Introducing the 40 Over 40 judges
Choosing our award winners is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. We've chosen 17 wise under-40s to make those hard calls — and today we reveal them.
Today, we are announcing a distinguished group of people who have been entrusted with a sacred responsibility.
Yes, it is time — time to reveal The Charlotte Ledger 40 Over 40 wise millennial and Gen Z judges.
Every year since 2020, The Ledger has run its annual 40 Over 40 awards, which seek to honor those people in our community aged 40+ who are making Charlotte a better place. They’re businesspeople, nonprofit leaders, volunteers and others from all over the city who are improving Charlotte in many different ways.
We accept nominations from the public to identify candidates for these awards. (Those nominations remain open until Feb. 15, by the way.)
But how does The Ledger decide among so many deserving candidates?
For that, we turn to a panel of judges, who are charged with the weighty responsibility of sorting through the nominations, reading them and arriving at a decision. For the sake of impartiality, our judges are all under the age of 40. We chose them based on their wisdom and common sense — and they, too, are an impressive panel. At some point, on a day they hope never arrives, they, too will turn 40 and become eligible for enshrinement among the pantheon of 40 Over 40 award winners. They will be strong contenders.
Our 17 judges for 2021 are between the ages of 22 and 39. They are Gen Z-ers and millennials from across Charlotte doing some dynamic work.
We asked all our judges to complete this sentence: “Thank goodness I wasn’t a teenager in the 1980s because …” The overwhelming consensus was they were thankful to have escaped ’80s big bangs, mullets and Jerry curls!
Here is the full list of judges, with bios:
➡️ Dion Beary, 30, helps people make virtual events as director of business development for Jumbo. He is also a local writer and generally a “very online person.” Dion lives in the Sunset Road neighborhood and describes himself as amused, excitable and fun. When he’s not working, he enjoys playing old mid-2000 emo covers on guitar.
➡️ Dr. Temeka Brantley, 36, is a nonprofit leader and motivational speaker. Inspired by Gandhi’s words “be the change,” she is dedicated to encouraging, empowering and educating others through service, teaching and speaking. A resident of northern Charlotte, “Dr. T” enjoys running various greenways throughout the city with her husband.
➡️ Qulia Brunson, 33, is the owner of Perfect House Realty. She started her first business at age 13. Qulia lives in University City and enjoys traveling and spending time with family when she’s not helping residential house buyers and sellers. Where does she see herself when she’s over 40? Hopefully, splitting summers and winters between vacation homes in Trinidad, Brazil and Toronto.
➡️ Latesha Byrd, 31, owner of Byrd Career Consulting, is a certified life and career coach, a speaker and former corporate recruiter. She’s on a mission to help women and people of color turn their dreams into careers that will allow them to live life on their own terms and to help companies transform their culture into equitable environments for all employees to thrive. Latesha lives in NoDa and enjoys reading and journaling.
➡️ Christine Edwards, 32, is a local government professional turned ecosystem builder. As founder and principal consultant at Amplify Consulting, she helps amplify the voices of the unheard in the Charlotte region through equitable community engagement practices. Christine lives in University City. Pre-Covid, she had fun traveling to presidential libraries. Now she enjoys Zoom happy hours and trying out new coffees and wines.
➡️ Alison Hall, 38, owner of Alison Hall Architect Inc., considers starting her own business from scratch while also starting a family her greatest accomplishment so far. As an architect, she specializes in single-family residential, remodels, additions and new construction. She lives in Colonial Village, south of Sedgefield, with her husband and three boys. They enjoy traveling, biking and hiking.
➡️ Shaynah Jerrel, 38, is the head swim coach and owner of Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg (ATOM). Though she describes herself as introverted, Shaynah has built a team of more than 150 swimmers ages 7-18 who have become a presence on the local, state and national levels. She lives in the Stonehaven neighborhood trying to keep her plants and kids alive and thriving.
➡️ Alexis Kaiser, 28, moved to Charlotte two years ago and works on the JLL Capital Markets Land team. Her hobbies include tennis, pickleball, setting up blind dates and golf. Alexis lives in South End and is an avid development and light rail fan. You can find her at Suffolk Punch many nights of the week.
➡️ Bethany Lane, 22, is a revenue strategist with QCity Metro, where she works closely with clients to help them connect with readers. As the youngest judge on our panel, Bethany was thankful she didn’t grow up in the 1980s because it would have meant doing homework without Google. She lives in SouthPark and enjoys yoga and working out.
➡️ Justin Maharana, 29, is a marketing program manager with Reveal Global Intelligence. He lives in Matthews and has fun playing basketball or sand volleyball with friends when he’s not busy with the marketing stuff. Justin worries that if he had been a teenager in the 1980s, he might still be sporting that bright ’80s workout gear every day.
➡️ Sophie Mohajerani, 27, leads a project management office for investment firm Vanguard and serves as a board member for local nonprofit Supportive Housing Communities. In college, Sophie helped a local gentleman move from homelessness to stable housing. She credits the experience with changing her view on the world and how each of us can make an impact in someone’s life. Sophie lives in Dilworth with her rescue cat and dog. (And yes, they get along!)
➡️ Sophia Matthews Partlow, 38, is vice president of communications and technology innovation for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She works to center the organization as a touch point for African-American voices to be heard. In the 2000s, Sophia was a slam poet and hip-hop artist. Now, she lives in North Charlotte with her husband and daughter and is writing a science fiction novel in her spare time.
➡️ Ely Portillo, 34, assistant director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, organizes events and programs, writes about issues related to growth in the Charlotte region and helps connect researchers to the public. An “introverted extrovert,” Ely lives in the Medearis neighborhood with his wife, toddler and newborn and enjoys mountain biking, backpacking and basically any outdoor activities. He’s surprised he can take care of real kids given that his pet Tamagotchi (late 1990s/early 2000s fad — Google it) had an embarrassingly short lifespan.
➡️ Jay Royster, 30, is the owner of Royster Commercial Real Estate and specializes in development consulting and infill investments within high-growth corridors. Jay recently launched a video series where he sits down with colleagues to discuss Charlotte’s latest infill projects. He lives in South End.
➡️ Corri Smith, 35, is the owner of Black Wednesday, a Charlotte-based boutique marketing and PR company focused on personifying brands across their marketing channels. Corri lives in Druid Hills, and when she’s not working, she enjoys going to live shows (pre-Covid), spending time with her dogs and trying to keep 100 plants alive. Corri also wonders if she had been a teenager in the 1980s would she have some “awesomely terrible” glamour shots to potentially be used as blackmail?
➡️ Lauren Ulrey, 39, creates doughnuts in pretty boxes that you can buy in the grocery store as Krispy Kreme’s VP for marketing. She lives in SouthPark with her husband and two young daughters. Working from home during the pandemic has given her more time to enjoy running and to discover a favorite quarantine activity with her husband: beer pong.
➡️ Daniel Valdez, 35, is director of N.C. operations for the Hispanic Federation. Prior to joining the Hispanic Federation in 2019, he served in a number of leadership roles with nonprofits involved in community outreach, advocacy and inclusion. Daniel lives in uptown and enjoys cooking.
And there you have it! Many thanks to our distinguished panel of wise judges. I’ve read some of the nominations so far — and these judges will have their work cut out for them. I know they are up to the task.
Good luck to all!
And should you need to nominate a deserving 40-or-beyond for this year’s awards, do it today! The clock is ticking. It’s a simple form. The deadline is Monday (Feb. 15).
—Tony Mecia, executive editor
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: David Griffith