 40

Education: Master in School Leadership

Family: Benjamin Johnson, spouse; Margy Suarez, mother; Henry Daza, father

Community and professional highlights: Board member of multiple organizations focused on diversity, languages, and immigrant support.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? You are not a good teacher because you teach good children, you are a good teacher when you can inspire children who really need your help.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? It offers the best quality of life within a budget

My life changed when … I decided to leave my country and move to the USA with an exchange program for teachers. I learned more about other cultures and that poverty has different faces, not only the one I experienced in South America.

Dr. Gary Bethea, 20 under 40
Gary A. Bethea

Gary A. Bethea

Dentist/owner, Bethea Family Dentistry

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of South Carolina, 2006; Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry Medical College, 2011

Family: Wife, Shayla Bethea; sons, Keon, Gaius, Elijah, and Nolan; parents, Otis and Linda Bethea

Community and professional highlights: 2019 Better Business Bureau Small Business of the Year Torch Award; 2019 Columbia Business Best and Brightest 35 and under; Columbia Metropolitan’s Top Dentists in the Midlands (2020, 2021, 2022); 2021 South Carolina Dental Association’s James B. Edwards Citizenship Award; 2022 Meharry Medical College 10 Under 10. Author of autobiography, Deeper Than Dentistry.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Be a dentist who works to help people and not just a dentist who works to fix teeth.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love that Columbia is not too big, but it is also not too small. It is centrally located so it is easy to get to the beach or to the mountains. I also love the people. Columbia has embraced a small town boy from Bennettsville, SC, and I am forever grateful.

My life changed when … I realized to put God first in all that I do. All the glory belongs to Him!

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Caleb Buchanan

Caleb Buchanan

Chief operating officer, Prisma Health Richland Hospital

Age: 40

Education: Graduate Degree: MBA from Duke University Fuqua School of Business; undergraduate: Bachelor of Science from United States Air Force Academy

Family: Wife, Shannon Buchanan; son, Caedon (10); daughter, Molly Kate (8)

Community and professional highlights: Currently serves as the COO of Prisma Health Richland Hospital; held multiple executive positions for a health system in Virginia including being the CEO of two hospitals; spent over six years serving in the USAF as an Medical Service Corps officer both stateside and in Afghanistan; spent three years in operations for a financial service company; spent time consulting with start-ups in health care, social determinants of health, technology, and robotic process automation spaces; former collegiate basketball player and team captain at the United States Air Force Academy; played on a Top-25 ranked team that won the Mountain West Conference, made the NCAA tournament, and inducted into the USAFA Athletics Hall of Fame; youth basketball coach; active member Saint Joseph Catholic Church.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Make sure you take the time to spend with your family, your kids grow up quick.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Enjoy the people, southern hospitality, great food, mild winters and college sports.

My life changed when … Attending the Air Force Academy put my life on a new trajectory, however all of that was topped the moment I had kids.

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Aditi Srivastav Bussells

Aditi Srivastav Bussells

Public health researcher and consultant; Columbia City Councilwoman at-large

Age: 32

Education: PhD, Health Promotion Education and Behavior, University of South Carolina; MPH, Health Policy, George Washington University; BA, American Government and Politics, University of Virginia

Family: Husband: Louis Bussells, Army veteran and currently nurse at MUSC Midlands Hospital ER; parents: Dr. Sudhir and Rashmi Srivastav, scientists at National Institutes of Health; sister: Dr. Jigisha Srivastav, first year resident at Wake Forest Hospital; in laws: Ernie and Julie Bussells

Community and professional highlights: Over the last five years, I was director of research at the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, leading child well-being research. Recently, I made a transition to public health consulting at Deloitte. In this role, I work with various federal health agencies to optimize how they serve children and families. I am affiliate faculty in the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior at the University of South Carolina, teaching undergraduate public health classes. Most notably, I ran for the at-large seat on Columbia City Council this past November as a first time candidate. I am humbled and honored to be the first Asian American woman to be elected to Columbia City Council and to have received the most votes out of any candidate running in the 2021 city council election cycle.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? “Just remember who you are. The world will try to change you into someone else. Don’t let them.” — Cinda Williams Chima

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I’m going to narrow this question down a little more and answer what I love about our capital city, Columbia. I call it the Columbia magic. It’s that electrifying feeling of love and passion that people have for this city and each other. It’s this magic that allows anyone, whether they were born and raised here or chose to move here and plant their roots, to bring their ideas and dreams to life. I’m excited by what’s to come for Columbia.

My life changed when … I stopped trying to fit in. It’s okay to stand out.

Daniel M. “Mac” Caldwell, Jr. 20 under 40
Daniel M. “Mac” Caldwell Jr.

Daniel M. “Mac” Caldwell Jr.

Youth services director

Age: 37

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Presbyterian College; Master of Arts, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Family: Jenny Caldwell, spouse; sons, Danny, age 9, James, age 6; daughter, Emma Harris, age 4

Community and professional highlights: Mac is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Addictions Counselor, and ACE Interface Master Trainer in South Carolina. Since 2016, he has supervised the creation and growth of MIRCI’s Youth Services Department, including Homeless Youth Drop-in Center, street outreach, behavioral health care, and housing programs. Mac has served on United Way of the Midlands’ Youth in Transition Committee and the Midlands Technical College PACT Advisory Committee. In 2021, he helped launch the first statewide Task Force on Youth Experiencing Homelessness. Mac is an advocate, trainer, and speaker on the needs of youth experiencing homelessness. He has presented locally and nationally, and has testified before various committees of the state legislature.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? “Leave it better than you found it.”

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? It’s home. My great, great, great, great grandfather settled in the Midlands in Fairfield County in 1780. I lived in Boston for nearly 10 years after college before convincing my wife to move back to South Carolina. There’s so much to do in the Midlands and it’s a wonderful place to raise a family. There’s something for everyone. My kids love going to Riverbanks Zoo, rooting for the Fireflies, and cheering on the Gamecocks. My wife and I also own a Christmas tree farm in Winnsboro. But it’s the people that make this place so great. Memories aren’t just made, they’re shared. That’s special.

My life changed when … I moved to Boston after college. Two things profoundly impacted me. First, I lived in a homeless shelter for a year as a volunteer. Watching these men and women rise out of brokenness and despair to find hope through faith and community changed me more than anything I could do for them. Crying with them, rejoicing with them — they taught me joy, compassion, patience, and love.

Second, I met my wife, Jenny. She is the most thoughtful, caring person I know. She teaches me daily — courage, compassion, patience, love. She also teaches these qualities to our children and keeps us all grounded. She has always believed in me, backed me, and supported me.

Dr. Aisha S. Haynes

Dr. Aisha S. Haynes

Assistant director, Center for Teaching Excellence, University of South Carolina-Columbia

Age: 39

Education: University of South Carolina-Columbia, Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction (emphasis in Curriculum Studies); University of South Carolina–Columbia, M. Ed. in Educational Technology; University of South Carolina–Columbia, B.S. in Integrated Information Technology

Family: Mother: Loretta B. Haynes; father: Bryan L. Haynes (late); grandmother: Willie O. Jackson; sister: Brittani Young; brother-in-law: Ramel Young; niece: Cienna Young

Community and professional highlights: Family Promise of the Midlands, board of directors; Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning (ADEIL), immediate past president; Access South Carolina Information Technology, member; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, member; National Stuttering Association, Columbia, SC, chapter co-leader; M.S. in Instructional Design and Learning Technology Advisory Board, Anderson University; Research Award, ADEIL; TRIO Achiever Award, Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award, University of South Carolina-Columbia; Paul L. Beasley TRIO Trailblazer McNair Alumni Award, University of South Carolina-Columbia; South Carolina TRIO Achiever Award, TRIO Tri-State. Established the Dr. Aisha S. Haynes Endowed Scholarship Fund

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? I have learned from various mentors over the years that you “can’t fill from an empty cup.” Therefore, self-care is extremely important and I am being intentional with practicing this principle. I am learning when to say “no” when appropriate so that I can focus 100% on the things that are important and provide personal fulfillment and professional growth.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I am an avid sports fan. My favorite sporting events are women’s basketball and football. My favorite team is the Carolina Gamecocks. Not only because that is alma mater, but because the fans are passionate and loyal!

My life changed when … I shared my vulnerability with the world related to being a Black woman who stutters in a professional environment. I came from being someone who hid their stuttering to presenting at local, regional, and national conferences. In order to help others, I now serve as the co-leader of the Columbia, South Carolina, chapter of the National Stuttering Association.

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Ashton Jones

Ashton Jones

Assistant principal. Principal for the 2022-2023 school year

Age: 34

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology; M.Ed. in Secondary Education; Ed.S. in Educational Leadership. EdD in Educational Leadership will be completed this year

Family: Mother is the late Debera Armstrong; father is Charles Parker. I have 3 daughters: LynnMarie Jones, Kyndall Jones, Ryleigh Jones.

Community and professional highlights: Richland School District One stakeholder; board member of the nonprofit group Sistahs Who Care; Walden University External Advisory Board member; 2020-2021 Midlands American Heart Association spokesman; Forest Lake Elementary School Committee member; member of Delta Kappa Gamma, Alpha Eta Chapter based in the Midlands

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Serve with passion, dedication, and a mission that is greater than yourself.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I am a native of the Midlands. This is my home. It’s close enough to major cities and beaches, but far enough to be a place to be proud to raise my children and act as a servant leader in my career. I have seen many changes in the Midlands over the past 34 years, and I like the diverse culture and experiences that are being developed.

My life changed when … I became a mother. I am a mother of a sweet, intelligent 13-year-old who has been an honors student her entire middle school career. I also am a mother of the sweetest 10-year-old twins. There is never a dull moment in my household.

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Nancy Lee

Nancy Lee

Executive director, Habitat for Humanity South Carolina

Age: 39

Education: Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Furman University

Family: Annual Husband of the Year (West); future change maker (Edith, 4 years old).

Community and professional highlights: I’ve intertwined my love for serving with a career — working 17 years as an NPO exec. I found my passion with Habitat for Humanity. My statewide work based in Columbia allows me to strengthen advocacy for affordable homeownership and enhance recognition of housing’s economic and societal impacts. I’m proudest of COVID-19 Mortgage Relief, serving as a FEMA liaison for distribution of PPE to NPOs, and the formation of a state ad hoc housing coalition representing a network of 200 organizations.

I serve on several advisory groups, including Coalition of Home Repair and TogetherSC. Honorary speaking engagements include Virginia’s Joint Leadership Council of VSOs, SC Home Attainability Forum, SC Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Symposium, and HUD’s Affordable Housing & Homeownership Conference.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Early in my career, my team and I were in crunch time leading up to a multi-day, multi-million-dollar fundraising event. We were exhausted and stressed. With only a few days until the launch, we had no give left. My boss shared a testimonial from a child who had benefitted from said event, along with a quote from George Bernard Shaw. To this day, these words inspire me:

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.”

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? It feels like change and impact for our state happens here. I love being near the State House and in a town that is so focused on the well-being of SC’s towns, counties, businesses, and people.

My life changed when … The pandemic hit. I was only a few years into my role at the state, so despite not feeling overly confident in my new position, there was no time to second guess. Everything I had learned thus far in my career was put to the test; it was sink or swim time. I aligned myself with others who had the same passion and zeal to help; in doing so, I discovered the true value of the networks and alliances. I uncovered strengths I didn’t know I had.

There have been many influential periods in my life. However, I look back now and see that those trials and lessons were preparing me for all that was to come starting in 2020. It was then that the trajectory of my life truly changed. By failing — and occasionally succeeding — I found confidence and my place with my career, personal life, and family life.”

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Amy Lutz

Amy Lutz

Program director/therapist, Family Life and Officer Wellness (FLOW) at Post Trauma Resources, LLC

Age: 40

Education: Master of Social Work (MSW) and Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), University of South Carolina

Family: Husband, John Lutz; two sons

Community and professional highlights: Licensed therapist (MSW) at Post Trauma Resources, LLC. 2020-present; Law enforcement 2007-2019 — served undercover in narcotics, as an investigator in the Special Victims Unit (SVU), and as a Team Leader on both the Special Response Team (SRT/SWAT) and Negotiators Team. Awarded the Medal of Valor in 2011 for actions above and beyond the call of duty. Attained the rank of staff sergeant in 2014, subsequently serving in internal affairs and as a supervisor in uniformed patrol. In 2009 and 2011, earned multiple medals in the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver and in New York City. In 2012, she was one of only eight elite officers from her agency chosen to participate in SEALFIT, a grueling 60-hour test of physical and mental endurance and leadership.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? It’s okay to ask for help, even if you have to start with small steps to work on overcoming the bigger obstacles. It’s okay to ask for guidance through the various phases of life’s challenges. A part of someone’s wellness is to cultivate strong connections with others who can support them through overwhelming periods in their life. It’s important to get away from the individual mentality and cultivate empowerment of all.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? It has been a privilege to be part of the first responder community in the Midlands. The dedication and camaraderie among first responders is second-to-none. My new role has given me the opportunity to work towards creating an even healthier way of balancing their difficult work and their personal lives.

My life changed when … Becoming a wife and a mother offered a new perspective on the issues that affect first responder families. The entire family system is affected by the complex stress of the job. Over the years, this awareness weighed heavily in my desire to create an additional level of support for first responder families. Having the opportunity to work with first responders and now frontline medical personnel during the COVID-19 era, I continue to be inspired by the resilience and self-sacrifice that they bring every day to ensuring the greater good. With all of the problems in today’s world, these professionals continue to give of themselves in ways that make the world better.

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Julie McKenzie

Julie McKenzie

Director of Rehabilitation, Carolina Wildlife Center

Age: 38

Education: Jackson Community College and Midlands Technical College

Family: Mother, Kimberly McKenzie; father, Marlon McKenzie; grandfather, Marcell Smagghe; sister, Laura Ptak; brother-in-law, John Ptak; nieces Kimberly and Melody Ptak

Community and professional highlights: One of my first goals after accepting the position as director of rehabilitation was to go outside the box and expand our conservation efforts. Part of this effort was gaining acceptance into the Associations of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for spotted turtles. Releasing our first baby spotted turtle in correlation with the SSP was an amazing accomplishment that I will always hold near and dear to my heart. Another highlight that will never erase from my book is having Joel Sartore visit the wildlife center to photograph animals for the renowned National Geographic The Photo Ark.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? My mother always said, don’t sweat the small stuff, everything happens for a reason and above all else, always be kind. These are words that I grew up upon and will continue to live by. Sometimes the things that bother us the most are often miniscule in comparison to the goals that we are trying to achieve. Although it may be hard to understand in times of hardship, I am a firm believer that everything really does happen for a reason. Life is all about growth and we cannot grow without experiencing all that life has to offer, good and bad. No matter what, you should always be kind. You never know what someone may be going through. A simple smile or act of kindness goes a long way.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I enjoy and appreciate the fact that a complete change of scenery is within reach. Whether you want to enjoy the company of pelicans or get down to earth with groundhogs. A simple day trip is all it takes.

My life changed when … My life made a pivotal turn the day that I received a phone call from my brother-in-law asking for help. A lot was happening at that time. My sister was about to give birth to their first child and my brother-in-law was scheduled to leave for 8 months to further his military career. Without hesitation I answered the call and started making plans to break my lease and make the move from Michigan to South Carolina. I was pretty lost at first, in a new place with no friends or familiarity, but then, on a whim I found Carolina Wildlife Center. Working with wildlife has changed my life in so many ways and I am sure it will continue to make an impact for as long as I am alive.

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Anna Catherine Parham

Anna Catherine Parham

Attorney at Law

Age: 25

Education: University of South Carolina, Bachelor of Arts, Criminology (Summa Cum Laude), 2017; University of South Carolina, Juris Doctor (Cum Laude), 2021; The Citadel Military College of South Carolina, Master of Business Administration candidate, anticipated graduation December 2022

Family: Daniel Parham and Donna Owen-Parham, parents

Community and Professional Highlights: Recipient of the Order of Silver Crescent Award from Gov. Henry McMaster in 2021 (highest civilian honor for service to one’s community in South Carolina); recipient of the Kentucky Colonel Award from Gov. Andy Beshear in 2021 (highest civilian honor in Kentucky); Jefferson Award recipient; recipient of the Roberts Senior Class Writing Award, the Capers Bouton Memorial Scholarship Award, and the Robert T. Bockman Award (all at the University of South Carolina School of Law); winner of the Best Oralist Award at the 2019 Kate Bockman Memorial Moot Court Competition (UofSC Law); elected to pupil membership in the John Belton O’Neall Inn of Court; elected to membership in the Order of Barristers; member of the Palmetto Club; member of the Junior League of Columbia; member of the 2022 cohort of Leadership Lexington County; member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral; graduate of the Konduros Leadership Development Program (2020 Cohort); graduate of the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights (2021 Cohort); elected to membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious leadership organization at UofSC; former chief justice of the South Carolina Moot Court Bar (2020-2021); former associate editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review (2020-2021); published a student note in the South Carolina Law Review entitled “Paradise Lost?: A New Legal Theory to Combat Climate Change in South Carolina,” for which I was awarded the Roberts Senior Class Writing Award (referenced above). Member of The Contemporaries Young Professionals Group affiliated with the Columbia Museum of Art; a member of the Young Leaders Society of the Midlands affiliated with United Way; and a member of the Columbia Citadel Club.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? The best advice I received from a mentor was from my mentor in Junior League of Columbia, Libby Anne Inabinet. Libby Anne told me that great leaders are ones who allow themselves to be vulnerable and who spend time outside of their comfort zones. This advice has stuck with me and I often think about this when I am faced with a difficult decision or new opportunity. There have been many times in my life when I have remained in my comfort zone and later regretted it. More often, there have been times when I have abandoned my comfort zone and allowed myself to seize new opportunities that have legitimately changed my life for the better. I now make intentional choices to challenge myself to constantly step outside of my comfort zone and try new things without trepidation or fear of failure weighing me down. I am grateful for Libby Anne, her erudite advice, and her ubiquitous influence in my life.

Best thing about living in Columbia? I could fill a book with things I love about living in the Midlands. For the purposes of brevity, however, I will try to narrow it down to just one: the people. The Midlands is the most unique place in South Carolina because of the people who call it home. From Columbia to Lexington, Cayce and West Columbia to Hopkins, Batesburg, Leesville, and everywhere in-between, the Midlands is home to some of South Carolina’s best and brightest. What makes the people of the Midlands truly special, though, is their diversity. The Midlands boasts an incredibly diverse citizenry, and in that diversity lies its strength. Here in the Midlands, we are constantly learning about and celebrating different beliefs, cultures, and ways of thinking. Regardless of one’s provenance, the Midlands is a place that welcomes all with open arms. This has led to the Midlands being a state leader in innovation, creativity, and most of all, community.

My life changed when…My life changed when I decided to move to Columbia and attend the University of South Carolina. While a student at South Carolina, I learned from some of the greatest academic minds in America. I was exposed to different ways of problem solving, and new ideas, all the while ensconced in a network of other Gamecocks who supported and encouraged one another without compromise. I met my best friends, my most cherished mentors, and my amazing professional network right here at the University of South Carolina. I was encouraged to attend law school by one of my favorite and most impactful professors, Dr. Scott Wolfe. Dr. Wolfe saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself at the time, and I am so glad that he did. Moreover, I think that my choice to remain at the University of South Carolina for law school further steered my life in the right direction, as those relationships made while in undergrad were strengthened as new relationships were formed. Becoming a part of the South Carolina Law Review was the best thing that happened to me while in law school. While serving as associate editor-in-chief, I was able to hone my research and writing skills alongside my peers, all while creating personal and professional bonds that I cherish and rely upon to this day. I was also able to write an article about something I am passionate about — environmental conservation in South Carolina — and have that article published in the South Carolina Law Review. Law Review opened so many doors for me and I am beyond grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by the University of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina School of Law, and the South Carolina Law Review. While my time as a student was ephemeral, I will forever cherish the time spent with those august institutions.

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Brie Rust

Brie Rust


Age: 35

Education: Juris Doctor, Charleston School of Law

Family: Mother, Mims Rust; father, Ron Rust; sister, Cooper Rust

Community and professional highlights: President, Artists for Africa, Inc.; co-founder, Every Voice Every Vote; previously served on Richland County Foster Care Review Board and as a guardian ad litem in family court.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Eat a frog for breakfast. Whatever you want to do least each day, just do it first thing so you don’t waste time thinking about how much you really don’t want to do it.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? The people, I am continuously shocked by the generosity of our community.

My life changed when … I met my first client on death row.

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Precious Simmons

Precious Simmons

Registered Nurse/Certified Nurse Educator

Age: 33

Education: PhD in Nursing Education (Walden University), MSN in Nursing Education (Chamberlain College), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (NC A&T State University)

Family: Eric (fiancé)

Community and professional highlights: I received the MUSC 2021 Multicultural Student Nurses Association-Achievement in Diversity. I created a mentoring program for nursing students of color. I currently mentor four nursing students locally in the Midlands, providing career/school advice, tutoring, resources for networking, scholarships, and employment.

I’ve developed a community based resource by county providing resources for housing, food banks, baby needs, financial assistance, and employment to those that may need assistance.

Former Program Coordinator (2021) for a Duke Endowment grant at MUSC to increase diversity in SC nursing and rural areas; panelist for presentations at MUSC addressing micro-aggressions and privilege in health care; former mentor for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Ezekiel Ministries.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Regardless of the outcome, good or bad, use each situation as a moment to learn.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I like best about living in the Midlands is the sense of community that we display.

My life changed when … I discovered my true passion for educating and empowering the community.

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Jonathan Sorrenti

Jonathan Sorrenti

Systems manager, Midlands Technical College/Military Police Officer, South Carolina Army National Guard

Age: 38

Education: Civilian: Bachelors of Science, Technology Support and Training Management; Master of Education, Instructional Technology.

Military: Intermediate Level Education/Advanced Operations Course

Family: Wife, Christa Sorrenti; daughters, Jessilynn Sorrenti and Raelynn Sorrenti; stepson, Logan Jefferson; stepdaughter, Alexis Jefferson; father and stepmom, John Sorrenti and Tina Sorrenti; mother and her boyfriend, Nora Williams and Skip Milligan; sister, Paula Kaye Sorrenti-Seawright; niece, Destiny Seawright.

Community and professional highlights: I have been a D2L Brightspace LMS Administrator for over 12 years. I am a huge supporter of growing and supporting D2L products. I created hundreds of videos teaching others LMS. I help other colleges around the United States who need help with their LMS. I’m a frequent flyer in the D2L Community and on all of their leaderboards.

I have 20 years of service in the South Carolina Army National Guard. I was deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. I completed two overseas training exercises (El Salvador 2009/Croatia 2011). I was also deployed to Kosovo in 2012-2013. I served in support of Hurricanes Joaquin (2015), Matthew (2016), Irma (2017), Florence (2018), and Dorian (2019), several civil disturbance activities in the Columbia and Charleston areas, and for COVID-19 response in 2020.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Robert K. Greenleaf, “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid,’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? Living in the Midlands makes it easy to travel around the state. You go visit the mountains in the west or go visit the ocean in the east. Everything is under a two-hour drive. With our crazy weather some days you can experience all four seasons in the same day. You can wake up for work at 6 a.m. and it’s 30 degrees, but by the time you go home in the afternoon its in the mid 80s or lower 90s.

My life changed when … Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

I have been on many paths. Each of them have taught me something and helped change my life. I joined the military the day after I graduated from high school. This path changed my life and allowed me to travel to many different countries and see the world.

I’ve been married a couple of times and have two biological children and two stepchildren. Each of these relationships are different and teach you more about yourself and help you improve your weaknesses and grow your strengths.

My spiritual beliefs and relationships with God, Jesus, Archangels, and Ascended Masters have shaped me into the loving and caring person I AM today.

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Kieley Sutton

Kieley Sutton

Assistant public defender for Richland County and co-founder of the Rainy Day Fund

Age: 29

Education: Juris Doctorate, American University Washington College of Law-2017; Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Languages and Literature with a minor in Leadership and Social Change, Virginia Tech-2014; MSW Candidate, George Mason University-expected 2023

Family: Parents, Doug and Leanne; siblings, Tara, Braden, and Briana

Community and professional highlights: Kieley helped write and advocate for statewide change in how competency cases are handled at the summary court level through her petition in the original jurisdiction to the state Supreme Court (State v. Bellardino). She is also the recipient of the 2020 Live United Award from the United Way of the Midlands. She has spoken on several occasions but her favorite memories include speaking at the Gideon’s Promise Conference on Beyond the Courtroom: Community Partnerships in Public Defense, to the University of South Carolina’s Miscarriages of Justice Class, and to the Municipal Court Association regarding the creation of and importance of Homeless Courts. Kieley is also a proud assistant volleyball coach at Eau Claire High School.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Jessica emphasized the value of therapy; Maisie showed me how to find the value in every human; and Constantine basically taught me everything I know. However, one lesson that stands out is from my mentor in college, Holly. Holly hosted a monthly dinner party in which she invited everyone and encouraged those people to bring their own friends. The idea was that there can never be enough good humans in your life. I learned how to find the maximum amount of joy through intentional relationship building. These dinners were filled with conversations that matter, connections that opened doors, and mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s time and energy. This love of community is something that has been a consistent thread throughout my educational and professional careers.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? One of my favorite things about living in South Carolina has been the opportunity to explore all of the beautiful green spaces that are available. I have been working my way through all of the State Parks. Columbia is centrally located to so many different and beautiful things — from oceans and beaches to green parks and lakes to the mountains (especially the mountains). Being in the Midlands allows me to access all of these wonderful spaces and it is definitely my favorite part of being here.

My life changed when … In early 2018, I was appointed to represent two individuals who were existing at the intersection of homelessness and mental illness and charged repeatedly with “nuisance” offenses such as trespassing. Once appointed, I witnessed how access to resources, privilege, and the power of a single voice can change someone’s life. While one of my clients was able to move on to housing and get treatment, the other passed away on the streets. This experience made it clear that continuing a defense practice without incorporating community collaboration and holistic methods would not be acceptable. I re-committed myself to taking a critical look at my own implicit biases and shifted my energies toward community building. I dedicated myself to fighting the system designed to ignore humanity.

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Ashley Thomas

Ashley Thomas

Executive director, The Hive Community Circle

Age: 38

Education: BA-Columbia College Class of 2005, MSW-University of Washington (Seattle) School of Social Work, Class of 2008

Family: Wife of Major Curtis A. Thomas, mother of Corinne, Caleb, and Collin Thomas and daughter of Harvey and Eather Sutton.

Community and professional highlights: Philanthropy and service has always been at the center of Ashley’s life. In 2015, upon relocating back to S.C., she was led to establish The Hive Community Circle (The Hive) where she currently serves as the executive director. The Hive is a statewide culturally specific peer advocacy organization serving women and girls impacted by abuse and violence. Under Ashley’s leadership, the organization has served over 500 survivors since its inception, expanded their services statewide, and since 2020 grown The Hive from a volunteer organization to a staff of four amazing women. As a result of Ashley’s commitment to her community and impact in the lives of women and girls in S.C., she has received various awards, including the 2019 Distinguished Survivor Award presented by the S.C. Victims Assistance Network, 2021 recognized by WLTX as “A Seat at the Table” recipient — a series created to amplify the voices of Black people affecting change in S.C. where she was also featured in Black Enterprise Online Magazine, and most recently in April was the recipient of the Jefferson Award presented by WACH Fox. In Ashley’s free time she remains engaged in philanthropic opportunities. She currently serves as a board member for Prisma Health Foundation, vice chair of Round Top Elementary School Improvement Council, and a member of Central Carolina Community Foundation’s African American Philanthropy Committee.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? My mentors have inspired my life’s service not by their advice but the life they have modeled before me. I have watched them build, overcome adversity, and take the no’s to propel them forward in fulfilling some of their most greatest accomplishments. They have taught me what it means to live a life of service, to love others unconditionally, to continue the legacy passed down to me by investing my time, talent, and resources into other women and girls, and to stay the course in the fight for racial and social justice in a world filled with oppression and pain.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? As a military spouse for 17 years and having the opportunity to live in various regions of the U.S., I was most excited to relocate back home to SC (the Midlands) in 2015. I didn’t realize just how much I appreciated the southern hospitality and generosity until I came back to the Midlands, it’s the warm smiles and sweet tea for me! Living in the Midlands provides me the opportunity to impact my community through supporting some of my favorite locally owned eateries, Soda City Market, venturing out for frequent walks with my family along Riverfront Park, and impacting my community with fellow philanthropists!

My life changed when … I decided to say yes to the purpose on my life. That yes has led to me being able to impact the lives of countless women and girls who like me know the truth of trauma and pain. However, when that trauma is met with compassion and grace one’s life can begin to write a new story of liberation, of hope, of possibility.

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Dr. Brannon Traxler

Dr. Brannon Traxler

Director of public health, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

Age: 40

Education: Bachelor of Science (BS, in Microbiology), Clemson University Honors College, 2004; Doctor of Medicine (MD), University of South Carolina School of Medicine, 2008; Master of Public Health (MPH), George Washington University, 2018

Family: Husband (Tony Roach) and 1-year-old daughter (Lucy); parents (Beth and Tom Traxler); and brother (Tommy Traxler)

Community and professional highlights: Was a surgeon in private practice before changing specialty focus to public health. Board certified in general surgery and fellowship-trained in breast cancer surgery. Began with DHEC as a public health physician in 2018. Served as the agency’s chief medical officer for the COVID-19 response until being named interim director of public health in September 2020. Selected as the permanent director of public health in April 2021. Given over 100 presentations and talks on COVID-19 to groups statewide and participated in dozens of media briefings. Member of Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society. Performed medical mission work in Honduras and Tanzania. Involved in my church, including its COVID-19 response. Served as a mentor to students and younger professionals in medicine and public health.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? When I was beginning my clinical rotations in the hospital in medical school, my dad impressed upon me the importance of treating every person, serving in every role in the hospital, with genuine respect, friendliness and compassion, because the successful function of the hospital and care of the patients is dependent on people performing ALL duties and tasks. I have found that this approach is applicable to every workplace, from hospitals and health departments to businesses and companies.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? My favorite aspect of working in the state’s capital is being near or centrally located to many public health and other stakeholders. This gives me the opportunity to continue building and strengthening the relationships necessary to serve the people of South Carolina.

My life changed when … Professionally, my life significantly changed when I made a career change from specializing in surgery to public health. While it was an extremely difficult, and at the time a scary, decision to make, I absolutely made the right choice. Personally, my life changed when I finally became a mother a little over a year ago. Our daughter is the light of our lives, and she brings us inexplicable joy.

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Devin Waldrop

Devin Waldrop

Education associate, South Carolina Department of Education

Age: 36

Education: Educational Specialist in Educational Psychology, University of Georgia; M.A. in Educational Psychology, University of Georgia; Bachelor of Science in Experimental Psychology, University of South Carolina Honors College

Family: Olivia Waldrop (spouse), Mike and Marie Waldrop (parents), Danielle Waldrop (sister)

Community and professional highlights: Trained as a school psychologist, I have focused my career on helping children and the people who help children. Presently, I work for the South Carolina Department of Education in a role promoting equitable social, emotional, and behavioral learning. Previously, I coordinated the SC AWARE project, a cross-agency school mental health initiative. I have also worked in public schools, coordinated research projects operated out of the UofSC Psychology Department, and taught psychology courses at Midlands Technical College. I am a current board member of the Columbia Ultimate Disc Association and head coach of UofSC Men’s Club Ultimate Frisbee Team.

What’s the best advice you received from a mentor? Debbie Williamson, a school psychologist working in Georgia public schools, taught me that systems level change requires great patience, humility, and dedication. What I remember most from her is how she carried herself with such great poise, professionalism, and compassion, even in occasionally challenging circumstances. In serving South Carolina youth and educators, I try to carry forward the spirit of what she taught me in everything I do.

What do you like best about living in the Midlands? I love so much! My simple pleasure is heading to the Soda City Market on Saturday mornings with my wife, Olivia, and our two dogs to pick up some flowers or brunch.

My life changed when … my wife’s career brought us back to South Carolina in 2016, after several years away. At that time, I needed a career change having worked most recently in California public schools. Being in South Carolina has allowed both my wife and me to pursue meaningful professional opportunities that we are passionate about and that better our community.

This story was originally published May 19, 2022 7:51 AM.

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