By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — They are students, entrepreneurs, educators, political power brokers, civil rights activists and little bit of everything in between. That’s who makes our Class of 2024 30 Under 40 Top Young African American Leaders of South Jersey.
Our honorees covers all eight counties that we cover in South Jersey. FRNJ annually tries to make this list and wide ranging and comprehensive as possible because young people are our future — and they are already doing great things to make us proud.
They hare shaping our neighborhoods, communities, regions and even the state and nation. While we know this is a snapshot of the work they are doing in South Jersey, but their impact will be felt for years … decades to come.
Introducing the CLASS of 2024, 30 Under 40 Top Young African American Leaders of South Jersey.
EDITOR’S NOTE: FRNJ Correspondent Daniel Winner did all the heavy lifting as editor and formatting this column. A special thanks to him to allowing me to get this out by deadline. Thank you!
Yahanne Abdullah, Atlantic City
Abdullah is a licensed real estate agent, entrepreneur, and military veteran. With a track record of selling millions of dollars worth of properties, Abdullah’s expertise is highly sought after in the South Jersey real estate market where she partnered with eXp Realty, one of the world’s fastest-growing real estate brokerages. As a business owner with a bachelor’s degree in finance from Stockton University and a master’s in business administration from NJIT, Abdullah combines an unwavering attention to detail, dedication to customer satisfaction, and an unmatched level of professionalism. Her diverse background includes over a decade in community and commercial banking and the US Air Force. As a dedicated 11-year military veteran who currently serves as a First Sergeant in the NJ Air National Guard, Abdullah’s commitment extends beyond her real estate business. When she isn’t providing exceptional service to her clientele, you’ll find her fostering relationships with industry-leading brokers, mentoring others, or dedicating her time as a volunteer for non-profit organizations.
Kassandra Alvarado, Camden
Alvarado is the owner of Sophie’s Lounge. She was raised with the help of her sisters when her mother died at the age of 12. Growing up in public housing, she developed a determination to get the most out of life. Alvarado graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in sociology and a master’s in administrative science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She helped mold young people as an educator at LEAP Academy University Charter School for 10 years. She became an entrepreneur in a leap of faith, knowing she would have to grind to be successful. She has been in business for a year. Owning her motto, “Failure is not an option,” she created a new atmosphere for people to come in to drink, eat, laugh and have a good time.
Jamil Benjamin, Bridgeton
Entrepreneurship is not only a passion for Benjamin but a family calling. After the Bridgeton native returned home from running track collegiately, he started his first business, a food company called Drun’ken Crab. He went on to help start other family businesses, including Benjamin Logistics LLC, and Bettie’s Way Express LLC. The nonprofit. The nonprofit Bettie’s Way Foundation, where his mother Sonya Rogers Benjamin and aunt Charlotte Benjamin, is a community and youth-oriented group and embraces the needs of families in the area. Benjamin recently started the Blazing Glory youth program, which introduces young men and women to starting successful businesses, real estate ownership, and purchasing their own properties, along with trading full-time on the New York Stock Exchange. Benjamin said his youth program, which will also have a track and field component to it, will also teach youth how to be grant writers and setting up an LLC.
Officer Michael Braxton, Atlantic City
No one can question the drive and determination of Atlantic City Police Officer Michael Braxton. After losing part of a leg in a motorcycle accident in 2013, he was determined to continue his career as a police officer, returning to the force the following year. Many thought his next goal was becoming a K-9 officer, with all the training involved, but in 2022, he made history by completing all the necessary physical training and becoming New Jersey’s first amputee K-9 officer. He also recently completed a personal goal of running and completed his first 5K race as an amputee last year. He also competed in para-athletic events. Braxton says one of his goals now is to inspire and encourage everyone to overcome all obstacles before them. He told AmpLife.co, “Life is going to test you, sometimes you aren’t prepared for it. I challenge you to dig deep, stay positive and focused. Let your resilience shine and motivate others.”
Giana Campbell, Camden
As executive director of Camden Education Fund, Campbell is focused on working across a variety of stakeholders to chart a common vision for educational equity and ensure that Camden is home to a vibrant public school system that prepares every student for success after high school. CEF works with families, school partners, and community leaders to identify citywide needs in education. CEF then provides grants and develops strategic partnerships to address these citywide needs. During her nearly 10-year tenure in Camden, she has been a tireless advocate, working to improve educational outcomes for students across the city. Campbell received a B.A. in English and Political Science and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Virginia. She is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.
Donald Anthony Carter, Jr., Vineland
Carter is a civic-minded individual who has dedicated his life to public service, specifically in the world of politics. Born and raised in Vineland, he is a proud graduate of Vineland High School’s Class of 2015. He went on to earn an associate’s in liberal arts from Cumberland County College, now Rowan College of South Jersey, a bachelor’s in political science and Government from American University, and a master’s in public administration with a concentration in city management from Villanova University. Carter has had the opportunity to work with various government officials throughout his career. He started on the mayor of Vineland’s Arts and Youth Advisory Council, and later served as a Youth Advisory Council Member and interned for former U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation with the office of U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks. Currently, he serves as the Chief of Staff to Assembly Deputy Minority Leader Antwan McClellan and Assemblyman Erik Simonsen. In addition to his professional achievements, Carter has also been recognized for his contributions to his community. He has received the Grapevine’s Hometown Hero Award and is an Eagle Scout. He has also served on various committees, boards, and commissions, including his current service on the Cumberland County Campus Education Foundation.
Tiara Clyde, Evesham Township
Clyde is currently an honors student studying computer science and finance at Rutgers University- New Brunswick. She is a 2023 graduate of Camden County College and serves on the board as the alumna trustee. Clyde is a part of Little Investment Bankers of Rutgers, the NAACP at Rutgers and the Southern Burlington County branch, Polish club, and the Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists. During her time at Camden County College, Clyde served as Student Body President, founded the African American Culture Club, and organized the Women’s History Luncheon. She was also the student representative for the Camden County Food Service RFP, mentor for the 21st Century STEM Program, and was the former vice president of Phi Theta Kappa. She was also an NJCAA Tennis Region XIX 3rd Doubles Champion as a CCC Women’s Tennis team member. In February 2023 and 2024 Tiara represented CCC on Capitol Hill in Washington to advocate for community college students. She also served as a youth advisor for the Diversity Equal Opportunity Network (DEON).
Octavius Crowley, Vineland
Crowley completed his studies at Cumberland County College, now Rowan College South Jersey, and obtained his bachelor’s at Stockton University with a degree in network management and computer science. Crowley has been involved in various mentorship programs, including RISE at The SOAR Church, Sound off at the Gloucester County Boys & Girls Club, LEAP Academy Chart University School in Camden, and The Hang Out at Glassboro Intermediate School. For the past decade, Crowley has been employed in the New Jersey school system, currently serving as an instructional technology specialist at Leap Academy Charter School. He was part of the administrative team for their Early College program, assisting over 100 seniors. Crowley also thrives as a music producer. Throughout his career, he has had the privilege of being in the room with music icons like Pete Rock, Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Lopez, among others. Crowley’s musical achievements include topping the Billboard charts and garnering Grammy considerations.
Constance “Mandy” Days-Chapman, Atlantic City
Chapman’s accomplishments and positions defy her young age, as the principal of one of the largest high schools in South Jersey in Atlantic City High School and playing a major role in the Atlantic County Democratic Committee. As principal, Days-Chapman says she loves the opportunity she gets to shape and influence young people in a positive way. The daughter of Rev. Collins Days, of the influential Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City, Days-Chapman learned firsthand how powerful positive influence can change a person’s life. She serves as an executive member of the Atlantic City Chapter of the NAACP, channeling her energy into advocating for justice and equity. A proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Days-Chapman is the chair of the Atlantic City Democratic Committee and ran Atlantic City’s Mayor re-election campaign earlier for Marty Small, Sr. As an adjunct professor at Stockton University, she invests in shaping the minds of future leaders, adding an academic dimension to her impactful endeavors.
Dillon Dukes, Swedesboro
The youngest person among the 30 Under 40 honorees, Dukes represented New Jersey at the prestigious American Legion Boys Nation this past summer in Washington, D.C. after being selected for the honor at New Jersey Boys State. Dukes, who has accepted early admission into Harvard University, is a senior at Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich, where he serves as president of the student body. Dillon has gained an interest in the potential impact that can be made through leadership, government, and business to make a favorable contribution to society. He is also president of the NJASC organization where he advocated for students state-wide and ran the longest-running leadership training conference in the nation. Dillon, the son of Pastors Damon and Shanna Dukes at RockLife Church in Swedesboro, also had the opportunity to serve as vice president of New Jersey DECA to benefit the next generation of 11,000 business leaders. At Boys Nation, where he was selected out of 17,000 students nationwide, Dukes met with Congressional leaders from across the country to form favorable public policy and combat pressing issues facing the country.
Dr. George Farmer, Camden
Farmer, the co-principal at Camden’s Promise Charter School, is a passionate administrator dedicated to growing teachers, developing students, and empowering parents. He is the author of the blog FarmerandtheBell, which provides solutions to current challenges in education. With more than a decade in education, his experience ranges from elementary through high school. Farmer earned his doctorate in educational leadership and management from Capella University in 2020. His research focused on alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, to eliminate exclusionary practices in underserved schools and communities. His passion continues to drive him to advocate for students while developing strong pedagogical educators.
Shonoyalee Griffin, Manchester Township
A student at Ocean County College studying biochemistry, Griffin serves as vice president of the Organization for Black Unity (OBU). Her goal is to become a science teacher and influence young people to look at STEM fields. Griffin was born and raised in New Savannah, New Market, Jamaica. Her parents Leticia Forbes and Orberth Griffin got her involved in pageants, from drama club to band club. Griffin said she wants to create a secure environment with structure so her students can feel and be vulnerable with themselves. Her goals have been fueled by her encouraging mother with her determination to work two jobs in order to bring her family to the United States. She told her daughter that nothing in life comes easy; you have to work hard for what you want.
Jaden Johnson, Bridgeton
This future doctor is currently attending medical school at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University after graduating with her bachelor’s last spring. She is an alumnus of the Rowan Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment program (PULSE). She was one among 112 selected from a field of more than 4,500 applicants across the country to participate in the program. She is the daughter of Danna and Terrance Johnson, who was named New Jersey Assistant Principal of the Year in 2019 by the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association. Johnson said she has a passion for community service and chose to study in Camden because of its student-run health clinic for uninsured patients. “I want to make an impact wherever I live,” she told Rowan Today last April. “I want to be able to see the injustices and disparities that I’ve felt and seen — and work to fix them … I just want to make things better.”
Jaden, your family loves you so much and we are equally proud of you. Your motivation and drive continues to inspire all of us. Your accomplishments don’t even compare to the truly great person you are. Stay committed to your faith, your goals, and your family. Love, mom, dad, Pop, Dane, Cree
Adama Jones, Willingboro
Jones graduated this winter with her associate’s degree in fashion design with a 4.0 GPA and was selected as one of three student speakers for Rowan College at Burlington County’s first Winter Commencement. That’s impressive for a person who dropped out of high school before her senior year and worked hard to get back on track to become a standout student. She is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business administration. Someone who has been motivated by fashion since 8, she earned her GED to pursue her dream. She said she wants her future bands to be successful regarding numbers, but she also wants to “inspire the masses, specifically the creative soul in each one of us.” She said she wants to inspire anyone — man or woman, adult or child, Black or white — to live out their dreams. She said she wants everyone to truly live a fulfilling life.
Myeesha A. Jones, Woodbury
Currently the assistant principal for West Oak Lane Charter School in Philadelphia, Jones’s roots run deep in South Jersey. The educator earned her bachelor’s degree from Rowan University and co-founded Glassboro’s annual Juneteenth celebration and festival in 2020, which has grown to become one of the most recognized Juneteenth events in South Jersey. The idea was inspired by a Facebook post crafted by Myeesha to encourage the celebration of Black history and cultural pride among Black South Jerseyans. As a result of that, Juneteenth celebrations can now be found throughout South Jersey. Jones is a mother, an educator, a social entrepreneur, and an advocate for Black people, including children. She graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in Law and Justice, and Drexel University with her master’s in education administration. She is currently a Doctor of Education degree student at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Jamal Long, Salem
Long is the City of Salem’s newest city council member, winning the East Ward seat during November’s general election. Long served in the United States Army for six years as an Infantryman stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. and Fort Drum, N.Y. While in the Army, he earned an Expert Infantry Badge, Air Assault Wings, and several Army Achievement Medals before desiring to further his education. Long attended Bowie State University, earning a bachelor’s in communication with a concentration in strategic public relations. A graduate of Salem High School, Long began working with nonprofits in 2023, serving as a member of AmeriCorps Salem City Housing Initiative as the communication and information coordinator to increase the homeownership rate in the City of Salem. He also works with Revive South Jersey as a social and emotional learning facilitator and a pre-military instructor in partnership with the William E. Taylor Division Navy Sea Cadet Corps. As an early-stage entrepreneur, Long’s focus is the socio-economic development of residents in the City of Salem.
Boaz Matlack, Marlton
Matlack has long been at the forefront of the civil rights movement as a young activist. In 2023, he was awarded the Rowan College at Burlington County Civility Award in community activism. His leadership skills shone through as well when he took up the position of vice president for RCBC’s very first robotics club and headed his own engineering research project masterfully.
Currently enrolled at the University of Colorado Boulder, Boaz delves deeply into the intriguing world of Aeronautic Engineering. In addition to his academic pursuits, he’s expected also to join ranks with esteemed peers as a part of the National Society of Black Engineers at school while displaying distinctive leadership skills. Matlack’s personality breathes inspiration, has ceaselessly devoted his efforts to support civil rights and societal concerns in the community he holds close.
Ayinde Merrill, Camden
Merrill is entering his second year as program officer for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, an independent, nonprofit organization that funds initiatives to benefit the state’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities. A lifelong Camden resident, activist and organizer, Merrill has dedicated part of his career to increasing civic engagement within the city. He is the founder of non-profit organization Watu Moja, which is dedicated to connecting young African American and Afro-Latino adults to the global Afrikan community through arts and service. Merrill holds a bachelor’s degree in Afrikana Studies from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as a teacher at Rutgers Future Scholars facilitating courses on “artivism,” identity, and visual storytelling. As program officer, Merrill is responsible for developing a strong pipeline of prospective grantees and supporting current and former grantees of the Consortium.
Ayinde, it was an honor to have you on the list and thank you for all the support you have given Front Runner New Jersey over the past year. — Clyde Hughes
Autumn Miller, Sicklerville
Miller’s business Cakes A Bake is an outgrowth of a hobby with a purpose. After losing a child due to a placental abruption caused by high blood pressure, she became a passionate volunteer for organizations dedicated to supporting preeclamptic mothers. Her lactation cookie was the first product for sale with Cakes A Bake. She makes everything from custom cheesecakes to cookies to cakes, cupcakes, and brownies. Miller works comfortably in her role as a marketing project management professional, social media consultant and entrepreneur. Miller graduated from Camden County College with an associate’s in communication studies, Rowan University with a bachelor’s in advertising, and Drexel University with a master’s in project management. She’s successfully supported various organizations, including Spirit Halloween, Babies R Us and Comcast with her expertise in vendor management, print production, marketing assets and campaign management.
Jasmyn Montgomery, Florence
Montgomery is currently in her second year at Rutgers Law School in Camden, where she serves as the President of the Black Law Students Association. At Rutgers Law School, she was chosen as a Social Justice Scholar, a title granted to a small group of students who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to public service and are most likely to dedicate their legal careers to working on social justice causes on behalf of underserved communities. She graduated from Delaware State University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. Montgomery’s passion for social justice and advocacy began as a young girl when her parents instilled in her and her brother how important it was to help others, starting with those in our own community. She frequently volunteers in Trenton and Camden as a tutor, and serves as a volunteer at soup kitchens and centers for domestic violence survivors. She is a member of Macedonia Baptist Church in Trenton.
“Congratulations to Jasmyn Montgomery on being named to the distinguished group of African American leader as a 30 Under 40 honoree. You will be an incredible asset to the legal community.” — Hon. Jason D. Witcher. (Ret.)
Michael Nash, Glassboro
Nash is the CEO of the Men of Color Alliance (MOCA) at Rowan University, which creates a safe place for minority men and unites them under the common objective of changing the negative stereotypes that society places upon them. Nash brings vision to reality through servant leadership and a direction that helps curate a community-driven initiative that is conducive to growth at multiple levels. Fueled by values exemplified by his late cousin Yahfir Pettiway-Nash, Nash has gone on with MOCA to create an environment of prosperity and family, all while uplifting the standard for Men of Color throughout the Tri-State Area, with intentions of reaching every corner of the United States. Nash helped develop a culture of resilience and became the pipeline for communication between student leaders and university administration. He was involved in multiple protests, grassroots organizing and community forums, which helped implement institutional change. He has been honored with numerous awards, including the 2022 NJBIA Rising Star Award, the 2022 South Jersey Magazine Men of the Year Feature, 2022 Paul A. Hilton Distinguished Undergraduate Award, and the Rowan University Student Trailblazer Award Recipient, and has also received University Honors for his academic writing.
Marvin Pierce, Jr., Fairfield Township
Pierce, one of the youngest mayors in South Jersey, is serving his second term in the position after serving six years as deputy mayor. On top of that, Peirce has served as fire chief of the Gouldstown Volunteer Fire Department for the past nine years, serving there for 20 years altogether. He is employed full-time at Atlantic City Electric, where he has served 16 years as a buried distribution work leader. To add to his accomplishments, Pierce is also the business owner of a local driveway maintenance company, He is a loving husband and proud father of two beautiful daughters. He has devoted years of his life to serving and building his community.
Chantelle Reid, Whitesboro
Reid is a Hampton University graduate and owner of Baby Noir, LLC, her own clothing line for babies and toddlers. She runs her business while also thriving as the finance manager for Enterprise Holdings. She has been passionate about diversity and inclusion during her corporate world work, serving as the leader and point person of team MEDLEY (Multicultural Enterprise Diversity Leaders Education You). In this position, she educated others about Juneteenth, the unsung heroes of Black history, and the importance of Black women in the workspace while highlighting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of African American people. She has volunteered and donated to the NAACP of Cape May County, the Neighborhood Center in Camden, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and Urban Promise of Wilmington, Del. She plans to step further into mentorship, continuing her family legacy, and expanding her philanthropic efforts. She is a native of Cape May and was raised in historic Whitesboro.
Jared Rollins, Logan Township
Rollins is the administrative assistant to Logan Township Mayor Frank Minor. A graduate of Kingsway Regional High School, Rollins attended Duke University before returning to South Jersey in 2013. Recognizing the influence community leaders and mentors had on him as a child, Rollins is dedicated to being that influence for future generations. Rollins coaches middle school boys and girls basketball in Logan Township, teaching his players how combining their hard work with team principles will lead to success on and off the court. Rollins participates in the annual Logan Township Elementary/Middle School African American Read-In and has served as a mentor to both middle and high school students. In his role as administrative assistant to Mayor Minor, Rollins works to implement Mayor and Council’s community initiatives such as the Logan Township Food Assistance Program, which serves over 100 families monthly. Rollins also serves on the Gloucester County Municipal Economic Development Council.
“Congratulations Jared on being named to FRNJ’s 30 Under 40 Top Young African American Leaders of SJ. Your passion and drive continues to shine through here in Logan Township and everyone who meets you. Very well deserved.” — Frank Minor, Mayor, Logan Township.
Lelah Tekhna, Camden
Tekhna is a senior at Rutgers University-Camden where she became the inaugural president of the Rutgers-Camden student NAACP. She has a double-majoring in Global Studies and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation plans on attending law school in order to advocate for underrepresented groups within the education system. Tekhna is a Bonner Civic Scholar, president of the Pi Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and inaugural. She is passionate about fashion, bilingual education, social justice, and community service, completing 300 service hours last school year and is committed to contributing even more to her campus and community in 2024 and beyond.
Latasha Waters, Glassboro
One of the cofounders of the Glassboro Juneteenth Festival, Waters is the co-owner of The Queen’s Storehouse and founder of The Queen’s Initiative. She is the director of social services at Autumn Lake Healthcare, and nurtures the beauty of family, culture, and community. Earning her degrees in human services and social work at Rutgers University, Waters has set her sights on community engagement and cultural representation projects in urban communities. Along with her husband, Tyrone Waters, Latasha works towards driving the mission of their non-profit (The Queen’s Initiative) to help enrich families. They also conduct cultural hands-on workshops to shed light on the history of African culture. As an aspiring LNHA, Latasha maximizes her role as director of social services, where she supports the geriatric community and their families. She volunteers her time in various areas, with her focus primarily on being a board member of the NCBW of South Jersey. She is fully committed to her cause and is always prepared to conquer new heights.
Keyann’a Watkins, Camden
A recent graduate of Rutgers University-Camden, Watkins currently serves as the volunteer coordinator in Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen’s Office. The Camden native is responsible for managing the city’s outreach efforts to volunteers, community agencies and corporate sponsors. Her work is vital to the success of the city’s programs and events, and she has proven herself to be a skilled and dedicated professional as evidenced by the fact that the city has never had higher volunteer attendance than it has under her leadership. Watkins, who started pursuing her master’s degree in January, has long had a passion and desire to give back to the community she grew up in. A student-athlete at Paul VI High School, she earned her degree in marketing with a minor in human resources at Rutgers-Camden while serving as vice president of the Student Governing Association.
Khaaron Watkins, Whitesboro
Watkins is an entrepreneur, founder and CEO of KW Dreams Properties LLC. What started as a small vision in January 2021, his business quickly grew within the last two years after the renovation of his first property. KW Dreams has acquired 12 rental properties and Watkins is looking to expand the business even further. A former federal government employee, he expanded his business in the nonprofit world. Being a man who is truly interesting in helping in the community, Watkins has created the nonprofit People of Purpose. He continues to show love to those who may need a little extra and encourages them that it is never too late to start, so long as they have a vision.
Alexxus Young, Galloway
Young serves the City of Atlantic City under the Mayor Small administration as the assistant public information officer. Young is a proud wife and mother of three small children, who has always had a passion for public service and advocacy. In addition to her professional career, Young also volunteers her services in several leadership roles. She serves on the Transformative Leadership Advisory Board for Seton Hall University and the Young Alumni Advisory Board for Stockton University. She holds both a bachelor’s in communications and master’s public administration degree. She is currently enrolled at the American University College of Law.
Class of 2023
Jenn Brown Bolling
Kamirah Hamlett Brown
Zikea Wise Hughes
Jazmin Graves Jones
Allen Mitchell, III
Class of 2022
Leon Boone III
Nate Evans Jr.
Ashley Nicole Logan
Janae Graves Padilla
Jason Charles Richardson IV, Charles Jay
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