FEATURE ARTICLE / May 2022
Way Makers, Miracle Workers, Promise Keepers:
By Vivian Shipe, AHERN Reporter / 3-12-2022
When you look at the positive growth occurring in Knoxville, what you do not see are the quiet storms of powerful Black women who are the local, state, and national tables making things happen. Dale Carnegie once said, "You can get a lot done when you don't care who gets the credit." Indeed, none of these women have sought the limelight but have fearlessly fought to bring positive change in the lives of others and are making significant impacts in Knoxville.
Phyllis Nichols is one of the most important players in the development of the workforce that will build the new baseball stadium in Knoxville. Mrs. Nichols is the Executive Director of the Knoxville Area Urban League and has served with the organization since 1994. Under her guidance, the Urban League provides 24 programs that help over 10,000 individuals yearly to become skilled in the needs of the workforce. Under her watchful eye, the League will work to ensure there is a diverse workforce building the 67million dollar stadium including opportunities for minority construction companies and sub-contractors.
Angela Dennis is one of the most promising writers to appear on the scene in decades. A reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, she has written a plethora of well-written pieces on the lives of African Americans in Knoxville and surrounding areas. She also does a podcast on Being Black in Appalachia and has been awarded the prestigious national Gannett Greatest Award for her community cultivation efforts.
Ronni Chandler has been with Project Grad from its beginning over 20 years ago. As the Executive Director, the nationally acclaimed program has worked to ensure thousands of inner-city graduates have had the opportunity to attend, graduate high school and attend college. Under the guidance of Chandler and her team, the program has exceeded the national graduation rate of 10 percent with their 48 percent completion rate. Offering a $4000.00 scholarship and a laptop to every high school graduate, the program follows each student from K to 16. Chandler was recently awarded the inaugural Ronni Chandler Scholarship award which has been named after her for her work and dedication over two decades.
Tanya T. Coates... is now the new state president of the Tennessee Education Association. She previously served for many years as the president of the Knoxville Education Association but now takes the helm at the state level in one of the most critical times in education in the state's history. She will lead over 46,000 public and private school educators and support staff all across Tennessee.
Dr. Dasha Lundy wears two very important hats. She serves as the only African American on the Knox County Commission and is also the Executive Vice President of the historic HBCU Knoxville College. A passionate servant leader, she is also a founding member of THE WOMEN LLC, an organization that provides avenues to financing for small business startups.
Shelley Sampson Clemons is a veteran officer with 28 years with the Knoxville City Police department. A member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, she is a well-respected leader in the community and works on several community outreach projects. In recognition of her servant leadership, Officer Clemons was awarded the 2022 Humanitarian Award from SEEED (Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development) Knox at their annual Green Gala.
Vivian Gwinn ... is the Community Engagement Director for the Boys and Girls Club, one of the oldest mentoring clubs in the United States. Mother Gwinn, as she is known in Knoxville, has been with the agency for over 17 years. She is a passionate recruiter for the agency and serves Knox, Anderson, and Blount counties. The agency serves children ages 6 to 16. Having helped thousands of children over almost two decades, Mother Gwinn is known throughout Knoxville for her famous saying, "I love you, but God loves you more".