Black alumni discuss challenges, opportunities on road to success

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SUMMARY: A panel discussion with Black JMU alumni highlights the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion, both in higher education and in the workplace.

By Grace Mathias, editorial assistant 

In recognition of Black History Month, notable James Madison University alumni Charles May (’83), Darian Parker (’01, ’03M), Melvin Petty (’84), Angela Reddix (’90) and Faye Tate (‘78) discussed their journeys to success after their time at JMU during a virtual Madison Vision Series event Feb. 24.

The conversation focused on the topics of leadership; overcoming adversity; the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion, both in higher education and in the workplace; mentorship; and how JMU prepared each of the panelists for success.

Brent Lewis, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at JMU, moderated the conversation, and sophomore Xaiver Williams led the question-and-answer portion of the event.

Reflecting on her time at JMU, Reddix said, “I felt that I belonged, even amongst a large group of [people] where I was a minority, I felt that I had family. I had a home immediately.”

Reddix graduated from JMU with a business degree. She is the founder, president and CEO of ARDX, a health care management consulting firm. She is also the founder of Envision Lead Grow, which works to transform areas of poverty into areas of prosperity by working with middle-school girls.

May was a scholarship athlete at JMU, graduating with a degree in communication arts. He later received his master’s degree from American Military University in organizational leadership. A retired NCIS special agent and U.S. Army reserve officer, he currently manages May Family Commercial and Residential Assets, which works to provide affordable housing for African Americans in Norfolk, Virginia. He also is an active member of the Ole School Alumni Group.

May spoke fondly about the late Challace McMillin, JMU’s head football coach from 1972-84, and others who served as mentors to him. “Those key mentorships, at that key time, by those very diverse people, along with my family, contributed greatly to anything positive that I might claim to be today,” he said.

When asked about the importance of mentorship in the workplace, Tate, vice president of diversity and inclusion at CoBank in Denver, Colorado, said a good mentor will provide critical feedback, even when it’s tough to hear. “There’s mentorship, there’s coaching, and the ultimate: sponsorship," she said. "You want someone who is going to speak your name when you are not in the room.”

The conversation also touched on challenges the nation faces when it comes to DEI.

Petty, who works to bridge the gaps in minority health care as the CEO of ERP International, said leaders must recognize the inequalities in society and that people in organizations do not always have the same opportunities.

Group members were also asked to give advice to JMU students.  

Parker, a personal trainer and the co-founder of Epic Leisure Management, a consulting and management company for luxury health and wellness amenities, advised students to develop their relationship skills because it will serve them well in all of their career endeavors. “Relationship building ... is paramount for success,” he said.

The panelists answered questions from the online audience regarding allyship, changes on the JMU campus and alumni groups. JMU President Jonathan R. Alger concluded the event by reminding the audience about the current opportunities to get involved with DEI initiatives on campus. 

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Published: Friday, February 26, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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