The List Winter/Spring 2020
If you’ve ever found yourself having the time of your life at a catered event, then you have people like Alyssa Rivera, event director at Central Restaurant, to thank! Earning her degree in restaurant and hospitality management at the University of Alabama in 2009, Alyssa began a career in “never saying it can’t be done” for those wanting to throw the celebration of a lifetime. She thrives on working with her team and clients to plan events, from the initial planning session through daily meetings and, ultimately, seeing them be able to enjoy their hard work. Alyssa started out in the industry working for Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa as a front desk clerk. From there, she worked her way up into catering sales and then the event manager at the Birmingham Convention Center Complex. She credits her former boss in Birmingham, Ashley Martin, as her biggest professional influence for teaching her how attention to detail, flexibility and providing calm leadership can turn even the biggest challenges into positive experiences. Those lessons, coupled with the work ethic derived from her parents and her personal faith in God, have been instrumental to her success in the capital city of Montgomery, where she works with diverse people from all over the state, country and globe. When she’s not admiring Montgomery’s ability to boast such rich history, beautiful buildings and a small-town feel that allows her to see former clients on a consistent basis, Alyssa can be found traveling with her husband, Eric, and one-year-old son, Carter. Whether it’s trying new restaurants, hiking with their pups or planning your big event, Alyssa always makes the impossible possible!
Montgomery runs through Chris Searcy’s veins. He was born here, graduated high school here and it’s where his wife, Maraya, gave birth to their daughter, Ginger. The endless ways the city molded him into the man he is today helped inspire him to launch “Good Morning Chris.” This morning television show tells human interest stories that dispel the myth of there being nothing to do around the Capital City. In addition to the show, Chris also founded CKS Consulting, where he helps clients bring concepts to life through various media platforms, and he’s used his degree in political science to manage a campaign. It is easy to wonder where he gets the motivation to accomplish all these things. Chris’ success can be traced back to watching the grittiness of his parents. His mother came to America alone at 20 years of age from West Africa and built a life as a first-generation immigrant. His father became the man of the house when he lost his dad at the age of 15. Once Chris realized that the only thing standing in his way of success was the fear of failure, he was able to conceptualize his parent’s ability to persevere and put that motivation into his work. When Chris isn’t hustling around at his various jobs, he can be found on any kind of field, court or pitch he can find. This fanatic is ready to play and coach any sport you can throw at (or to) him.
Buying a home is the foundation of the American Dream, and Jeff Dickey takes pride in helping people in the River Region attain it for themselves. As an associate broker and realtor at New Waters Realty, the Troy University graduate has been able to help many people turn houses into homes. This opportunity was presented to Jeff when he was in his late thirties. Before becoming a top producing realtor in the region, he used his Master of Arts in Christian education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to proudly serve his home church, Heritage Baptist, as the church administrator. The career change created its own set of challenges, and Jeff credits his father, Retired Colonel Charles Dickey, Jr, with instilling the value of hard work, community, and being a good father and husband. Jeff considers growing up in Montgomery – with how the past and present intersect to create a hotbed of history, art and culture, athletics, and entertainment - something of which to be proud. And his commitment to the community backs up those words as he’s served in many organizations such as Montgomery Area Association of Realtors, Montgomery Area Council on Aging, Pike Road Elementary, NICU Footprints Ministry, Century Church, Realtors in Action and Porch to Porch Magazine. When Jeff finds any free time, you can bet he’s with his wife, Claire; children, Clayton and Arden; and their chocolate lab, Hershey. Days are spent watching his children’s sports and arts activities, watching Auburn football, grilling outdoors, and enjoying the views from home at The Waters.
There are very few correlations as strong as the one between education and financial security. And since that access isn’t equally accessible to all, people like Jordan Hamilton Brooks, the director of student judicial affairs and support services at Alabama State University, are needed to guide students toward success. Jordan’s drive to serve and organize people for a common good was molded by watching and helping his single mother, a change agent and community human service administrator, as a child growing up in Kansas City. He became a first-generation college student and has gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in education administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is currently working toward a Master of Public Administration at Lindenwood University and a Doctorate of Education at the University of Georgia.
The rewards for his 10 years in higher education and 13 years of community involvement include seeing students that come from similar backgrounds – those dealing with financial and food insecurities or overcoming the challenges of a single-parent household - broaden their perspectives on the world and achieve success. Montgomery’s history of civil rights as well as developments such as the Equal Justice Initiative are among the things that Jordan loves about the city. In addition to his work at ASU, he is a member of the 100 Black Men of America and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. And gives back by serving community agencies combating rape and sex trafficking.
Kate Woods Bartlett settled into her position as associate dean of admissions at Saint James School having been an “outsider” her entire life. Coming from a family of military officers, this “Army brat” moved to five elementary schools, where she learned how to deal with the stress of relocation. Not surprisingly, easing the anxieties of the children and families beginning a new academic journey at Saint James became her favorite part of the job. Kate’s outsider views were not seen as an obstacle by the Saint James administrative team – whom, among other dynamic teams in her career as an admissions counselor and scholarship director in higher education, she credits with her career success; instead, they viewed them as an asset to ease the adjustment period in a new school. Since coming to Montgomery nine years ago with her husband, Jack, Kate has become deeply involved with the community. The Auburn graduate has served on the MMFA Junior Executive board for three years, the FUMC administrative board and the Junior League of Montgomery, where she served as the 2019 Holiday Market Preview Party chair. She is a graduate of Emerge Torchbearers Class VI and earned her Master of Liberal Arts from AUM in 2018. Kate is proud to call Montgomery home with her husband and two daughters, Frances (3) and Hill (1 in February). She loves her historic Garden District neighborhood, Pure Barre, playing on a women’s tennis team and using her Auburn football season tickets to cheer on the Tigers.
A challenge of mentorship is being able to connect on a level of interest. Some choose athletics and music; but for those interested in visual arts, The King’s Canvas art space is among the best places to express themselves. The nonprofit studio was founded in 2017 by Kevin King, a Tuskegee alum and current member of Mayor Steven Reed’s Arts, Culture and Entertainment Committee, and is open to budding high school and adult artists. The creative space for underdeveloped and underexposed artists was formed when Kevin saw a lack of opportunity and development for Montgomery artists. It is here where he dedicates his efforts to investing in artists from marginalized communities and exposing them to the ideals of entrepreneurship, financial education, and life skill development principals. Prior to opening The King’s Canvas, Kevin helped found Common Ground Montgomery. While he’s always had a fear of the financial hardships often associated with minority-led nonprofit organizations, Kevin has dedicated himself there because it is where he believes God has allowed him to make the greatest impact in the community as they live, learn, grow and create together. He credits Montgomery’s history of resilience as a motivator to make the biggest impact possible. Outside the art space, Kevin supports his wife’s entrepreneurial endeavor as the owner of Tre’ss Bien Textured Hair Studio (after all, he says there would be no The King’s Canvas without her support). He also loves listening to Christian Hip Hop and Wu-Tang Clan and loves watching his daughter, Kaiya, perform as a dance student at BTW Magnet High School.
Montgomery’s history of civil rights reform spans both social and political issues, and Kynesha Brown has stepped up to continue to fight for the marginalized populations in the area. She believes the complicated history has strengthened the community through unification and paved a path for even further progress. While serving as the director of public relations for the Alabama Education Association, Kynesha is also the coordinator for the Rollin’ to the Polls initiative. This group, spearheaded by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., was instrumental in electing Montgomery’s first black mayor. As part of this role, she registers voters, arranges election-day transportation and assists those with criminal convictions to restore voting rights. Kynesha’s passion for activism was ignited by her late grandmother, who was politically active and introduced her to helping the community at a young age. While the importance of leadership was instilled in Kynesha early, she had to learn to step out of her comfort zone as an introvert and become more effective at expressing the ideals and solutions in which she believed. Never looking back, she attended Auburn University and recently graduated from The Campaign School at Yale, whose mission is to increase the influence of women in elected and appointed offices around the world. When Kynesha isn’t carrying the torch passed to her by her grandmother, you can find her reading a good book, rooting for the Auburn Tigers and hanging with her friends around the city she’s helping change for the better.
Dr. Linwood B. Whitten’s resume reads like an acceptance speech where the recipient knows everyone can’t be thanked in time. From his time as an immigration partner at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to serving as a goodwill ambassador at the International Officer School at Maxwell AFB, working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and his student affairs roles related to diversity and inclusion, student development, and emergency preparedness, the list showcases Dr. Whitten’s intention to continually broaden his worldview. The director of Diversity and International Affairs at Alabama State University, where he also serves as the Title IX coordinator, attributes his upbringing as a “military brat” for giving him the cultural competencies to appreciate the importance of diversity and inclusion. His mother and grandfather, as well as TRIO Special Programs and college mentors, also stressed the importance of education and service. Armed with a Bachelor of Science with honors from Alabama A&M University, a Master of Science from Arkansas State University and a doctorate from Life University, Dr. Linwood continues to serve mankind as, among many other organizations, a member of 100 Black Men of America, Lions Club International, a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated, and board member for the Alabama Coalition Against Rape. The history of the civil rights movement and its ongoing effects are key reasons for why he works in and loves Montgomery. Free time is spent with his college sweetheart, Dr. Melanie Crutchfield Whitten, traveling internationally. Having visited more than 25 countries across four continents, the Whittens definitely know a thing or a hundred about expanding worldviews!
Nearly 20% of all violent offenses reported in Alabama have connections to domestic violence, and these sobering numbers are only an introduction to the story. Peyton Faulk, a staff attorney at Family Sunshine Center, spends most of her waking hours battling on victims’ behalf by providing legal counsel for those leaving a violent situation. The Greenville, Alabama, native earned her law degree by attending night courses at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law while teaching at a local high school by day. And from day one, Peyton dedicated herself to public interest law. Law school debt is not wiped away for those fighting for public interests; but there was never a doubt in Peyton’s mind that she needed a job where she could provide hope and healing to those escaping violent situations. Peyton credits Montgomery as a community that comes together to fight for those in need. Professionals like her first law partner, Jay Lewis, are willing to assist and make introductions to experienced lawyers and judges that further “post-law school” education. She gives back to that community by serving on the boards of the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Montgomery County Bar Foundation. While many lawyers and judges have helped Peyton along the way, she credits her mother, father and sister as the support system that motivates her to continue fighting. When Peyton isn’t working or providing pro bono services, she is likely to be found with her three miniature schnauzers: Ava, Merle Haggard and Isaac.
As the dangers of prescription painkillers have become clearer, many look for alternative methods to ease discomfort. This is where Dr. Tiffany Taft, the founder of Sacred Soul Wellness, LLC, can bring relief and healing. As an integrative health and wellness therapist, Dr. Taft focuses on helping clients dealing with chronic pain and rehabilitative issues by supporting their mental, physical and spiritual well-being. There may not be a wall big enough to showcase Dr. Taft’s credentials. A combat military veteran with a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, master’s in healthcare administration and information resource management, and a doctorate in information technology/cybersecurity, she believes that all the good administrative work she has done pales in comparison to her love for health and wellness. This is why the international best-selling author opened Sacred Soul Wellness and is pursuing her bachelor’s in nursing with a double major in psychology as well as a second doctorate as a nurse practitioner, with a focus on the continuum of women’s health and wellness. Dr. Taft is a Montgomery native who has traveled the country and world to gain experience. She is happy to return home and use that training to bring relief and happiness to her clients. Her love for the city’s history and diversity inspires her to participate in local health fairs, hands-on demonstrations, and physical and mental fitness awareness seminars. Dr. Taft is committed to the healing arts and to sharing her knowledge through community engagement by inspiring those who seek to live well at every phase of life. She believes, time for yourself is time well spent. In her downtime, Dr. Taft loves the peacefulness of lakes, oceans and mountains, the thrill of a good football game, and the kinship of being with friends.