Legacy can very simply be defined as a gift, something given freely for the benefit of someone else. While the time and sweat equity invested in their career paths is anything but free, these women are definitely leaving something for those coming behind them.
For entrepreneurs: Jewel Burks Solomon
Just looking at her Twitter bio lets you know that Jewel Burks Solomon means business. She is a partner at Collab. She is the Head of Google Startups for the US. She is the founder of Partpic, which was acquired by Amazon. She is a Howard alumna. She is a force to be reckoned with.
Through all of that, the Nashville native is creating pathways for diverse entrepreneurs and startups. Whether it is during her day job or in her free time, Solomon is pouring into entrepreneurs. Her work at Collab provides Black founders with financial and social resources as well as technical and operational guidance. Leading Google for Startups, she is leveling the playing field for underrepresented startups. Beyond this, Solomon spends time mentoring female entrepreneurs and startup founders and angel investing.
It is important to note that, in her newest role as the Head of Google Startups for the US, Solomon is not only the first Black woman, but the first person in this position, which uniquely positions her to shape the future of operating practices globally. She defined success in this space as “bringing resources to diverse founders — veterans, Black, and LatinX entrepreneurs — far beyond Silicon Valley, so that startups everywhere have the same opportunity to succeed.” Not only is she showing what is possible for a startup, but she is actively involved in making it possible for others as well.
For travelers: J’Aimeka “Jai” Ferrell
If you have done any air travel recently, you have seen Jai Ferrell’s handy work. Over her tenure at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Ferrell has led a global marketing strategy and been responsible for the award-winning food, beverage and retail program, which generates over one billion dollars annually in revenue. As the airport’s newly named Interim Assistant General Manager for Commercial Development, she is now responsible for just about everything except the airlines: concessions, parking, advertising, external real estate development, air service development, and innovation.
Experiencing the airport is about more than getting to your gate for an on-time departure. Ferrell has curated events highlighting the concessionaires and retail shops travelers can find in Hartsfield-Jackson and worked to elevate the travel experience in and through Atlanta. Outside of her work at the airport, Ferrell is even more connected to Atlanta. In her own words, “Atlanta is family. Atlanta is love. Atlanta is home.” She further lives that as an advocate for the English Avenue neighborhood and a mentor for the next generation of leaders.
Ferrell is clear on the idea of leaving a legacy. She has spoken about the inspiration that she draws from her grandmother, who attended Booker T. Washington High School when it was the only school for people of color, and the motivation she draws from her goddaughter, for whom she works to create access and opportunities. These are the things that push her to remind and encourage those around her “to do the work. Oftentimes awards and acknowledgements…can be used selfishly but in reality, they are opportunities to elevate the work and impact you have in your community and for the causes you serve — do the work.”
For families in Atlanta: Dr. Janelle Williams
At the intersection of policy and practicality, you will find the work of Dr. Janelle Williams. For almost 15 years, Dr. Williams has supported research and implemented programs that have illuminated and challenged inequalities in education, health, workforce development, and immigration. In the last decade, she has focused more on promoting policies that opposed obstacles to lower income families building intergenerational wealth.
Last year, Dr. Williams was the lead author on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s, Changing the Odds: The Race for Results in Atlanta. This report exposed Atlanta as the country’s leader in income inequality, but also made clear recommendations on how to make more progress toward a more equitable experience, particularly for Atlantans of color.
Now, Dr. Williams is a Senior Advisor in the Center for Community and Economic Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Here, she will continue to build the bridge between research and the real world, bringing together leaders from each sector who are necessary to create real change and ensure economic opportunities for the working families of Atlanta.
For women in tech: Dr. Nashlie Sephus
If you have ever wanted to be able to identify something by taking a picture, you want to thank Dr. Nashlie Sephus for creating the technology to make that happen. Dr. Sephus was the Chief Technology Officer for Partpic, which developed an app that visually searched and identified replacement parts. Now, Dr. Sephus and that technology are part of Amazon, making her the first Black CTO of a company acquired by Amazon, and she serves as a Software/Applied Science Manager.
In that role, the electrical and computer engineer from Jackson, Mississippi has also emerged as an innovator in addressing bias in artificial intelligence and technology. At Amazon, her team is working on an initiative that evaluates fairness and estimates biases in facial recognition and AI. She also regularly speaks on increasing diversity in tech spaces, because “if we’re not getting these advanced degrees, especially underrepresented groups, then we’re often being left out of the product design.”
For Dr. Sephus, this is about more than just words. Outside of her work at Amazon, Dr. Sephus is also the Founder and CEO of The Bean Path, a nonprofit organization in her hometown that provides technical support across all fields, empowering people through technology to ensure that no one is left behind.
For all of us:
Within the last year, and mostly in the last couple weeks, all of these women have assumed new roles that solidify their positions as leaders and trailblazers in their respective fields. These women are paving the way and making change for those who are coming behind them with influence that spreads beyond their individual industries. They are changing the way we think and operate in these spaces in Atlanta, across the country, and around the world. They are history makers. They are gift givers. They are legacy leavers.