The Right Track

Growing up in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Joey Jennings dealt with racism and poverty every day throughout his youth. Now the recent Winthrop University graduate, winner of the school’s prestigious 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is on his way to earning his Ph.D., thanks to a highly coveted Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Jennings was one of only three sociology undergraduates nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides him with a full ride at the University of Maryland-College Park. But the scholar-athlete, who holds two Winthrop records as a track star, had to clear major hurdles to get to where he is today.

“Why Do They Hate Me?”
Playing on a Little League football team introduced Jennings to the harsh reality of racism when he was only nine years old. He didn’t see himself as different from any of his teammates—until someone referred to him with a racial slur.

“I vividly remember asking my dad, ‘Why do they hate me?’” he said. “He stood up for me and put a stop to the name calling, but it did not ease my heart. I was able to grasp that the reason I was treated differently was related to my skin tone. As a result, I was not proud of my color for a long time.”

Joey Jennings set new records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault at Winthrop University and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Jennings “fully experienced rock bottom” in Jefferson City. In addition to the heavy racial tension, his family struggled with poverty, sometimes not having enough food on the table or going days without electricity. “Then, everything got more difficult when I witnessed my mother being taken to jail numerous times because of her losing battles with cocaine addiction,” he said. “We struggled, it was tough, but my family is strong. My dad raised my siblings and I to fight, and that made me the man I am today.”

“It is because I have witnessed numerous types of adversity and injustice, or a lack of proper justice, firsthand that I want to further my academic career in sociology and engage in social research with the hopes that I can uncover social injustice,” he added.

Jennings wanted to understand the questions from his past and felt that the sociology program’s criminology concentration would help him do just that; specifically, it would sate his appetite for research. He also signed on to compete in track and field at the Division I level.

Studying Police Brutality
For one of his research projects, Jennings examined police brutality over a 23-year period through a public opinion survey. The survey asked participants for responses to racial relations after the Rodney King incident (1991) and the Freddie Gray incident (2015). He then reached out to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts after reading Pitts’ series on what people can do to help and studied online newspaper comments referencing the Baltimore riots.

“The analysis showed that, during the 23-year period between the observed riots, public opinions on prejudice were related to systematic discrimination practices that led to marginalization of inner-city minority communities,” Jennings explained. “In turn, these communities find in riots an opportunity to bring public awareness to their constant criminalization, invisibility in the criminal justice system and marginalization.”

While simultaneously taking 14 credit hours, practicing track 20 hours a week and competing almost every weekend, he presented his research at the Southern Sociological Society Conference and Winthrop’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors. He also spent the summer of 2018 at the NSF research program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, researching Charlotte’s homicide hotspots with a group and presenting at UNC-C’s symposium and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.

The Best at Both
Along the way, Jennings set new records for Winthrop’s indoor and outdoor pole vault and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  “It takes a lot of dedication to my crafts,” Jennings said. “School and track are equally important to me, but early on, I learned that to be great in both I had to treat them as separate entities. When I was at class, what happened at the track, good or bad, had to be out of my mind and vice versa. I spent hours studying for class and for track. I wanted to be the best in both, so I gave all I had each day to everything. That is how I was raised.”

After graduating from Winthrop this past May, Jennings now looks to the future. “I know I want to make a difference; I want to enact change,” he said. “The Ph.D. is a start for me to work as an activist, to create change, and to shine an academic light on social issues that have been dark for some time now. I love learning, and I want to use my strengths to help marginalized people and answer the questions I faced as a youth.”

This story was adapted from an article by Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator at Winthrop University.


Ashli Watts Honored with Sullivan Award from Campbellsville University

Campbellsville University (CU) honored alumnus Ashli Watts, the senior VP of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, with the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for her longtime service to the community.

Dr. Michael V. Carter, along with Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Lee and Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the award to Watts.

Watts joined the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in November of 2012.  Before that, she worked at the Kentucky Bar Association and the Legislative Research Commission. She graduated from Campbellsville University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and history in 2004 and holds a master’s degree in public policy and administration from the University of Louisville.

“During her time at Campbellsville University, Ashli was very active in campus life, served as Student Government Association president, was an academic honors graduate, and participated in a number of student activities and organizations,” Carter said.

As a member of the board of directors of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, Watts works to raise awareness about issues related to preventing child abuse and neglect. She and her family are active members of First United Methodist Church in Frankfort, where she lives with her husband Ryan and their two children, Emma and Carter.

CU was selected in 2002 to participate in the Sullivan Awards program, which honors the memory and legacy of the late Algernon Sydney Sullivan and his wife, Mary Mildred Sullivan.

Jessica Johnson was CU’s student recipient of the Sullivan Award. Read more about her here.

Campbellsville University Honors Jessica Johnson with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

By Ian McAninch

Jessica Johnson of Clarkson, Ky. was the student recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at Campbellsville University’s commencement ceremony.

CU president Dr. Michael V. Carter, Board of Trustees Chairman Henry Lee and Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, presented the award to Johnson.

Carter highlighted Johnson’s time at Campbellsville University before presenting the award.  “While at CU, Jessica has been involved in many activities,” Carter said. “She has been a member of the dean’s list and has worked as an intern in the Office of Enrollment since the spring of 2016 and served as a Presidential Ambassador since the fall of 2015.

“Jessica is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa and Alpha Lambda Delta. She has served as a natural science tutor and has been involved in numerous other activities. Just two weeks ago, Jessica was honored with numerous academic awards and was named Miss Campbellsville for 2018-2019.”

“Through her work in the Office of Enrollment the past three years, she has exemplified and surpassed the expectation of a Campbellsville graduate. She has been a very active member of the Student Government Association (SGA) for the last three years by serving as SGA secretary.

“She has served as secretary of the Pre-professional Health Society and is a founding member, where she has played a vital part to help students in the pre-professional program come together in their search for graduate and professional schools.”

“During her spare time, she has served as a seasonal optometric technician where she has gained valuable experience that she can take with her to graduate school. Jessica has been accepted to the Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville and will begin there later this summer.”

Carter said, “It has been quoted that, ‘Jess has been an integral part of the dual credit team and a joy to work alongside. Her maturity and work ethic showed daily but what I love most about her is how she displays Christian servant leadership not only with her colleagues in the Office of Enrollment but also throughout the many activities she is involved in. I look forward to see what the future holds for her and those lives she will change along the way.  She is a great friend!’”

Johnson is the daughter of Patricia Johnson of Clarkson, Ky., and David Johnson of Leitchfield, Ky.

“We are very honored this morning to present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards for the 11th consecutive year,” Carter noted. “Campbellsville University was selected in 2002 to participate in this very prestigious awards program that honors the memory and legacy of the late Algernon Sydney Sullivan.”

“Mr. Sullivan was a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, a powerful and appealing orator, a courageous citizen during perilous times, a noted philanthropist, and a devoted family man.  In the words of a friend, Sullivan ‘reached out both hands in constant helpfulness to others.’”

This story was edited slightly from the original version on the Campbellsville University website.

Alice Lloyd College Recognizes Two Outstanding Servant Leaders With Sullivan Awards

Sullivan Foundation partner school Alice Lloyd College recently recognized Kennedi Alexis Damron and John Mark Driskill with prestigious Sullivan Awards for outstanding servant leadership.

Damron, a former ALC cheerleader and tennis player, received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award. She teaches at Emmalena Elementary School in Knott County, Kentucky, and has previously won the Alice Lloyd College Scholar Athlete Award and the Alice Lloyd College Leadership Award. Her volunteer activities run the gamut from collecting and distributing food baskets for needy families to delivering gifts and organizing a Veterans Day program at the East Kentucky Veterans Center. Damron has volunteered with the KY River Animal Shelter and Operation Christmas Child and helped distribute Christmas items to more than 500 needy area children in 2014.

Kennedi Alexis Damron

As part of her Read Across America service, Damron partnered with the Kentucky Educational Association to reach out to community schools and celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with classroom reading and activities. She also worked with the Appalachian Regional Hospital during Heart Month, providing free screenings and raising heart health awareness through informational lunches with physician speakers. For Emmalena Elementary Kindness Week in November 2016, she planned activities to promote kindness at her school, including creating a kindness wall and a giving tree.

An ALC statement describes Damron as “a highly organized young lady” with “strong community ties that make her a great teacher.”

“From the abovementioned activities, one can easily recognize that Kennedi is a person of outstanding character, is passionate about making a difference in the lives of others, and impacts her community in a positive way on many levels,” according to ALC. “Her Christian walk and service to others is a high priority in her life and is evident to all who know her. She was a wonderful student ambassador for Alice Lloyd College and a great role model for others.  Kennedi is a very intelligent person and demonstrates a strong work ethic.”

John Mark Driskill

Driskill, recipient of this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is “an exceptional young man who will certainly leave his mark on the world,” the school stated. A member of the ALC Cross Country team and Acoustic Ensemble,  Driskill won the Alice Lloyd College Scholar-Athlete Award and the Campus Spirit Award in 2017 along with many other accolades.

He was hired by ALC as a supervisor over student activities for the goal of improving retention, the school said. He has been active with the Campus Ministries Leadership Team, served as a small-group Bible study leader, interned with the Rural Church Development Alliance and served as a Bethel Mennonite camp counselor.

“John possesses strong leadership traits and high energy while leading,” the school said. “He strives to glorify God in all he does … John enjoys sharing his faith and giving back to his community. He has a strong positive outlook on life.”