As we have done each February for the past three years, QCity Metro is celebrating Black History Month by acknowledging 28 Charlotte residents who have made our city a better place to live, work and play.
This year’s edition of The Great 28 includes entrepreneurs, activists, business executives, philanthropists, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, government employees and one member of our faith community.
In a city brimming with so much Black Excellence, how can we narrow our list to just 28 people? That’s never an easy task.
We start by asking our readers to nominate individuals they deem worthy of recognition. From there, a team made up of QCity Metro staff, readers and volunteers makes final selections. All who made our lists in 2021 and 2022 were ineligible for further recognition.
Stay informed with news and events that impact Charlotte’s Black communities.
Our process is subjective, to be sure, and we acknowledge countless others who are deserving of our recognition.
Pastor, Rockwell AME Zion Church
As chair of Village Heartbeat Inc., a clergy-led nonprofit, the Rev. Jordan Boyd is working with other faith leaders to reduce health disparities in Charlotte’s Black communities. Through their respective health ministries, the members focus on reducing the rates of obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. The group’s latest effort is to add a mental health component. Boyd also is vice-chair of the African American Faith Alliance For Educational Advancement, a nonprofit focused on addressing the low academic achievement of Black students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s public schools.
Founder/Executive Director, For The Struggle
Some of Charlotte’s historically Black neighborhoods are under pressure from gentrification, and Alesha Brown is working to ensure that long-term residents are not pushed out. In 2019, she founded For The Struggle, a nonprofit that partners with impacted communities to resist economic displacement and social injustice. With a focus on Charlotte’s West End, Brown has worked to keep seniors in their homes, providing them with free legal services when needed.
Executive Director, Leading on Opportunity
Sherri Chisholm, executive director of Leading on Opportunity, has accepted an important challenge. The organization she leads was created in 2017 to address Charlotte’s economic-mobility problem. Chisholm joined in September 2020. Under her leadership, the organization has grown its donor base from three funders to 15 and has raised $2.6 million toward a $4.5 million goal. It also launched an “Opportunity Compass,” a data-visualization tool designed to help funders make smarter investments while also helping nonprofits deliver more effective programming.
Co-chair, Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative
Ever wonder how the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative raised more than $250 million to address racial disparities in Charlotte? Malcomb Coley knows. As co-chair of that initiative, he helped spearhead the fundraising drive. Coley is the Charlotte managing partner at global consulting firm Ernst & Young U.S., responsible for 16,000 colleagues across 22 states. He serves on the boards of several organizations, including the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the UNC Wilmington Cameron School of Business, and United Way of Greater Charlotte.
Philanthropists & Entrepreneurs
Thomas Davis, the former Carolina Panthers linebacker, is no stranger to Charlotte philanthropy. His Defending Dreams Foundation has given more than $200,000 in scholarships to graduates of his youth leadership academy. Now Davis and his wife, Kelly Davis, are adding to Charlotte’s culinary scene. Last November they opened Ten58, an uptown sports bar. The name is a nod to the numbers Thomas Davis wore while playing for the Panthers and the Georgia Bulldogs.
Musician, Jazz Enthusiast
Charlotte is jazzier because of Ocie Davis. Along with his wife, Lonnie Davis, he co-founded JazzArts Charlotte, which seeks to build an audience for jazz through performances, education, and musician support. Most recently, he partnered with the Harvey B. Gantt Center to launch Jazz @ The Gantt, a monthly concert series that features young jazz musicians from New York City. He also has partnered with Blumenthal Performing Arts to create Burlesque 3000, a show which he describes as a modern-day version of a classic burlesque show, but in a “less cheesy and offensive way.”
Owners, Studio 229 on Brevard
Kevin and Monique Douglas are husband-wife entrepreneurs. In January 2020, they activated Studio 229 on Brevard, an uptown space that hosts an array of events, art installations and community discussions. They describe the studio as a “location where history, humanity & artistry can reside in harmony.” They also offer youth mentorship through their Grooming Greatness Foundation.
Founder, Courageous SHIFT
As a survivor of domestic violence, Melody Gross understands the importance of reclaiming one’s life. In 2020 she founded Courageous SHIFT, a company that works with individuals and employers to “disrupt” the patterns that can lead to violence and abuse. A motivational speaker, facilitator and certified life coach, Gross helps her clients navigate an exit from abusive environments, with a focus on self-care.
Co-chair, Charlotte Neighborhood Equity & Stabilization Commission
Justin Harlow, D.D.S., co-chairs Charlotte’s Neighborhood Equity & Stabilization Commission, which works with city government to develop anti-displacement tools and strategies. Harlow served one term on Charlotte City Council, starting in 2017, and didn’t seek re-election. While serving on council, he successfully pushed to have more city dollars allocated to help West End seniors age in place. Harlow previously served on the boards of Charlotte Center City Partners and the Five Points Community Collaborative.
Founder, Three Strand Wellness, LLC
At Three Strand Wellness, Darlene Ifill-Taylor, M.D., has focused her mental-health practice on providing care for those who take care of others. That includes healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, teachers, caregivers, clergy, first responders and parents. Dr. Ifill-Taylor was trained at Tulane University School of Medicine, Howard University and was chief resident in her fellowship program at George Washington University School of Medicine. She moved to Charlotte as an outpatient medical director with Novant Health and is now a regional medical director at Greenbrook TMS, which offers therapy for treatment-resistant depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Programs Director, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office
Dorian Johnson was described by his nominee as “a quiet and humble person doing a lot of good behind the scenes.” In his job as a program director within the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, his work includes helping detainees address substance abuse, mental health, and executive functioning skills, which includes planning, attention span, remembering instructions and multitasking. Johnson also is an adjunct lecturer in the Criminal Justice Department at UNC Charlotte.
Founding Physician, Reproductive Specialists of the Carolinas
Getting access to fertility support can be difficult, especially for women of color. Matrika Johnson, M.D., understands this, having been a fertility patient herself. She is a board-certified physician and founder of Reproductive Specialists of the Carolinas, Charlotte’s only Black-owned fertility clinic. Dr. Johnson’s areas of expertise include obstetrics and gynecology as well as endocrinology and infertility. Since opening her practice in November 2020, Dr. Johnson has helped hundreds of people overcome fertility issues.
Founder, Mad Miles Run Club
Traffic has been known to stop when the Mad Miles Run Club takes to the streets. Cornell W. Jones is the founder of that group. Inspired by his love for running, yet frustrated by the pandemic lockdown, he founded Mad Miles in May 2020. Now, each Tuesday and Saturday, club members gather in designated places to stretch, run or walk. A 2011 graduate of Winston-Salem State University, Jones is steeped in HBCU culture, and his Mad Miles Run Club was on full display when the Aggie-Eagle Classic came to Charlotte last year.
City Manager, City of Charlotte
Marcus Jones is shaping Charlotte. City manager since Dec. 1, 2016, he and his team are responsible for managing the city of Charlotte’s daily operations, which carries a $3.2 billion budget. Under his leadership, the city has spent millions of dollars to build affordable housing, created the Corridors of Opportunity program in low-income neighborhoods, and developed the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance. His 25-year career includes stints as city manager in Norfolk, Va.; deputy chief administrative officer for the city of Richmond; and the deputy secretary of finance for two Virginia governors.
Executive Vice President & Spectrum Center General Manager, Hornets Sports and Entertainment
In 2020, the national Sports Business Journal named Donna Julian one of its “Game Changers,” acknowledging her as a high-achieving woman in sports business. As executive vice president and Spectrum Center general manager at Hornets Sports & Entertainment, Julian said her biggest accomplishment was “navigating unprecedented challenges” while managing the Spectrum Center during the covid outbreak, when nearly everything came to a halt. Julian also serves on the executive committee of the N.C. Sports Leadership Council. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her to serve on the N.C. Emergency Response Commission, representing the state’s public venues sector.
Jacqueline Kendrick has been described as a light in her community. While working full time for the U.S. Postal Service, she collects unused eyeglasses from her neighbors to donate to the Lions Club. Kendrick also collects winter coats, gloves and blankets to give to the homeless, and she works with her local high school’s booster club. She also works with Wings of Hope, a nonprofit that helps families in crisis.
Leader, Boy Scouts Troop 107
Few things are more important than shaping the next generation of Black leaders. During his 10 years leading Boy Scout Troop 107 in Charlotte, Anthony Love (and his wife, Pamela) helped guide 22 young men, including their own two sons, into the rank of Eagle Scout. Some of his former scouts are now doctors, lawyers, an aviation pilot, engineers and HBCU college students. Love said he felt compelled to give to other young men what he never received from his own father. Scouting instills values, Love says, including respect for self, others, and the environment. Love stepped down as Scout Master in 2021, but he remains active in Troop 107 and is helping to train the troop’s new leader.
Chief Content Officer & Executive V.P., WFAE
Ju-Don Marshall is a newsroom leader. At public radio station WFAE, she has spearheaded efforts to expand coverage of communities of color through the station’s race-and-equity reporting initiative, as well as through the station’s ongoing conversations with local officials, community leaders and residents. An award-winning journalist, Marshall has led or worked in news organizations such as The Washington Post, News Corporation, Everyday Health and The Charlotte Observer. In 2022, Business North Carolina named her as one of North Carolina’s most influential leaders. A tech entrepreneur, she is developing a platform called Story Mosaic to help Charlotte-area residents share story ideas with reporters.
Founder, Do Greater Charlotte
William McNeely spent much of his career in the corporate world. After a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and a double lung transplant, his desire to give back was “crystalized.” McNeely launched Do Greater Charlotte in 2017 to inspire local youth through design, entrepreneurship and creative technologies training. He started with a mobile technology truck and now operates from an 8,000-square-foot space in west Charlotte.
Founder & President, Freedom Fighting Missionaries
As founder and president of Freedom Fighting Missionaries, Kenny Robinson helps formerly incarcerated people get back on their feet. That means helping them find housing, employment, counseling, financial literacy classes, voter registration and more. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners recently approved $1.3 million to help Freedom Fighting Missionaries expand its affordable-housing program. Since its founding in January 2020, the nonprofit has assisted nearly 1,400 people, Robinson says.
Founder, Applesauce Group/A Vibe Called Fresh
Winston “Wilmo” Robinson is working to promote home ownership in Charlotte’s westside communities. In 2017, he founded A Vibe Called Fresh, an annual festival that showcases the art, history and culture of the city’s West End. The success of that event gave rise to Applesauce Group, a nonprofit that organizes community events with social significance. Robinson also moderates discussions for the Sarah Stevenson Tuesday Forum, a weekly gathering where relevant information is shared with members of Charlotte’s Black community.
Artist and Educator
In the wake of a deadly mass shooting on Beatties Ford Road in 2020, Ricky Singh, a Charlotte muralist, sought to uplift the community through artwork. He dubbed the movement “Beatties Ford Strong.” The impact of his efforts can be seen in several murals throughout the West End, including one at Lulia Market. Singh says that the mural illustrates the past, present and future of the Historic West End.
Co-founder, Nebedaye Farms and Bennu Gardens
Black farmers have become hard to find in the United States, but Bernard Singleton is a local exception. As founder of Nebedaye Farms and Bennu Gardens, he has set out to educate Americans about the roots of African food. He also educates other farmers about growing culturally relevant, high-value crops. He works with local chefs, including Greg Collier of Leah & Louise, to include his African crops in their dishes.
Chief Administrative Officer for DEI, U.S. Bank
When U.S. Bank launched a 2021 initiative to address the racial wealth gap, Maxine Swayne, chief administrative officer for diversity, equity and inclusion, was among the executives charged with implementing that plan. U.S. Bank has more than 1,000 employees in Charlotte, including Swayne. Her efforts focused on assisting minority-owned businesses, a mortgage program to increase homeownership, and programs to diversify the bank’s supply chain. Swayne also leads the banks partnership with the Urban Institute to develop a framework to measure the social impact of those activities.
President & CEO, The Charlotte Museum of History
Terri L. White describes herself as a “museum junkie.” That helps when you’ve been appointed president and CEO of The Charlotte Museum of History. At a time when some cultural institutions are fighting to stay relevant, White is leading a five-year strategy to strengthen Charlotte’s history museum by focusing on exhibits and collections, people, and financial sustainability. “What I hope to do in the long run,” she said, “is to show that the museum is an example of how history education can be engaging, current and worthwhile.”
Former Interim Head Coach, Carolina Panthers
During his four months coaching the Carolina Panthers, Steve Wilks took a 1-4 team and made it a playoff contender. A West Charlotte High School graduate, Wilks is a home-grown icon for Black achievement. As he seeks his next NFL position, he continues to inspire others through his nonprofit 3T Foundation, which focuses on supporting Charlotte youth through educational enrichment and mentorship.
Kimberly Wilkinson is a serial entrepreneur, the owner of two brick-and-mortar businesses in Charlotte — Juice Box and Members Only. A third business, a nightlife spot called Sprinkle, is set to open in the NoDa neighborhood. The Johnson C. Smith University graduate says she’s now looking for opportunities in west Charlotte, and even beyond the Queen City. Her mantra: “Everything will work out.”
President and CEO, Advocate Health
Under Eugene Woods’ leadership, Advocate Health, which Atrium Health is part of, is working with Wake Forest University to bring a medical school to Charlotte. Officials hope to seat the school’s first class in 2024. The medical school will anchor a 20-acre innovation district called The Pearl, located on a site that was once part of the historically Black neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was demolished in the 1960s and ’70s during “urban renewal.” Woods has said that Advocate will use the project to drive economic mobility, creating jobs with livable wages that require specialized training but perhaps not college degrees.