The Jackson metro area is full of entrepreneurial, innovative and influential residents. For this year's Chicks We Love, the Jackson Free Press shines the spotlight on women who play vital and interesting roles in our community on a daily basis.
Carol Andersen finds passion in employing her position as assistant director at the Mississippi Humanities Council to encourage people to engage with the humanities, which encompasses the study of history, literature, religion, culture, philosophy and language.
"There is a place for the humanities in everything we do. The human experience needs both (humanities and science), and we need both for a flourishing life," Andersen says. "It would be a very boring life without arts and humanities."
Andersen, who was born in Iowa, moved in 2001 with her husband Anthony Mawson to Mississippi, where they have since raised their two teenage daughters, Haley and Livi, and become deeply invested in the betterment of the communities within the state, she says.
The organization supports programs such as Prison2College Pipeline and the Prison Writes Initiative, which help incarcerated individuals earn higher-education credits.
Additionally, the Mississippi Humanities Council coordinates the Family Reading Program. On Saturdays, incarcerated women in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility may spend time with their children who visit.
Through the program, storytellers read children's books with the families and facilitate discussions on the books' themes and other literary elements. The children take the books home with them afterward.
The Humanities Council builds on the grass-roots movements of Mississippi's past, emphasizing the premise that the community builds itself. The council receives grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which Congress funds. The council in turn grants funding, guidance and expertise to various organizations throughout the state.
"A distinction between our work and other granting organizations is we have money to give, but we also have expertise to give," Anderson says. "They are not required or forced to use it, but if they have questions or need help, the council is available. (We) can connect them to other organizations ... or give them advice on how to communicate about their programs." - Ashley Hobson
Kari Thomas worked for three years as a police officer in Madison, Miss., before becoming the operator at Buttermilk Sky Pie Shop. When Ann Somers called her to ask if she would be the manager for the pet store she planned to open, Thomas accepted, and Chipper & Coco opened in May.
Thomas stated that most of her work consists of ordering products, rearranging the shop, going to pet expos for new products and working with Somers.
"I think we have a really good relationship, so it's fun working with her," Thomas says about Somers. "And I love to bring my dog to work, Cudi. Cudi is the coolest dog."
Thomas stated that one of the biggest challenges at Chipper & Coco is changing the way Mississippians view pet ownership and health.
"It's hard to tell somebody, 'I think you should buy this product as opposed to the other because of how it was sourced,' and not just for humane reasons. But this food is healthier for your dog. This food tastes better. The toughest thing I think is changing the way people think about raising pets," Thomas says.
She says she cares about Jackson and intentionally chose to make her home in west Jackson.
"I think the people make Jackson great. I live in west Jackson on purpose. It is not the best, prettiest area, but it has a lot of potential," Thomas says. "We can't go anywhere other than up, and I think there's a small movement of young people like me moving into west Jackson, making it in our homes, fixing up these dilapidated houses, keeping grass cut." In her free time, Thomas kayaks, exercises and cooks.
- Jenna Gibson
Lt. Col. Deidre Smith
Lt. Col. Deidre Smith has served in the U.S. Army for 22 years and currently works as the director of public affairs for the Mississippi National Guard in Jackson.
During her senior year of high school, she took JROTC, or Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which is a federal program the U.S. Armed Forces sponsors in high schools. After a recruiter from Marion Military Institute came to her school, she was ready to join the military.
Smith attended Marion, graduating with an associate's degree in military science. She enrolled in Southeastern Louisiana University, where she received a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and mass communications. She later earned a master's degree in human relations at the University of Oklahoma.
In 2000, Smith was stationed in Germany and was deployed in 2003 with the 21st Theater Support Command in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Once she completed active duty, Smith worked at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center as the public-affairs officer and later became director of personnel and community activities. She moved to Jackson to be the director of outreach services. She then worked as deputy for the center's human resources office for the state. In July, she started working as director of public affairs.
"I'm truly blessed to be a member of the Mississippi National Guard. I'm blessed to be at the rank that I'm at. And I'm extremely blessed to be the director of public affairs, and I really love it. It's probably the best job that I've had at the Army so far."
While in her position, Smith helped create the Mississippi National Guard Outreach Services app, which can be downloaded on both Apple and Android devices.
She lives in Brandon with her 12-year-old daughter, Harley Madison Smith. - Jenna Gibson
Elsa Baughman, currently retired, spent much of her professional career serving the local Hispanic community, both as a journalist with the Mississippi Catholic newspaper and as executive secretary with the Mississippi Hispanic Association.
Originally from Venezuela, Baughman worked under the governor of the State of Zulia for two years in his press office before being let go after a change in government.
Her father encouraged Baughman to continue her education in the United States, so she enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi, where she earned her master's degree in mass communication in 1978. Two days later, she married Brian Baughman and decided to remain in Mississippi.
She taught Spanish both for Hillcrest Christian School and Jackson State University before landing a job in her chosen field of journalism with the Mississippi Catholic, the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, where she worked for 20 years until her retirement almost three years go.
During her time with the paper, it started a section in Spanish to provide more information to the Hispanic community, which she said at the time was fairly small.
Noticing a need, Baughman and a handful of others decided to form an organization in the 1990s that could help connect members of the Hispanic community with each other and with non-Hispanic Americans.
We really wanted to be a bridge for Americans to be able to understand a little bit more about our culture through our work," Baughman says. "... I am very happy to have been able to be part of the creation of this organization because there was nothing really (years ago) to help the Hispanics."
In her spare time, Baughman attends social events and other activities at a local senior center and spends time with her family. She and Brian have two daughters, Carla and Veronica, as well as two grandchildren. Brian is set to also retire in the next year.
"I am very happy about being a grandmother," she says emphatically. "... (Retirement) feels like every day for me is a Saturday." - Nate Schumann
Deonica Davis, production coordinator and art director for Woodward Hines Education Foundation and its Get2College program, released her first short film, "Spoken Like a Good Listener," in July.
Following her graduation from Pearl High School, Davis earned her bachelor's degree in graphic design and marketing from the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, she worked for an advertising firm for three years before joining Woodward Hines, where she handles social media, print and web materials, video production and various presentations.
"I've always loved art. Growing up, it was something that was always dear to my heart. I was always painting and drawing in my free time," Davis says. Nowadays, she also enjoys local art festivals and making jewelry and car charms.
Her work in video for her job inspired her to pursue a "tucked away" dream, filmmaking. After taking a film course with local producer, Maximus Wright, she began working on her film, which is about a man who enters a bar looking for answers to philosophical questions.
Davis, 29, says it is important to bring diversity into professional settings.
"I've had enough experiences where I feel it's necessary for black women to continue shaking things up in the corporate space and less diverse spaces. ... Very tone-deaf commercials and products are continuously coming out, right? It's so quick for black women to get in a certain position and just be quiet.
Black women too often believe people don't want to hear what they have to say. "No! You're there for a reason," she says.
Davis also encourages others who may be sitting on a dream to pursue their goals.
"The overarching theme I want to tell viewers is, go with your gut. In your deepest core, you know what you need to do. Trust that feeling," Davis says. - Azia Wiggins
One of Willie Jones' major goals in life is to empower other women. One way is through her business, Dependable Source Corp., which is relaunching its truck-driver training school that it had stopped in 2012, and Jones now hopes to get more women enrolled in the training.
"We're hoping to use this also as a vehicle for women to look at non-traditional job opportunities, to take advantage of (them)," she says.
Twenty-nine percent of women, and especially African American women, work in minimum-wage jobs. Truckers have the opportunity to make $50,000 a year in their first year. "That's a huge leap," Jones says. "That's a huge transformation for quality of living for not only for herself but for her family and (for) the community."
Jones started the health-care side of the business, Dependable Source Home Health, about eight years ago, both as a way to connect disabled people and seniors with good health-care providers, but to also give more job opportunities to women.
"I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother of five," Jones says. "I understand. Even before I started my own business, I've been in management for a very, very long period of time, and I understand the needs of women. As a woman, as a business owner, then even just as a person in the community, I understand the needs of women and how important it is to have access to quality jobs, jobs that have benefits. So that's really what my focus was, is 'How can we provide more opportunities for women out there?'"
Jones became the president of Women For Progress of Mississippi Inc. in 2010. She hosts The Working Woman Report as a podcast at womenforprogress.net. - Amber Helsel
When Beemon Drugs closed in June 2019, Whitney Harris decided she would spread her entrepreneurial wings and start up her own pharmaceutical business, District Drugs & Mercantile, which is set to open by the end of the year.
"I grew up with parents who are both entrepreneurs, so I always had that in me and knew I wanted to eventually own my own pharmacy one day. Everything that I have done in my career since I graduated has gotten me to that place," Harris says. "When I was able to work at Beemon and have that opportunity, I was able to see how wonderfully an independent pharmacy serves the community—and just the relationships that I made with every single one of my parents. I knew every single person that ever walked in that door, and that was just something that I had to continue once we closed. I just couldn't imagine doing anything differently."
The 33-year-old New Albany, Miss., native earned her doctorate of pharmacy degree in 2011 from the University of Mississippi. After completing her residency, Harris worked as a clinical specialist for Kroger covering north Mississippi. She then moved to Jackson to work at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as a clinical instructor, where she focused on community-based research, primarily in the fields of diabetes and telehealth. She started working at Beemon Drugs in 2015 and stayed with the business until it closed.
In addition to pharmaceuticals, District Drugs will feature products from local artists and vendors. Services offered include free delivery within the Jackson metro area, curbside pickup, compounding services, pill packaging and more.
In her free time, Harris enjoys traveling, trying new restaurants and spending time with her family. She has a daughter, Maddie, 6, and twin boys, Reed and Walker, both 4 years old. - Nate Schumann
Marcy Fischer fell in love with the art business after her time spent working with local artists such as James Patterson and William Goodman. She opened Fischer Galleries in 2008, where she primarily represents contemporary artists who are from Mississippi and the nearby region or who otherwise hold a connection to the Magnolia State.
The business sells original works from painters, sculptures, photographers and printmakers.
"I feel very privileged and honored to work with the artists I get to work with. They are amazingly talented and professional. They are fabulous people," she says.
Born in Los Angeles, Fischer and her family moved to Jackson while she was still a baby, so she grew up in the area and believes Jackson can be a starting point for Mississippi artists.
"I love working with artists, and I love looking forward to the shows. A lot of what we do is community-based. Art in Jackson is very much a community place. I'd like for it to be a place to introduce artists and their work to the community," she says.
Fischer Galleries has many clients outside the state that will drive in to visit the gallery and see shows. For Fischer, helping a client find a painting for their home is just as fulfilling as working with the artists.
"Art can be a very nourishing thing for your heart and soul," she says. "You can look at a painting, and it can bring tears to your eyes or you just feel something. It can also be purely aesthetic. So, a fulfilling part of my work is helping a client choose a work of art for their home." - Robin Johnson
Polly Tribble, executive director of
Disability Rights Mississippi, spends each day working toward helping those who can need it the most.
Polly Tribble, 55, was born in Memphis, Tenn., but she grew up in Jackson, graduating from Mississippi State in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and again in 1988 with a master's degree in clinical psychology.
Following graduation, Tribble worked for two years at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield as an associate psychologist. She then joined Disability Rights Mississippi, a legally based advocacy organization, in 1990 as an advocate, where she traveled the state visiting various facilities to ensure those with developmental disabilities received proper care. She became the executive director in 2017.
Tribble is married to a Vicksburg community pastor, Bryan Tribble, and they have one son together, Jason, who is a high-school senior this year. Outside work, Tribble enjoys engaging with her church or reading.
The organization provides legal counsel for clients who face issues relating to disabilities. "Our mission is for people with disabilities to be included in their community."
Her favorite part of working with Disability Rights Mississippi is "seeing someone with a disability be successful and live the way they want to live."
Looking forward, Tribble anticipates continuing her work at Disability Rights Mississippi and being involved in more litigation that works toward making Mississippi a better place for all those who call it home, she says. - Ashley Hobson