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Posted by: Marion Mann on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Upstate diversity leaders were honored Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at the 12th Annual Upstate Diversity Leadership Awards Dinner presented by Denny’s Corporation. The event, hosted by the Greenville Chamber and the Riley Institute at Furman, in partnership with Upstate Chambers, recognized organizations and individuals for outstanding achievement in promoting diversity and inclusion in Upstate South Carolina.

The 2016 award selection committee received a record number of nominations, which confirms that people in the Upstate continue to care about diversity issues and want to recognize those who are role models for promoting inclusivity and equality.

The event featured keynote speaker John L. S. Simpkins, General Counsel for the United States Agency for International Development. Prior to joining USAID in July of 2015, he served for two years as the Deputy General Counsel in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“The Greenville Chamber is honored to join the Riley Institute to celebrate organizations and individuals who are intentionally cultivating diverse leadership throughout the Upstate,” said Chamber President/CEO Carlos Phillips.

The following awards were presented (more information about the award recipients below):

  • K-12 School - William “Bill” T. Wylie Valued Lives Award for School Excellence in Diversity: Oakland Elementary School
  • Outstanding High School Student Award: Roann Abdeladi
  • Outstanding College Student Award: Justus Cox
  • Outstanding Nonprofit Organization Award: Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force in Anderson, SC
  • Outstanding Business Award: The South Carolina Airports Coalition
  • Outstanding Contribution to International Diversity Award: Riverside High School
  • Calder D. Ehrmann Outstanding Individual Award: Baxter Wynn


Award Recipient Information

K-12 School:  William “Bill” T. Wylie Valued Lives Award for School Excellence in Diversity: Oakland Elementary School
Oakland Elementary School in Spartanburg County School District Two serves a rural but ever-growing and increasingly diverse population. With academics, wellness, continuous growth and collaboration serving as the four pillars of its mission, Oakland’s activities and efforts center on working to ensure all students have an equal playing field.

Through their project based learning unit entitled “Choose Kind,” students learned first-hand the impact acts of kindness had on others, particularly for those who are typically marginalized. Through reading and studying J.R. Palacio’s novel, Wonder, the entire fourth grade learned about differences and challenges people with facial deformities encounter. As a result, students raised more than $300 to donate to the Children’s Craniofacial Association. They also constructed and dedicated a “Buddy Bench” for the school playground, a safe place where students can go when they are feeling alone, left out or in need of a friend. The fourth grade students taught the purpose and use of the bench to the other grade levels to promote empathy, compassion and friendship.

Oakland’s single-gender program, strives to expose and prepare children for future success in underrepresented career fields. Third and fourth graders are invited to hear from and interact with mentors from potential careers that are less represented by a particular gender. Recently, a female civil engineer spoke to the all-girl classes and shared her path to success.

One of Oakland’s goals is to increase the interaction between the school’s self-contained disabilities class and the larger student population. Their “Art Buddies” program partners general education students with students from the self-contained class during weekly visual art activity time.

Oakland has received numerous awards for work specifically in Closing the Achievement Gap, a distinction given to elementary and middle schools in South Carolina for scores that indicate closing the achievement gap among groups of diverse students. They have been awarded a Palmetto Gold or Silver Award from the South Carolina Department of Education for the past nine consecutive years.

Outstanding High School Student Award: Roann Abdeladi
Roann Abdeladl is a sophomore at Greenville Tech Charter High School. She has made it her goal to take bold action in her community and school to bring a better understanding of Islam and other religions. She founded Youth Interfaith Greenville in July of 2015 which brings together youth from three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. With the help of a few friends, Roann organizes and hosts bi-monthly events with high school and college students to discuss religious questions, share opinions and learn from each other to create openness and understanding. The event is held at different centers of worship, from the Islamic Society of Greenville to Temple Israel and St. Mark United Methodist Church. Through this diverse exposure, students become more comfortable with other religions and the physical differences within each place of worship.

Following the Syrian refugee crisis, Roann initiated a Syrian Refugee Clothing Drive this past October. Partnering with seven different schools and organizations, she collected more than 1,000 bags of warm clothing and raised $5,000 to cover the cost of shipping the container overseas.

Roann started the Red Cross Club at her school and now serves as its chair. She’s on the Students In Action team which helped train more than 400 students in CPR, a program she helped create in response to the loss of three parents within the school due to heart related trauma.

She’s been the SC State Champion in Extemporaneous Speaking for two consecutive years and qualified to participate in the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City. She uses her skills in public speaking as a platform to advocate her beliefs about coexistence and peace. She has a 5.1 GPA on a 5.0 scale as a result of the college courses and honors classes she takes as a sophomore.

Outstanding College Student Award: Justus Cox
Justus Cox is a senior at Anderson University majoring in Elementary Education. He surprised himself with his passion for teaching, but quickly learned he belonged in the classroom. At an early age, Justus learned how valuable a positive role model and mentor can be to a young person. He and his sister were raised by a single mother until his mom married when Justus was in the second grade. His stepfather became involved with drugs and the family eventually became homeless. Given these challenging circumstances, Justus recognizes he could have easily gone down the wrong path, but the relationships he had within his church family helped him find purpose and goals in his life.

Now, Justus is an active member in the Call Me MISTER Program, which provides scholarships and training for minority men looking to enter the teaching field. From 2012-2015, he was a summer intern for Call Me MISTER where he provided mentorship to minority students interested in pursuing a career in education, studied the obstacles minority educators may face in a teaching setting and created educational programming for the group’s summer enrichment initiative. He was awarded the Roy Jones Director Award for his hard work, dedication and service during his internship.

Justus also serves as an Intern at the Anderson County Courthouse where he works closely with the County Administrator.

He helped found an organization at Anderson University called Connect and currently serves as its President. Connect celebrates and promotes diversity on Anderson’s campus through education, empowerment and love. It works closely with Habitat for Humanity to increase community service opportunities for students. Under his leadership, Connect has seen tremendous growth and support from university administration, students and community members.

Justus also serves as a tutor for Glenview Middle School and works as a referee for elementary and middle school basketball games. He is a Junior Board Member of the Bridge Builder

Foundation and continues to serve as an Advisor for the Call Me MISTER After School Programs.

Outstanding Nonprofit Organization Award: Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force in Anderson, SC

The Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force in Anderson, South Carolina began in the fall of 2014 as a proactive, grassroots initiative to address potential misconceptions including racial, ethnic and generational differences, that can lead to serious conflict in communities. Dr. Beatrice Thompson of the Westside Community Center started the movement to strengthen the fabric of Anderson through collaboration by inspiring African American pastors and the Anderson Police Department Command Staff to unite as the core of the group.

As a result, the Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force was born and now has 25 active members representing schools, churches, nonprofits and government agencies. Over 4,000 Anderson citizens have been involved in relationship development programs such as high school forums, food and clothing drives, and training simulators for members of the police.

The Task Force’s Strategic Plan goals are communication, education, building respect and increasing accountability.

One of the Task Force’s activities opened the dialogue on the community’s questions and fears about law enforcement. It also held job fairs, educational events for children and other programs to help support underserved populations. Training sessions on how to navigate the judicial system and the “What to Do When Stopped” program, helps educate youth on how to safely handle encounters with law enforcement.

From top officials to former protestors and reformed drug dealers, partners in the Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force have a voice to improve the community and affect policy.

Outstanding Business Award: The South Carolina Airports Coalition
The South Carolina Airports Coalition is made up of the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the Charleston International Airport and the Myrtle Beach International Airport. These entities have joined together to create a first in the nation program to help small, minority and women-owned businesses understand how to do business with the airports. Each location has conducted Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Fly-Ins which invited businesses from across the state to learn about required certifications, processes for each of the airports’ vendor lists and selections, resources available in each region, and to network with the buyers in each of the airports. This gives businesses the opportunity to do business not only with the local airport but with airports across the state.

Each of the four airports demonstrates commitment to diversity development through participation in a variety of programs. Three members of the team at the Myrtle Beach airport participated at a MLK event as featured speakers. The Charleston, Columbia and Greenville-Spartanburg airports have internship programs to provide exposure and career opportunities to students from high school through college ages. All 4 airports participate in public school career days, veteran and minority career fairs, and community programs.

The airports also strive to create an inclusive environment in both hiring practices and workforce inclusion through leadership training and training to ensure high potentials are developed for future positions.

The uniqueness and effectiveness of the new Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Fly-Ins program is dependent upon the inclusion and cooperation of all four of these airports. It is the hope of the Coalition that this model can be replicated in other areas nation-wide to help build a more inclusive economy.

Outstanding Contribution to International Diversity Award: Riverside High School
Riverside High School strives to instill compassion and a commitment to diversity in its students. The school population currently speaks more than 50 different languages and is made up of a wide range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Many times students connect with each other over shared experiences and differences.

Eight years ago, a unique club called Atlas was created by students who wanted to celebrate the different cultures present at Riverside. It has grown from 20 members to 200 members, making it the largest and most diverse club in the school. Its mission is to celebrate diversity and each year, the club raises money for an organization that promotes global awareness. Atlas works with a nonprofit organization called The Forgotten International to alleviate the world’s most extreme poverty through grassroots programs. This year, the group raised money for an orphanage in the biggest slum in Peru.

The school club also holds a variety of events throughout the year celebrating international culture including Dia de Muertos, a Mexican holiday honoring the dead, and Holi, a Hindu celebration of spring and sharing love.

The largest event is the International Food, Fashion and Dance Festival. Students come together and showcase beautiful clothing from their own closets such as Vietnamese Ao Dai, Indian saris, Pakistani shalwar kameez, German dirndls, Scottish kilts and more. Students also make food from all over the world and share family traditions. This event brings together a wide range of students, who may not have classes together, live near each other or even speak the same language.

Riverside hosted a dinner uniting five different Upstate high schools to discuss diversity and share their own personal experiences. A panel of diversity experts also shared stories. It is the school’s intention for this to be an annual dinner.

With the goal of instilling awareness and shared responsibility we all have as global citizens, Riverside hopes to open students’ hearts to embracing differences and finding common ground.

Calder D. Ehrmann Outstanding Individual Award:  Baxter Wynn
Baxter Wynn is the Minister of Pastoral Care and Community Relations at First Baptist Greenville.  Baxter is a clergyman, lecturer and writer and has been an advocate for inclusion and diversity, both personally and professionally. He has been a leader in these efforts by helping to promote understanding and reconciliation among all people.

Many of his efforts have been behind the scenes, but the effects of these efforts have very real and tangible outcomes. He has been an advocate to improve race, gender, religion and socioeconomic relations in the Upstate. He played a key role in gaining community-wide support from ministers, civic leaders, and citizens to officially recognize the Martin Luther King holiday in Greenville County.

He also wrote a powerful essay called “Two Sons of Atlanta: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lester Garfield Maddox,” which compares the life of his uncle, the racist and segregationist former Governor of Georgia, Lester Maddox, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This essay has established the basis for a lecture often given by Baxter and for his talk, “Leadership Wrecked” from TedxGreenville.

He’s served as a member of the Race-Day Task Force, a Greenville community project designed to work towards race reconciliation. He’s served on the Board of Trustees of Furman University, the boards of the Community Foundation of Greenville, Urban League of the Upstate, United Way of Greenville County, United Ministries, Greenville Forward, the YMCA, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and many others.

According to his nominator, “At his core Baxter has been a champion of diversity across the spectrum of religions, sexual orientation, political affiliation, race and status. He has demonstrated his ability to lead others in the effort to affirm the contributions of all people regardless of their apparent differences.”



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