The 2008 Chicks We Love

The Better Half of Mississippi

Cover painting by Ginger Williams

There was a time before my generation when women had a clear and distinct disadvantage in all parts of life. They couldn't get the same jobs as men, and society treated them as though they were less intelligent and necessarily dependent on their male counterparts.

While things still aren't perfect, I am privileged to say that I do not feel those same oppressions, and that is largely due to the women who came before me, paving a way of hard-fought equality.

These same women work in your offices, run your meetings, pass your legislation and cook your dinner. They are news anchors and business owners, artists and moms. We see them in governmental chambers and in the grocery store. They are the better half of what makes this the Hospitality State.

They are the Chicks We Love.

Shondra Macklin

The 3l-year-old also goes by the name of Blaque Butterfly. She says that the name she chose signifies her metamorphosis. "Well, a butterfly is first a cocoon, then it becomes a caterpillar. It goes into this metamorphosis to become this beautiful creature with wings— a butterfly. That's how I would describe my growth phase from the conception of all my creative ideas up to where I am now."

Known around town for her abstract paintings, Macklin has realized that her creative skills extended to other art forms. She says every year of her life is dedicated to trying and experimenting with different art forms, such as spoken word. One evening during an event, she was forced to go up on stage and recite one of her pieces. Macklin insists that she is a shy person, but the crowd, she says, loved her. After that there was no stopping her.

Macklin is now working on many solo and collaborative projects. One of her projects includes doing makeup for local fashion designer Eric Willander Wells for an upcoming model search through her makeup company, ButterflyFACES, Makeup Artistry.

She also does makeup of a different kind—face painting for kids. Another of her companies, KidsfacepaintinFun, LLC, involves face-painting for birthday parties, carnivals—anywhere children are in attendance. The artist also makes her own jewelry with one of her other companies, ButterflyJewels (The earrings she is wearing in her photo are part of that collection). Macklin wants to open a boutique where she can manage and sell her creations.

Even though she is doing pretty well on her own, Macklin wants to see the city she loves flourish as well: "In Jackson we always seem to be the underdog; we're always trying to prove ourselves. We have so many talented people here." She describes Jackson as "giving birth" to new talent, and predicts that by 2015, the city will be at the forefront of art. "It's in a growth stage right now, but there's a lot of Jackson to be seen, let's just put it that way," she says.

Macklin is a member of the Jackson Arts Collective and serves on its steering committee along with Josh Hailey, Roy Adkins and Kamikaze. Its mission fits perfectly with her agenda: highlighting Jackson talent through all its various art forms.

When asked if she ever gets overwhelmed with all her work, she leans over and says: "No, not at all, because I love what I do, I enjoy it. I have a lot of ideas in my head. It's my way to bring things to life."

Lara Law

As Lara Law approaches the Cups patio, she smiles, but then abruptly stops to greet strangers and play with a black puppy. Her smile turns into uncontrollable laughter as she pets the puppy and speaks with the owner about a possible adoption. Wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and carrying a bookbag, Law sits wistfully staring at the puppy before she begins our interview.

"I like to garden, grow vegetables, jog, hike and be outdoors," Law says. When she is not jogging at Lefleur's Bluff State Park, searching for produce at the Farmer's Market, or enjoying a walk along the nature trail at the Agriculture and Forestry Museum, Law works with the Mississippi Youth Justice Project, a non-profit, public-interest organization that attempts to slow and eventually stop the flow of kids from school into the criminal justice system.

Law, 27, enthusiastically explains the intricate details of her job. As the community organizer, she works with young people and parents helping them stress the importance of a quality education. Equipped with a healthy educational environment, she hopes kids can avoid falling into the criminal justice system. "(Students) are sent out of school and sent directly into the criminal justice system by school's contacting the police for minor offences—things like fights or things that could have been handled at school," she says. Law details how improving school discipline with mediation and conflict resolution programs could start to dissipate a lot of the issues and tension within the school system.

Originally from Mount Desert Island, Maine, Law completed her master's degree in social work and organizing at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. It was an internship with the Mississippi Youth Justice Project and the American Civil Liberties Union that first brought Law to Jackson in 2006, where she quickly fell in love with the charm, hospitality and culture of "The City with Soul."

Law says that what she loves most about Jackson is the tenacious attitudes of its residents. She appreciates the civic engagement of her co-workers, and the warm friendliness she has received.

"I'm not sure if there is anything I have picked up (from Jackson culture), but I hope that when I go back to Maine I'm just as friendly," she says, laughing.

After our meeting, Law returned to her new canine friend, and is now the proud mom of Osa, meaning "bear" in Spanish.

Erica Speed

The first time she meets you, Erica Speed is likely to call you "love." While she inherited that term from her English mother, Speed is, in many ways, the quintessential southern hostess. An Atlanta native and Fondren resident, Speed is quick to offer a cold drink, but is also not above introducing you to her plants.

Speed, 44, puts just as much energy into improving her neighborhood and community as she does into making her home such a welcoming place. Speed, who attended Georgia State University and University of Georgia, has served as chairwoman of the St. Andrew's Designer Showhouse, the largest fundraiser for St. Andrew's Episcopal School, where both her children are students. She is also board president of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation. While proud of the FRF's popular events like Arts, Eats & Beats and Fondren Unwrapped, she is eager to mention some of the Foundation's lesser-known work, like supporting Boyd Elementary School through Jackson Public Schools' Adopt-A-School program, and financing house repairs through a partnership with St. Dominic's Hospital called the Phoenix Initiative.

Surprisingly, given the depth of her commitment, Speed is a relatively new Fondren resident. Speed met her husband, Stewart, in Atlanta. The two, along with their first child, moved to Jackson in 1997, when he went to work for his father, Jackson businessman Leland Speed. They then moved back to Atlanta in 2000, only to return to Jackson two years later.

With her living situation in flux, Speed tried to settle quickly wherever she was, joining neighborhood organizations and throwing herself into the life of her community.

"That was my way of digging a deep root," she says.

Raising her children and improving her community are Speed's priorities, and she admits that she has sometimes lost the balance between the two. "What I find is that I was getting so immersed in a project, I was forgetting the toilet paper," she says.

Still, Speed tries to find time for gardening and "poking around in junky antique shops." She loves finding "the little nut, the gold jewel that's hidden amongst all the stuff."

Olga Abramovich

At age 20, most people are in the middle of their second year of college, adjusting to life away from home. However, at 20, Olga Abramovich was married, had a two-and-a-half month old baby and was moving to Jackson, Miss., from her native Russia, knowing only about Mississippi's reputation as the "Hospitality State."

Fast forward 17 years: Abramovich's son, Michael, is now 17 and helps her around the family restaurant, Olga's, which she and her husband Yuriy own. She has another son, Alex, who is 7. Abramovich says the whole family is part of the restaurant.

"We work ourselves," Abramovich says. "(Yuriy) is a chef; I take care of the front, and he takes care of the kitchen. Kind of like mom and papa; that's how we work here."

After living in Jackson 14 years, Abramovich and her husband decided to open their restaurant in 2003 because they had always dreamed of owning their own business. When she arrived in Jackson in 1991, she learned a new language and culture, while earning a living and raising a small child. However, the couple embraced the challenges and found success through hard work.

"We always feel like if you come, and you want to do something, and you want to work hard, it can happen," Abramovich says. "This was my dream."

Even though she and her husband have built a loyal clientele at Olga's, she says she wouldn't consider opening an additional location, citing the loss of Olga's most important characteristic: familiarity.

"I like to be personal. I like it to be like if you come to Olga's, you come to Olga's. You have to see my husband or me. When people come, they feel like they come to my house," she says. When people walk in they feel like they come to my kitchen because I know everybody personally."

With her warm smile and charming personality, Abramovich has embraced the spirit of the Hospitality State in its capital and created personal success.

L.C. Dorsey

Sitting at her kitchen table among stacks of Mississippi publications—The Clarion-Ledger, The Mississippi Link, The Jackson Advocate, Jackson Free Press, The Messenger—L.C. Dorsey's tiny frame doesn't resemble the strong woman in it. Born on Tribbett Plantation in the Mississippi Delta, Dorsey was working as a water girl by age 8, making $2.50 a day. After many years living and working on plantations, she became the first member of her family to attend college at Mary Holmes Community College.

It was around the time she was attending Mary Holmes that she became active in the civil rights scene in Bolivar County, helping people sign up to vote and helping people organize as a united front. One of the most remarkable things about that time, Dorsey says, was the youth participation.

"You had college students that were in charge of the whole dat gone operation," she says. "It was all run by kids who were under 25."

The people she met during this time informed who she was, so much so that she decided to pursue a career in social work.

"I think we had a disproportionately large number of social workers (in the Civil Rights Movement). And I thought they were some of the bravest people," Dorsey says. "They were the ones who came up with ideas about how to get something done."

After school, Dorsey eventually migrated to Jackson in the 1990s, attending law school at Ole Miss and working in various community-based offices along the way. Today, she is a retired professor of social work, spending her days with her sick husband and keeping her ears and eyes open to the current issues of the day.

As I leave, I catch a glimpse of a larger-than-life Malcolm X poster on the same wall as a "thank you" postcard from John Kerry and John Edwards. She may be physically retired, but certainly not in spirit.

Kelly Shannon

Thirty-two-year-old Kelly Shannon believes in the words of John F. Kennedy: "Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future." And she lives the words, working for an organization in Jackson that is making Kennedy's quote its mission, Mississippi Children's Home Services.

As the development coordinator for Mississippi Child Home Services, she is definitely making an impact on the lives of children throughout Jackson. Born in Oxford, Shannon spent her childhood in Hazlehurst. She has been up and down Mississippi. She started out as a mass communications major at Mississippi College in 1994. While there, she interned with Channel 16 News. After graduating in 1998 with a degree in mass communication, she worked in public relations for the Mississippi Department of Health for eight years. Making a difference in the world was always her dream, but in public relations that's a little difficult. To make a difference, you have to touch the lives of the people around you, and that's exactly what she does now.

At MCHS she has one of the most fulfilling jobs she could ever hope for, but working for a non-profit organization was never in her plans. In college, she had hoped to make a difference through reporting, but an unexpected meeting changed her plans. Ironically, she met her predecessor, Lindsay Draney, in her spin class. Draney told her about her plans to move and said that Shannon would make a great replacement for her at MCHS. Draney and a group of Shannon's friends, either from her spin class or volunteers for MCHS, convinced her to apply. Now she is working a job she absolutely loves

On Shannon's first day at MCHS, she was part of a toy drive and fell in love with the organization, its work and the children. The agency is more of a "family" than a corporate organization, according to Shannon. Employees are linked to one another by their devotion and to the children through their service and love.

It's not the pay, she says, that makes her smile, it's helping children. Providing such important services for children who would be otherwise forgotten gives her a sense of fulfillment.

Shannon's most memorable experience with MCHS was her first birthday party she attended with the agency. She says that during the party she "felt like a child again," and that "seeing the smiles on all the children's' faces just brought (her) joy and happiness."

It's not about what the individual can accomplish, it's about what the organization as a whole can change, she believes.

Georgia Cohran

As I walk into Georgia Cohran's home in Jackson, soothing jazz music plays in the background. She greets me with a hug and offers me water. Everything about her makes me feel comfortable. As we sit down in her kitchen, I notice a silver and orange chair next to the door.

"That's my favorite chair right there," she says, nodding toward it.

The 56-year-old uses it to prop against the doorknob when she sleeps at night. She has had her door broken down three times by vandals.

But Cohran does not let that bring her down. The mother of five adult children is helping to crusade for more arts programs to help children and young adults stay out of trouble.

"We have got to do something in the arts. Throughout history, the arts has always been what defines a civilization," she says. "That's what we've lost."

The Arts Classicale, which Cohran formed last year, helps children cultivate an awareness of classical art, music, dance and other art mediums. By emphasizing the arts, Cohran hopes that teens will be more likely to stay in school and out of violent situations. Since starting the program a year ago, the Arts Classicale has held programs and round table discussions at Jackson State University, St. Luke Episcopal Church and other venues.

"(The Arts) are competing with TV, we are competing with video games, we are competing with just sitting around and getting drunk or getting high or whatever. We know we have competition," she says.

Cohran came to Jackson by way of Oxford more than 20 years ago after gaining her LPN at Northwestern Mississippi Community College. Since coming to Jackson, she has gained a bachelor's degree in business from JSU and will gain her masters in elementary education in the fall from JSU.

Coming to Jackson wasn't easy for Cohran; her sister Pauline was buried just days before she left for Jackson. She was shot and killed at only 30 years old, Cohran says.

But Cohran is not negative about her life. She takes joy in the pleasures of reading magazines (a stack of magazines sits close by), swimming ("Oh, I could swim every day. I wish I had [a pool] in the backyard," she says) and vegetarianism, which she has practiced since an early age. She hopes to purchase the home next to hers to create a permanent place for the Arts Classicale. With her faith and grace, she says, Cohran will continue on as she always has.

Lindy Beard

The Muddy Waters Coffee Company in Flowood is situated amid the waiting area of River Oaks Hospital. Through its open doors, visitors can see Lindy Beard, a petite Brazilian woman, making coffee. Nurses in green scrubs and anxious waiting room dwellers come and go through the glass doors, many of them greeted with a hug.

"Hello!" she says in a thick accent, leaning back slightly for emphasis. "It's so good to see you." And you know that she means it.

Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Beard became fascinated with chemistry in high school. She went on to study at Escola Técnica Federal de Química before beginning work in gas chromatography with a petroleum company, Petro Flax, in Rio. "Chemistry is balance—nothing less, not too much. You have to be level. I guess that's why I like this so much," she says, motioning to the espresso machines that sit behind her.

Through a friend, Beard met her now-husband, Ryan, who was working for a telecommunication company there. The couple soon married and hop-scotched around the U.S. southeast before ending up in her husband's native Jackson in 2005. Just before moving to Jackson, though, the couple lived in Gulf Shores, and only escaped Hurricane Katrina's wrath by leaving one month before the storm.

"That's God," she exclaims. "He took care of us before Katrina reached because the damage was very bad."

It is fitting that Beard works in a hospital setting, because the two things she says most unhappy people lack is hope and love, both of which are sometimes scarce in such a place. "We've got to have love," she says, smiling.

Megan West

Megan West, 26, never thought she would come back to Mississippi once she moved to Washington, D.C., to attend George Washington University. After graduating with a degree in women's studies, she landed an amazing job as a producer at Hearst-Argyle Television's Washington Bureau. But the Laurel native woke up one day and wanted to be back in the Magnolia State.

"I knew I wanted to be a reporter, always kind of knew that. But, I never thought I would come back to Mississippi to do it," she says.

West moved back to Jackson in early 2006 and began doing fill-in tasks whenever she could at WAPT and became an on-camera reporter. As she began her career at the station, Jackson was getting lots of press about their novice mayor.

"A lot of stuff was going on with the mayor (Frank Melton)," West says. "At that time, he was going to tear down apartment buildings, and I remember saying to myself, 'What in the world? What am I doing? What is going on down there?"

When not in front of the camera, West spends her time working with the Hinds County Junior Miss program and the Jackson Progressives. Organizations like JP, she says, help bring a sense of diversity to the table, something she missed about Washington when she moved to Jackson.

But she says she is seeing changes in Jackson, where she rooms with WAPTmeteorologist Jennifer Cook and photographer Perna Roberson. One day, West hopes to see Jackson become a place of commerce where residents can live, shop and enjoy themselves all in the spaces of downtown.

"That will do a lot to make the city comparable to other cities that a lot of young professionals are moving to," she says.

Paola Conner

Paola Conner's huge brown eyes light up. She speaks eloquently about the risks she took that led to her current position as convention sales manager for Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The only words I knew when I came here were 'hello,' 'how much' and 'thank you,Ҕ Conner says, sitting at a downtown Cups' table in a gray pin-striped suit and shiny black heels on a sweltering hot summer afternoon. "Eight months later, I dreamed in English."

Conner, 32, graduated from high school in Lima, Peru, and studied at the English Language Institute in Hattiesburg, Miss. She graduated with an advertising and marketing degree from University of Southern Mississippi, and one week later, married her college sweetheart, Costas.

"It was a crazy time," she says, laughing. The couple soon moved to Texas, and Conner worked with Verizon Wireless.

Amid post-Sept. 11 tensions between the United States and Middle East, Costas received a job at the Dubai Seven Star Hotel.

"They needed people who would develop an established travel department," Conner says. "I had never opened anything from scratch or managed people, knowing nothing about the travel industry, but in two-and-a-half years, I developed departments throughout the region in war zones, and they were very, very solid."

The two returned to Mississippi in 2006 where Conner's family had moved from Peru. Since then, she has worked to reach out to Jackson's Latino community and kept up with her Peruvian roots by reading Spanish literature and traveling to Latin America.

As a Mississippi Develop-ment Authority consultant to minority groups who wanted to open businesses, Conner implemented the Multicultural Business Development Conference for Minority Groups last March. She says the conference was very successful, and included attendees from Texas, Alabama and Louisiana.

"One of the many keys to success for minority groups is thinking outside the box and taking risks," Conner says. "Everyone was keeping an eye on me, curious how the conference was going to turn out, and that ended up opening many doors for me at Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau. You should go after things and not ever dwell on whether others have done it in the past.

Headed to the Chick Ball this Saturday? Learn more about some of this year's Chick Ball Song Birds. Check out Caroline Crawford's guide to packing a tiny purse.

Previous Comments


I attended college with nearly all of Mrs. Dorsey's children. The reason I noticed initially her children was because of my great impression of her. A year after college, I worked a job to inform poor and unsophisticated land owners of the ways and manner they often lost title to their landholdings and how to avoid it. Since I was politically active and looking for ways to better our - blacks- conditions, I ran into Mrs. Dorsey and other great black women who were doing the same thing but better. My favorite memory of Mrs. Dorsey involved her ability to see right through Charles Evers who I admired greatly back then and who Mrs Dorsey somehow knew was often full of crap back then. I imagine they're friends at this point and likely were then, but I admired her ability to ask him the last question he ever wanted to hear. I even saw him once practically run from a podium to keep her from asking him a question. I wanted to be like her. Hopefully, I turned out alright eventually. She was the first person to make me appreciate the greatness of a good social worker.


Hi All! I would like to thank everyone at the JFP for making me a 2008 Chick WE LOVE! Blaque Butterfly loves you all too. I am honored to be apart of such a WONDERFUL group of women, not just here, but the Chick Ball, as well. This is only a snippet of the many great women living in Jackson. (((A Big Hand Clap for all the JackTOWN Chicks out there)))....I will end with this..."For every negative there is a positive and whenever you think that odds are against you, there's always someone out there who appreciates and loves you!"



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