ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (Feb. 23, 2024) – The Office of Alumni Relations and Engagement at Elizabeth City State University has announced the Delta cohort of Forty Under Forty emerging leaders. Honorees include educators, law enforcement, healthcare, and business professionals.

Honorees will be honored during a ceremony scheduled for Friday, April 19, 2024, on campus during the annual Viking Fest celebration. Each honoree will be allowed up to four guests each with tickets prices at $75 each. Ticket prices include the ceremony, meal, and a ticket to the annual Blue & White football game.

“We are Viking proud of each and every one of our honorees,” said Kevin Wade, interim vice chancellor of student affairs and vice chancellor for advancement. “We look forward to welcoming them back to Viking Land to celebrate their accomplishments and the bright future that lies ahead for them.”

To be nominated, honorees must have earned a degree from ECSU, be 40 or younger as of Dec. 23, 2023, aspire to uphold the principles manifested in ECSU’s core values, demonstrate a lifelong relationship with the university, continue to make a significant impact in professional, civic, personal, and/or philanthropic endeavors, and commit to raising at least $1,000 to support a special initiative to benefit ECSU students before April 10, 2024.

 This year’s honorees are:

    • Gilbert M. Avent ’17, a middle school music teacher in Emporia, Virginia, studied general music. Avent says he carried the lessons and inspirations from ECSU into his professional life, echoing the nurturing and mentorship he experienced. “I continue on my path of influencing and inspiring the next generation,” he shared.
    • Brandon Barnes ’16, founder of The Black Tech Events in Charlotte, N.C., studied political science. Passionate about innovation, diversity, and impactful leadership, Barnes has served in several roles including NBA agent, a creative director, and most recently, the founder of The Black Tech Events. “My entrepreneurial spirit came alive,” he said.
    • Delasio Bartley, Jr. 18’, currently a juvenile court counselor in Rocky Mount, N.C., studied political science and credits ECSU with transforming him into the leader he has become. Since graduating, he has been employed by the Department of Public Safety’s Department of Juvenile Justice. He says, “Making a positive impact on children’s lives is the most fulfilling aspect of my career.”
    • Kyenna Benjamin-Judkins ’15 is an educator in Rocky Mount, N.C., earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice. She has been an educator in the public and private sector for the last decade. Benjamin-Judkins also serves as the CEO of Lady KJ Boutique and first lady of Cool Spring Missionary Baptist Church.
    • Arthur Brodie ’07 a senior data management analyst, earned his bachelor’s in business administration. With more than five years of experience at Ally, he says his commitment extends beyond the professional realm. “Serving as a mentor in Ally Financial and the Thurgood Marshall Mogul in the Making program, I actively contribute to empowering HBCU graduates,” he said.
    • Mya A. Brown ’22 an admissions counselor at ECSU, earned her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in social work. She has spent time as a social worker and an educator and is currently pursuing her master’s in elementary education.
    • Cortez M. Bryant ’11 is an assistant principal in Craven County Schools who earned his bachelor’s in music, with a minor in education. His career in education began in 2012 and he has since taught music, orchestra, band, and chorus. He is heavily involved in his church and community serving as a minister, adjutant, youth leader, media coordinator and in other roles.
    • Amber Morings Cherry ’16, a legal resources manager in Raleigh, N.C., earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice. She began her career with the State Employees Credit Union in 2016 serving in various roles including financial services, then a legal specialist, and eventually a legal process manager. A legacy Viking, Cherry says she is inspired daily by the love of her family.
    • Michael R. Cobb ’14 currently serves as a quality control chemist at Aurorium, and the STEM-H Speaker Series Coordinator for TRIO programs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, both in Greensboro, N.C. Cobb came to ECSU after earning three associate degrees in three years. “My Viking voyage prepared me to confidently navigate the world as a leader,” he said.
    • Astashia Davis ’12 is currently a technical director for Aviation Logistics Center in the Information Systems Division in Elizabeth City, N.C. She began her career with Aviation Logistics Center in 2007 and has held various jobs including client services technician, database management, and operations branch chief.
    • Jessica Fields ’06 is currently an attorney and a sports agent who owns J. Fields Sports, LLC, in Durham, N.C. She earned her bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in marketing. For more than a decade, Fields has served as a court-appointed attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem, offering help clients who may otherwise be unable to afford legal counsel.
    • George M. Fulwood Jr. ’07 serves as the director of community centers with the City of Gastonia Parks and Recreation. Fulwood earned his bachelor’s in physical and health education with a concentration in aquatics and fitness. He finds his passion in fostering positive community engagement.
    • Jason A. Gaddy ’07 is an assistant vice president and portfolio servicing officer – SBA for First National Bank in Charlotte, N.C., and a broker/realtor in Indian Trail, N.C. Gaddy earned his bachelor’s in accounting and credits ECSU with changing the trajectory of his life forever. “(ECSU) instilled in me the importance of giving back and striving for excellence,” he said.
    • Danielle Graves ’05 is the founder and chief executive officer of The Aramint Group in the Greater Richmond area of Virginia. A certified life and leadership coach, corporate exit strategist, and transformation catalyst, Graves bravely left the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take the leap into entrepreneurship. She earned her bachelor’s in applied mathematics.
    • Whitney Graves ’11 is a health equity researcher and epidemiologist. Graves is currently the Phyllis Torda Health Care Quality and Equity Fellow at the National Committee for Quality Assurance. With more than a decade of experience in the academic, public and nonprofit sectors, she has maintained her passion for addressing social and health disparities through practice and research.
    • David Hill ’22 serves as the emergency management coordinator and the environmental health and safety professional at ECSU. Hill also holds an Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate from the State of North Carolina Department of Justice and has been a sworn police officer in the state of North Carolina for nearly a decade.
    • Tristian S. Holley ’08 earned a degree in communication studies. She is currently the owner of Home Helpers Elite Inc in Elizabeth City, which focuses on supporting senior citizens and caregivers. With a career spanning more than 20 years, she has held roles in television production, marketing, and writing.
    • Wayne Holloway Jr. ’08 ’10 is a music educator in the Edgecombe County Schools. He earned degrees in music composition and music education. Holloway says that his time in education has been instrumental in providing professional development opportunities for young alumni across the county.
    • Kristina A. Jiles ’12 is currently a research assistant professor in the department of population health sciences in the Center for Public Health Practice and Research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She says her work has allowed her to mentor many undergraduate and graduate students.
    • Ivan Laney ’06 earned his degree in business administration with an emphasis in management and he currently serves as division director for Workforce Institute at the United Planning Organization in Washington, D.C. Laney focuses on making a difference in underserved communities. Outside of work, he engages in philanthropic activities that include feeding the homeless drives.
    • Ryan D. Lawrence ’13 serves as the cryptographic asset instructor for The Bitcoin Academy – the education program founded by Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and Jack Dorsey. He is also the executive director of 7eventh Foundation Inc., a 501(c)(33) organization dedicated to developing education and economic ecosystems that uplift Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
    • Kenyona A. Lewis ’16 earned her bachelor’s in sociology and currently serves as an insurance services analyst for Nationwide. Lewis credits the analytical skills honed in her Viking voyage with her seamless transition to the corporate world and her success in the insurance industry. Lewis is actively involved in community projects, volunteer work, and initiatives that address social issues.
    • Jerome Mitchell ’07, currently a deep learning software engineer with Intel Corporation, earned his bachelor’s in computer science, with a minor in applied mathematics. He credits his foundation in Viking Land for his successes. Mitchell is the founding president of the ECSU chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery and established the university’s first computer science honor society.
    • Nina “Nicky” Nelson ’10 earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice and currently serves as a senior security analyst for SAIC in Washington, D.C. Nelson has worked for more than seven years in the security industry as a subject matter expert, specializing in personnel and physical security. She has held a range of positions across several federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency.
    • Tramar Pettaway ’22 earned his bachelor’s in elementary education. Pettaway entered his first film as an alumnus into the inaugural HBCU Firstlook Film Festival where he won the category of “Best Feature Film” for “Footprints of an Angel. When not making films or putting together a concert, he could be found giving back in his community in Southampton, New York.
    • Dwayne Ponton ’17 earned his bachelor’s in criminal justice and currently serves as the dean of business technologies and public service at Roanoke Chowan Community College in Ahoskie, N.C. He has also served in various capacities at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, ECSU, and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
    • Kyra Purvis ’21 is a general assignment reporter with ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama who earned her bachelor’s in mass communications. Prior to her current position, Purvis spent time at WFXL in Albany, Georgia. She says that she learned the importance of hard-hitting journalism and honed her investigative skills to be a voice for a community that didn’t have one.
    • Lyteshia H. Riddick ’13 currently serves as an academic advisor at ECSU. She earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice. She has served in several roles in Viking Land and previously worked in admissions for Strayer University, as a Pasquotank-Camden 911 dispatcher, and served as a GED instructor at Pasquotank County Correctional Institution and College of the Albemarle.
    • Sha-Teisa Sharpe ’08, a physical education teacher with Hertford County Public Schools and assistant women’s basketball coach at ECSU, earned her bachelor’s in health and physical education, with a minor in coaching. She was inspired to teach after completing a summer internship with the Children’s Defense Fund, Ella Baker’s Freedom School through Hertford County Public Schools. Sharpe is also serves as a Staff Sgt. with the North Carolina Army National Guard.
    • Dawn S. Stallings ’06, assistant principal and instructional coach at Weeksville Elementary School, earned her bachelor’s in social work. Her career in education began as an exceptional children’s assistant, eventually transitioning to the role of elementary teacher following graduate studies.
    • Shanice Stephenson ’16 is the founder and CEO of Pivotal Breakthrough Counseling Services in Raleigh, N.C. where she serves as a clinical therapist. She earned her bachelor’s in psychology and remains committed to confronting and addressing the mental health needs and transcending the stereotype of therapy.
    • Antonía Taylor ’12 earned her bachelor’s in psychology and is currently serving active duty as a sergeant in the U.S. Army as a medical logistician. While her primary job is to provide medical supplies to soldiers on the front lines, her passion for mental health and serving her community remain at the forefront. “It’s not just volunteer work for me, it’s about being a catalyst for positive transformation and making a real impact in people’s lives,” she said.
    • Janeen Tisdell ’06 earned her bachelor’s in social work and currently works as both a recruitment specialist, and a mental health clinician. She served more than 15 years as a social worker in the areas of day care, foster care, child protective services, and adoptions.
    • Curtis Vinson ’16 earned his bachelors in pharmaceutical science and currently serves as an account executive with FreshBooks and is the co-owner of Curtis and Curtis Contracting. Prior to his entrepreneurial endeavors, he worked as a senior business executive with NextUp, a sales development representative with Phressia, and a sales and service manager with First Citizens Bank.
    • Avianne Waithe ’06 earned a bachelor’s in biology and currently works as the owner and practitioner of Vitality Chiropractic Studio in North Bergen, N.J., and New York Injury Chiropractic Rehab PC.
    • Tiara Watford ’12 earned her bachelor’s in social work and currently serves as a licensed clinical social worker in North Carolina and Virginia. She is the owner and practitioner of Polished Pearls Counseling and Coaching Services PLLC and Inspired to Grow LLC. Watford strives to provide mental health services to people from all walks of life with the comfortability to address their challenges, gain tools to cope, and work toward mental healing.
    • Brian Wayne ’12 earned his bachelor’s in aviation science with a minor in military science. He currently serves as a college and career readiness instructor at College of the Albemarle and a graduate programs recruiter at ECSU. Wayne says, “In any position that I've had, my number one goal is to make a positive impact in someone's life.”
    • C’monee’ Wilkins ’14 earned her bachelor’s in political science and currently serves as principal of Clarke Elementary School in the Vance County Schools. For nearly a decade, Wilkins has worked to leave a lasting impression as a middle school English teacher, instructional coach, and an assistant principal. She remains committed to student success, instructional innovation, and community engagement.
    • Keyona Williams ’13 earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice and currently serves as a community resource coordinator for Communities in Schools in Wilmington, N.C. She has dedicated her life to serving as a positive mentor, facilitator, and community advocate.
    • Mukier Williams ’05 earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice and currently serves as a clinician and CEO of Moods Counseling and Consulting in Hampton, Virginia. Her career is dedicated to offering counseling services to families and youth in diverse settings with an approach rooted in empathy, understanding and an unwavering commitment to fostering hope and healing in her clients.


Delta Cohort Forty Under Forty Honorees


About Elizabeth City State University

Elizabeth City State University provides students with a high-quality, affordable education. A constituent member of the University of North Carolina System, ECSU develops courageous, resilient, and empowered leaders through excellent student-centered, experiential learning. ECSU offers baccalaureate, professional, and master’s degrees across a wide variety of disciplines. Come to Discover. Leave to Conquer. Visit www.ecsu.edu.