AMBER MICOLE KOONCE
At age 24, Amber Micole Koonce has taken by storm the world of activism.
The daughter of Donnie and Masherill Koonce, Koonce graduated from Providence High School in Charlotte in 2008, and went on to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where her passion for giving a voice to underrepresented groups led her to pursue a B.A in public policy, African and Afro-American studies, and entrepreneurship.
“From a very early age I’ve run into situations where I felt treated unfairly because of my race, I’ve been able to take my hurt and to turn it into something positive,” said Koonce.
While at UNC, Amber worked with incarcerated and at-risk youth across the world, conducting research everywhere from London to Ghana.
“Not enough attention is being put on youth who are already slipping through the cracks,” she explained.
While mentoring incarcerated girls in Ghana during the summer of 2009, Koonce noticed that many of them were carrying dolls that did not resemble their dark skin and kinky hair – features which she admired in the girls.
“One [woman] told me that she aspired to marry a white man so her kids wouldn’t look like her,” Koonce recalled.
It was then that Koonce understood why women in Ghana were discontent with their bodies so she started BeautyGap, which promotes a standard of beauty unique to women of color by collecting and shipping dolls of color to children of color around the world.
Currently the nonprofit entity delivers dolls of color to orphanages in Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, and the Philippines. Koonce’s efforts through BeautyGap earned her recognition by Glamour magazine as “the social entrepreneur” in a list of the top 10 college women of 2011.
After returning from Ghana, Koonce became co-chair of the Campus Y’s criminal justice awareness and action committee, which seeks to enhance student awareness of issues in the criminal justice system through volunteer projects and activist efforts. Through this organization, she mentored incarcerated juveniles to ease their transition from detention centers to school systems.
The following summer, Koonce analyzed the implementation and effectiveness of juvenile rehabilitation programs in the Scotland Prison System.
When she returned, she used her experiences to create a photography exhibit called “Behind Bars,” which displayed the troubles of incarcerated youth through images from detention facilities in Ghana, Scotland, and North Carolina.
In 2012, Amber Graduated from UNC and earned the 2012-2013 scholarships from the Henry Luce Foundation in New York City.
The scholarship funds a year of living and learning in East and Southeast Asia for resent graduates. During her tenure in Asia, Amber was stationed in the Philippines, were she conducted research on Asian Juvenile rights in hopes of extending her understanding of children’s rights and social welfare policies.
Overall, her involvements have earned her countless awards including the Girl Scout’s Young Woman of Distinction Award in 2010 and the Pearson Prize for Higher Education in 2011. In 2011, Koonce became the youngest individual appointed by the governor to serve as a board member for the North Carolina Council for Women and was named by The Root as one its 2012 Young Futurists, an annual list spotlighting the top young African-American leaders and innovators of the future.
Koonce recently returned from Haiti, where she and her mother worked to collect and deliver BeautyGap dolls to Go Haiti Orphanage. In the future, Koonce hopes to earn a law degree and master of public policy dual degree and become an international children’s rights attorney for UNICEF.
However for now, she continues to work to improve the lives of many.
By Liliane Long
JOMC 430, NCA&T
Staten Island, N.Y.
Every year, millions of immigrants come to the United States seeking educational opportunities, job opportunities, and a better quality of life.
Beatrice Davis came to the United States when she was 7 years old, at the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. She had an accent, thick and heavy, one that would crowd a room. She said it was that accent that set her apart from the rest of her counterparts.
Beatrice Bucker was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on Sept. 2, 1955 and raised in Staten Island, N.Y. after she came to the United States in 1962.
Davis currently is a lab administrator for Staten Island University Hospital, a position she has held for 10 years. She has a doctoral degree in biology.
Davis originally planned to use her degree to be a pharmacist. “I thought that was the life I wanted,” she said. “But I asked myself how much fun I would have working behind a counter counting pills all day.”
Although she is an established professional, she still maintains her sense of humor and remains down to earth.
“It keeps me young,” she said laughing.
Her daughter, Helen Davis, says that her mother is the light of their household. “She has a really giving spirit, she is very optimistic, and that’s what we love about her.”
With her personable personality and hardworking spirit, Davis decided she wanted to be more hands on with her degree and actually work with patients, which led her to a career at the job she has currently. As a professional, there are still some problems that she sees within her field of work.
“There is a communication barrier between staff and patients. When it all boils down, hospitals are businesses that thrive on caring for sick people. The medicine we give them is how we make our money. But, we as a staff, have to educate and help dispel the myth that going to the doctor is a death sentence.”
Although Davis has established a solid career, the road has not always been easy. Being an immigrant, she struggled to adjust to American culture as a child. The time at which she came to America definitely put a strain on her experience.
“I came to America as Spanish speaking immigrant,” she recalls. “Everyone automatically thought I was Cuban, and everyone feared and hated the Cubans at that time. It was hard to get people to like me, and understand that I wasn’t Cuban, nor did I support the Cuban cause.”
Although Davis was an immigrant with an accent, she says it does not define her. She learned English perfectly in a two year span, and has excelled in school since she was enrolled. “I wanted to prove to everybody that I was not a lost cause,” she says. “Yes, I could only speak Spanish at the time, but I was determined to prove everyone wrong and do better than the American students. My immigrant status does not define me.”
Today, Davis works with New York City’s Office for Immigrants, a group that helps immigrants coming into that area transition into American life and obtain citizenship. She says that she connects with every immigrant, no matter their race.
By Jazmyn Archibald
JOMC 430, NCA&T
It all started in the second grade when her teacher brought her a gift she would never forget.
“I adapted a love for reading when my second grade teacher bought me a set of colorful illustrated books,” said Nikkea Smithers, an author and publisher. “Since then, I’ve always wanted to create my own story that would remain, long after I am gone.”
A native of Connecticut, Smithers graduated from Bullard Havens Regional Vocational Technical with a diploma, and a cosmetology license. She began as a shampoo girl before advancing to a stylist at Kathy’s Hair to Impress salon in Bridgeport, Conn. But it was in the second grade when Smithers found her passion for writing.
“As a youth, I wasn’t very attentive in church and my mother advised me that I needed to find a way to keep myself engaged,” Smithers said. “So I took the time to write down the sermon, which turned into me developing short stories, hymns and poetry. To this day, I believe starting that way is what helped me infuse messages into my work.”
Smithers, named an Essence Magazine best-selling author in October 2006 for her novel, “Sweet Dreams,” is a poet, publisher, and motivational speaker. Since then, she has written more than 10 books. Her first published book, “Reflections of a Woman,” is a blend of freestyle poetry that dives into women’s issues.
In her second published book and first novel, “Gold Diggin’”, Smithers focuses on the everyday struggles people face to find the “gold” within themselves. Some of her other publications include “Your Husband or Mine?” “Domestic,” “The Mystery of Amore’s Demise,” We didn’t have a lot of money so we would cut it in half I would eat one half and she would eat the other and Keith’s Story. The stories and genres in her books are limitless, and she strives to encourage her readers through her writing.
“I make it a point to drive a message in everything I write,” she said. “I live off of positive energy. I want to be known as someone who inspired people to be believers and truly think for themselves. Therefore, whether I am writing with the intent to discuss love, drama or culture; I will always strive to educate the masses and keep it positive.”
Smithers currently lives in Richmond, Va., where she established an accounting career working for large companies such as Bank of America and Wachovia, now Wells Fargo.
“I do so much personally, at times it is hard to find the time to truly get the chance to just sit down and write. I’ve had to get creative to ensure I get many task done,” Smithers explained.
When she is away from her desk, Smithers manages Dewon, an up-and-coming R&B artist in Richmond, Va.
“Nikkea is a hard working woman who wears many hats,” Dewon said. “Even though her load is heavy, she always keeps her word.”
Smithers is also the producer of a local television show “The Heart” which premiered Feb. 15, 2014. Smithers enjoys volunteering and giving back to the community. She often speaks at several high schools in Richmond, and has created a free poetry course that she teaches to promote literacy and creativity in youth.
Smithers is direct in her advice to others seeking to realize their future.
“Stay true to what you believe and make sure to do your research,” she said. “It can make or break a writer. Knowing what your objectives are and how to get there is important to achieve ultimate success!”
By Mija Gary
JOMC 430, NCA&T