Celebrating Black Trailblazers in Upstate SC

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As we celebrate Black History Month, I’ve been reflecting on the abundance of current-day Black trailblazers making a profound and daily impact across the Upstate.

I’d like to highlight just a few of these inspiring leaders and changemakers who have touched my life personally. On so many occasions I’ve been challenged by their contagious spirit of excellence, their consistency in the face of obstacles, and their vision to both carry on the legacy of those who’ve come before and pave a radiant path for those who will follow.

Richard Hagins

Hagins is a retired naval Commander who founded US&S, Inc., a facility services company, in 2003. His commitment to service is a thread easily traced through his military career, entrepreneurial vision and deep involvement in his community. In addition to being an award-winning entrepreneur, Richard has served in such influential roles as Governor-appointed state Commissioner of Minority Affairs (Fourth District) and Greenville Chamber’s Board of Directors. He is a tireless supporter of the local business community, with an eye to promoting opportunities for small and minority owned businesses. His legacy work continues as he serves on the Boards of numerous Upstate organizations.

I have had the pleasure of working with Richard through training US&S and under him when he served as Chairman of the Board for the Greenville Chamber. Richard is thoughtful, inclusive, patient and kind. He seeks to elevate all those around him and is a trailblazer at making connections for others.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Activator, Woo, Communication, Individualization, Competition

Stacey Gardin

Gardin is a premier portrait and branding photographer serving the Upstate since 2018. Her diverse professional experience – as an author, public speaker and model – has equipped her to visually bring to life her clients’ stories. Having spent significant time on the other side of the camera, she is passionate about helping her clients feel comfortable and confident – like a celebrity for a day. Her studio is known as a place of psychological safety and self-discovery, where Stacey takes the time to listen, understand, and create an exceptional portrait experience.

Stacey makes everything around her more beautiful. Whether that is through her photography or through her uplifting words, Stacey can optimize and maximize whoever she is working with. Our community is fortunate to have had her all these years and will miss her when she moves to Paris! Stacey is a trailblazer at making others feel special.

I encourage you to check out the children’s book she authored in 2020: Mandy: Tangled In A Web.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Connectedness, Consistency, Communication, Empathy, Discipline

Dr. Nika White

White is founder of Nika White Consulting, a “full-service diversity, equity and inclusion boutique consulting firm.” She is a nationally recognized authority in the DEI space, designated by Forbes as a Top 10 D&I Trailblazer. Her influence is extensive, spanning 20 years’ consulting with over 300 brands in the corporate, governmental, and non-profit sectors. Nika is a highly sought after speaker who embodies the intentionality that is at the root of the transformative, inclusive environments she’s passionate about creating.

Nika and I have known each other for over 8 years. I have always looked up to her speaking abilities and her ability to fire up a crowd of people. My favorite memory is when Nika pulled me aside after speaking and told me: “Never make excuses for your achievements. I don’t want to hear about you playing small anymore.”  Her comments fired me up because I knew she believed in me and my abilities! Nika is a trailblazer in the DEI space and gives people courage when they can’t find it on their own.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Maximizer, Significance, Focus, Achiever, Competition

Ava Smith

Smith is an award-winning entrepreneur and HR professional who has served the Upstate for over 20 years. She is the founder and owner of two Upstate businesses: Ava Smith and Associates, a full-service HR Consulting firm, and Flat Fee Recruiting, which is a permanent placement recruiting firm serving multiple industries. Ava has demonstrated consistency as an effective leader, and is known as relationship builder and strategic thinker, whose solutions stem from her commitment to listening and understanding.

Ava is the ultimate encourager. You will see her uplifting others through her words and pictures or through her social media. She helps to support others through content, placing them in a better position or connecting them with someone who can help. I smile every time I see her because I know something encouraging is coming out of her mouth! Ava is a trailblazer at making people feel seen and heard.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Individualization, Futuristic, Communication, Strategic, Relator

James Jordan

Jordan is the president and founder of Jordan Construction Company and Jordan Development Company. He was named the 2023 March of Dimes Real Estate and Economic Development Award winner and is also a recent graduate of the Liberty Fellowship. After recently purchasing two historical properties that once housed trailblazing black-owned businesses, Jordan said of Kenneth Manigault and Theo Mitchell, “They are visionaries. They believed early in Greenville, to the point where they made an investment in downtown when downtown looked very different than what it does today.” Jordan is a trailblazer in his own right as the first Black man to sit on the board of Bank of Travelers Rest in its 75-year+ history.

I think James has won every award that Greenville has to offer. He excels at whatever he puts his mind and his heart into. Most impressively, he is a leader in creating affordable housing for the Greenville community and he leaves Greenville better by his presence. James is a trailblazer in putting Greenville on the map with his projects.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Competition, Achiever, Focus, Positivity, Discipline

Carlos Phillips

Phillips has served as President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber since 2016. In 2023, Phillips earned the Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) designation, a prestigious designation earned by only 475 individuals. He currently serves as the Board Chair of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). He is known and respected for his visionary leadership and strategic innovation.

I have been fortunate to work with Carlos for over 6 years through my involvement with the Chamber. The man never stops dreaming, believing, and hoping for a better tomorrow for all residents of Greenville. Most of all, he challenges himself to keep growing and changing so that he can continue to lead well. I want to be on any team that Carlos is leading because it will be the BEST! Carlos is a trailblazer at making Greenville better for all people.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Relator, Learner, Competition, Maximizer, Significance

Tiffney Davidson-Parker

Davidson-Parker is one of the Upstate’s foremost leaders and advocates in the mental health space. She is the Founder and CEO of Universal Therapeutic Services (UTS), an outpatient mental health clinic in the Upstate. She has also recently assumed the role of Executive Director of NAMI Greenville (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

I first met Tiffney through the Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) Program. I have watched her grow UTS from one therapist to 13 therapists. She is the most positive person you will ever meet and is intentional in bringing others along with her. As Executive Director of NAMI, I look forward to seeing how she will open the doors to even more individuals so they can experience breakthroughs and receive support. She is a trailblazer to providing access to help for all people.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Strategic, Positivity, Achiever, Relator, Self-assurance

LaCheryl Smith Coleman

Coleman is Head of Schools at Legacy Early College, a K-12 school formed in 2009 to serve “The Legacy Zone.” At the time, the graduation rates were as low as 50% in this region, which is comprised of three of Greenville County’s most historically under-served census tracts. Coleman leads LEC in its mission to provide a rigorous educational experience that empowers under-resourced urban scholars to attain college graduation and emerge into adult life as principled change-makers. In addition to her work with LEC, LaCheryl sits on the United Way Board of Directors.

I have known LaCheryl for over 19 years and have watched her leadership skills take her from Hillcrest High School to Furman University to Legacy Early College. You can put LaCheryl in the room with anyone and she can make them feel seen and heard. She cares passionately about the next generation and she executes on that passion. Under her leadership, LEC has become a nationally-known Charter school with scholars graduating in higher numbers and with college classes already under their belts. She is a trailblazer in education.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Harmony, Deliberative, Relator, Discipline, Analytical

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