Alumnus of The Citadel Wins Acclaim from Oprah Winfrey for ICONI Line of Activewear

Working out at the gym makes you feel better about yourself. Doing it in gym clothes from ICONI, a new line of activewear for women, will make you feel even better because 10 percent of the black-owned social enterprise’s profits go to help provide clothing for kids in need and other good causes.

Founded by U.S. Air Force Capt. Angel Johnson, a Charleston, S.C. native and 2013 alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel, ICONI was spotlighted in O: The Oprah Magazine last month and more recently in The Post and Courier, a Charleston, S.C. newspaper. According to ICONI’s website, the impact business has thus far donated $11,000 to nonprofit organizations that provide school clothes and accessories to hundreds of in-crisis and low-income children. ICONI also supports social-justice nonprofits, food pantries and shelters for victims of domestic violence.

Related: Elon University’s student’s clothing brand combines positive message with entrepreneurship

Johnson, now stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver, founded the brand after realizing that fellow gym-goers could sometimes see through her form-fitting workout attire—and that stuff was expensive, too.

“I was tired of spending $80 to $90 on leggings, then going to the gym and discovering that they were see-through,” Johnson told O Magazine. “That’s the most embarrassing thing…and so frustrating.”

Inspired in part by an Army officer with an entrepreneurial streak, Johnson made up her mind in September 2019 to launch her own line of clothing and started researching the industry. Not one to waste time, she designed her unique high-waisted, curve-hugging and flexible leggings, which are constructed with moisture-wicking, fast-drying fabrics, in October. By January 2020, her first products went on sale.

this is a photo of a model wearing activewear by ICONI

ICONI is an acronym for I Can Overcome, Nothing’s Impossible.

In addition to the leggings, the ICONI line now includes sports bras, tops, shorts, hoodies and more, typically priced between $25 and $50. ICONI also offers gym attire specifically designed for curvy and plus-sized body types.

And when new products come in, Johnson told The Post and Courier, “I have different people test them to make sure, no matter what size they are, they won’t be see-through.”

The products have earned acclaim from Oprah Winfrey herself, who added ICONI to her list of Oprah’s Favorite Things last October, less than a year after the brand had launched. When she found out about that, Johnson told O Magazine, “I was in the parking lot at work, just freaking out in my car.”

As an African-American and African history buff, Johnson wanted to incorporate West African elements into her brand. “The base of the logo is a ‘power’ button, and the Ghanaian symbol stands for strength and versatility,” she said. “I was looking at African countries and cities on a map, and when I saw Iconi, a town on Grande Comore Island in the Indian Ocean—just off the coast of Africa—I wondered if I could create an acronym that was motivational.”

She could and did: in addition to alluding to the town itself, ICONI stands for I Can Overcome, Nothing’s Impossible, her brand’s slogan.

Johnson also makes every effort to support fellow black-owned businesses. “From my clothing to the facial products, soaps and makeup that I use, I always try to support [them],” she told O Magazine.

ICONI took off rapidly as customers discovered her activewear on social media, Johnson said. “First, it was people I knew. Then, my customer base grew through word-of-mouth, Instagram and Facebook. From the beginning, I embraced them all. I responded to every single DM, and if someone sent me a photo of themselves wearing ICONI, I took the time to comment.”

She also pays heed to customer feedback as she works out new designs. Case in point: When she posted a design for a hoodie on Instagram Stories last year, her followers came through with useful recommendations, such as adding thumb holes, expanding the size and choosing colors.

And Johnson makes sure that anyone can wear her clothing, regardless of body shape, weight or even gender. “I want the brand to be inclusive, so I’m making sure all of our products are available in larger sizes and working on a men’s line, too. Those are the goals for 2021.”

Professors at The Citadel Developing Courses to Help Students Address UN Sustainable Development Goals

By Maria Aselage, The Citadel

Poverty, inequality and climate change are some of the many challenges we face in our world today. To help find solutions to these important issues, two professors at Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel—one from the School of Business and one from the School of Engineering—are collaborating on new courses to be offered next fall.

The classes will address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG), guidelines for all countries to create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Related: Sullivan Foundation to host Social Entrepreneurship Opportunity Fair Nov. 16

The new cooperative initiative is called Bridging Undergraduate Innovation Laboratories to Design for Sustainability (BUILDS). To help fund the program, VentureWell awarded a $30,000 grant to Dr. James Bezjian, a professor of entrepreneurship, and Dr. Jeffery Plumblee, a professor of engineer leadership and program management. VentureWell’s grant program helps institutions across the country develop or sustain courses and programs that encourage STEM innovation.

Bezjian and Plumblee will use the money to collaborate on a series of project-based classes. The students will explore global challenges within the framework of the UNSDG, the professors said.

“They will work in groups to identify a challenge that they would like to address, develop viable solutions to their chosen challenge and prepare to take next steps at the culmination of the courses,” said Plumblee.

Related: Cadets from The Citadel provide food to hundreds of veterans in Charleston, S.C.

These courses will utilize The Citadel’s Innovation Lab and its Humanitarian Development Lab.

“In addition to addressing these important goals, our collaboration will teach business students more about technology development and engineering students more about innovation and business,” Bezjian said. “It’s a holistic approach to learning that will benefit Citadel students as well as assist the greater community.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on The Citadel’s website.

Cadet Leader at The Citadel Walks 24 Hours Straight to Learn Empathy With Black Americans

Cadet Colonel Richard “Ben” Snyder, the regimental commander for the class of 2020 at Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel, took a long, long walk to nowhere earlier this month—around and around on a circular track for 24 hours nonstop. The project’s stated purpose was to generate funds for the International African-American Museum in Charleston, S.C., but, for Snyder, it also served as a journey into empathy, understanding and compassion—and a chance to raise awareness of why so many black Americans and their allies are protesting in the streets today.

“I chose a track to replicate the monotonous walk felt by peaceful protestors as they search for a means to an end,” Snyder explained in a post for the GoFundMe campaign. “I wanted to do something simple, tangible, peaceful and positive for the African-American community in a city that means a lot to me.”

Related: Honors student who fed thousands and rape survivor advocate receive Sullivan Awards at The Citadel

Snyder said he decided to raise money for the International African-American Museum on the advice of a friend who “feels preserving and teaching African-American history will lead to progress.” Although he did not set a specific fundraising goal, the project raised $2,590.

Snyder, a native of Winter Park, Florida, majored in Business Administration at The Citadel and rose to the top of the school’s cadet ranks in his four-year tenure there. A commission with the U.S. Army awaits him after graduation.

this photo shows Richard "Ben" Snyder of The Citadel looking very dignified in dress blue uniform

Cadet Col. Richard “Ben” Snyder served as regimental commander for the class of 2020 at The Citadel.

In an interview published last fall on The Citadel’s website, Snyder called on his fellow cadets to live a life of servant leadership. “I wish more people lived to serve others rather than themselves, according to the servant-leader model we learn about here at The Citadel,” Snyder said. “I believe too many individuals are focused on themselves, therefore crippling parts of our society.”

After talking the talk, Snyder walked the walk of servant leadership months later with his fundraiser, which he dubbed “24 Hours for Charleston.”

“I think being alone with my thoughts, going in circles for 24 hours, will allow me to empathize with African-Americans that have walked for generations, have felt alone, and still not arrived at any final destination,” Snyder wrote prior to the day of his walk. “It is important to me because I believe this is a simple way any young man or woman can be a part of the solution—by looking for an opportunity to be there for a neighbor, a friend, or even a stranger that has been mistreated.”

Snyder said he ultimately walked a little over 56 miles in the 24-hour period without ever leaving the track. But the project was as much an exercise in empathy as a workout for his body, as he explained in a summary of the journey.

“I tried to put myself into the shoes of others and empathize with their circumstances as well as their perspectives,” he wrote. “I walked in boots, I walked in the rain, I walked barefoot through the briars and glass on the field, and I walked in my shoes. I tried to understand what it would be like to live as an oppressed African-American growing up in communities with unequipped local public schools, growing up with divided households where siblings sometimes have to raise each other while the mother works, growing up with racism in the more common moments that often go unnoticed by the rest of society, and the more extreme moments that have compelled millions to begin their own long walks for equality. I also tried to understand what it would be like to be a good police officer having to go home to his/her family each day and explain to his children why there are people burning their cars or why there are people villainizing their father/mother. I even tried to understand how a racist arrives at their point of view of the world.”

At the 4 p.m. mark of the walk, he said, “I felt nothing. There was no sense of accomplishment and no moment of validation for the miles I had walked. I would walk lap after lap, hour after hour, with my head looking down at my feet only to look up to see I was in the exact same place as I was the last time I had looked up. I imagine that is what it feels like as an African-American [who] has walked for hours and protested, only to go home in the evening feeling as though nothing has changed.”

this photo shows Richard Ben Snyder marching in formation for The Citadel's Class Ring presentation

Richard Benjamin Snyder, right, leads the way to The Citadel’s 2019 Class Ring presentation. (photo by Stanton Adams)

“No one has the right to tell a group of oppressed people how to protest—absolutely not,” Snyder continued. “But when I see a group of people come together and greet hatred with open arms, when I see African-Americans overcome every challenge life throws at them, surpass the odds, and still accomplish goals with such humility, knowing there are other people who did the same thing only working half as hard—it leaves me in awe. I don’t think there is any better depiction of what it means to be a Godly man or woman.”

Snyder ended his post on an optimistic note. “Maybe one day we will walk our final lap,” he mused. “One day we will walk as a society, turn the corner, and see a blue ribbon in the distance, a moment of validation, a sense of accomplishment—a finish line where all people are equal. But until then—we will walk. Never quit. Never compromise your character for the actions of lesser people. Never lose your joy. But, most importantly, know there will always be people that you will never know willing to walk with you and for you until their bones break—that you are never alone.”

Honors Student Who Fed Thousands and Rape Survivor Advocate Receive Sullivan Awards at The Citadel

Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel has named two recipients of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award: An honors student who has provided thousands of meals to the food-insecure and stood up for Native Americans and a professor who has advocated for survivors of rape and domestic violence.

Cadet Olivia Jones (pictured above) is an Honors Program student at The Citadel majoring in political science with a concentration in military affairs. Jones also serves as the Papa Company Commander, maintaining company morale while adhering to the highest ethical standards. Jones has demonstrated her commitment as a servant leader throughout her time at The Citadel, creating a Summer Food Service Program providing 3,700 meals to low-income families. She also has promoted quality of life initiatives for Native American families in New Mexico, providing community training for the most vulnerable in those communities.

Related: “The Beloved Community”: Alexus Cumbie’s poetry, policy and passion for changemaking

this photo shows a smiling Kristen Hefner, who won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for faculty members at The Citadel

Dr. Kristen Hefner received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for her work in the areas of victim advocacy and domestic violence education.

Dr. Kristen Hefner, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, has distinguished herself as a teacher-scholar, spearheading community outreach initiatives in the areas of victim advocacy and domestic violence education and creating rich service-learning opportunities for her students. For her service-learning project with People Against Rape, a community non-profit, Hefner and her student were awarded the Good Citizen Award by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Al Cannon and community victim advocates seek to continue Hefner’s humanitarian work, with her students having created over 200 uplifting and encouraging cards for survivors who have been impacted by violence.

In partnership with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the Citadel presents the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards annually to a student and faculty member in recognition of high thought and noble endeavor.

This story has been edited from the original version on The Citadel’s website.

Related: Ole Miss honors five changemakers with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards


The Citadel Honors Student and Professor with the Sullivan Award for “High Thought and Noble Endeavor”

A student and a professor at The Citadel received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards during the military college’s recent commencement exercise.

Dr. Sarah Imam, a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, and Matthew Lanetti were this year’s recipient of the Sullivan Awards, which includes a bronze medallion and honors individuals of “high thought and noble endeavor.”

Dr. Imam (pictured above) “embodies the richest qualities that define the Sullivan Award,” according to a statement issued by The Citadel. Examples of her service and compassion can be noted in her work at the Lowcountry Food Bank, Random Acts of Kindness, the Special Olympics Buddy Dance, a free medical clinic, and MUSC volunteer programs.

Complementing her involvement with numerous outreach missions, Dr. Imam is also responsible for the establishment of The Citadel’s globally recognized healthcare study abroad program to Lithuania. “For the spirit of love and helpfulness that she has exhibited, we are pleased to present Dr. Sarah Imam with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award,” The Citadel statement reads.

Matthew Lanetti (Photo by Louis Brems – The Citadel)

Lanetti is a student in the Honors Program, with double majors in Chemistry and French, a Star of the West Scholar, and the recipient of several academic awards. In support of all academic initiatives on campus, he served this year as the Regimental Academic Officer, where he was a liaison among the Provost’s office, faculty, and students. Through his leadership, 26 new cadet non-commissioned academic officer positions were established.

Lanetti has been involved in service to The Citadel and the Charleston community. As an Eagle Scout, he volunteered with local Boy Scott troops and served as a volunteer at The Charleston STEM Festival and in chemistry outreach activities. Upon graduation, Lanetti will enroll in the Ph.D. in Chemistry program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “In memory of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, whose kindness and love of his fellow man forever endures, The Citadel is proud to present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to Cadet Matthew Lanetti,” The Citadel stated.