Meet the 2020 Community Fellows

January 27, 2020 By Caroline Newman, Caroline Newman,

Beginning this spring, four Charlottesville community leaders will come to Grounds to continue work on their projects addressing racial and economic inequality. The Community Fellows-in-Residence will share their work with University of Virginia students, faculty and staff – all part of the UVA Equity Center’s work to mutually share its resources and power with the local community.

The yearlong fellowships, launched this year, are designed for individuals who have a history of actively working to reduce inequity in the Charlottesville community and have a project that could benefit from access to the University’s support and resources. The program is part of the University’s new Equity Center – formally named the UVA Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity Through Community-Engaged Scholarship – which was announced in October to build better relationships between UVA and the Charlottesville community and tangibly redress racial and socioeconomic inequality.

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This year’s fellows – Myra Anderson, Libby Edwards-Allbaugh, Tanesha Hudson and Destinee Wright – will spend a year bringing their expertise to UVA and using University resources, including faculty mentors, libraries, office space and other support, to grow their projects. The fellows, who were chosen through an application process, will also speak about their work and meet with students and faculty through various classes and events. Each will receive a stipend and an assigned faculty mentor, and can audit a class each semester.

The projects themselves address a range of issues, from improving mental health care for African American women to promoting personal finance education in schools, supporting local businesses and chronicling the history and culture of Charlottesville’s African American community.  

We spoke with each fellow to learn more about what they will be working on.

Myra Anderson

Project: “Queens, Cuts & Conversations,” addressing mental health support for African American women

Myra Anderson standing smiling at the camera
Myra Anderson is piloting a project that brings candid conversations about mental health care into local beauty salons. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Anderson, founder and director of the Brave Souls on Fire organization focused on black mental health, is working to bring mental health care to a place where African American women already feel comfortable, welcomed and supported: local salons.

“African American women are among the least likely groups to seek mental health care, both because of stigma within the African American community and, on a greater level, disparities and inequities in mental health care,” said Anderson, a longtime activist for equality in mental health care who was named a “Health Hero” by O (Oprah) Magazine in 2017.

“On a personal level, I have experienced engaging with the mental health system myself, and I understand how it can be an unwelcoming space, a space that doesn’t feel very culturally competent or comfortable,” she said.

On the other hand, salons are already in embedded in communities as a natural gathering place and source of support.

“We can bring mental health services to a space that black women already frequent, where they already feel safe and have established relationships,” Anderson said. “It’s a practical way to give them the information and support they need in a space that feels safe and liberating.”

To test her idea, Anderson held a pilot event this summer at Natre’al Hair Design in Charlottesville. To her delight, it was packed.

“It was standing room only, and there were stylists cutting hair while we had a candid, authentic conversation, right there in the beauty shop, about why we are not engaging in mental health care,” she said. “It went even better than I anticipated, and I loved that there were lots of teenagers there, and lots of different age groups, because it was a space where everyone felt comfortable.”

At UVA, Anderson will work to expand her idea to other local salons, and study similar programs, including a “Mindful Beauty” program launched by health care company Kaiser Permanente to train African American stylists to spot signs of depression in their customers. Anderson sees that training as a good next step for her program, and also hopes to work with local nurses to provide basic health care services, such as blood pressure checks, at the salon meetings. Her mentor, Ivora Hinton in UVA’s Office for Nursing Research, specializes in community mental health programs.

“I am excited to talk with Ivy and others, and to have a university back up what I am doing. I think that carries a lot of weight, especially when seeking grants and other support,” Anderson said.

More personally, Anderson also noted that one of her ancestors, Thrimston Hern, was an enslaved laborer at UVA and Monticello. Historical records note that he laid the stones that form the steps of the Rotunda.

“It’s just a feeling that I cannot describe, to know that I am now a fellow in that same space,” Anderson said.

Libby Edwards-Allbaugh

Project: Youth financial literacy program through 100 Black Women of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area

Libby Edwards-Allbaugh leaning against a brick wall facing the camera
Libby Edwards-Allbaugh is planning financial literacy programs for elementary and middle school students. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Edwards-Allbaugh has already led adult financial literacy programs as treasurer of 100 Black Women of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area, a group advocating for black women and girls. Last year, the group offered programs for women and high school girls, which will continue this year.

Now Edwards-Allbaugh, who also owns and operates a tax preparation and bookkeeping firm, The Tax Ladies, will use her time at UVA to create financial literacy programs for elementary and middle school students.

“Last year, we did a program for high school girls, talking to them about relevant financial concepts. This year, I want to expand into the elementary and middle school age group,” she said.

For elementary schoolers, sessions might include mock stores helping students understand the value of money, or lessons on how people earn money. Middle school programming can touch on more advanced financial terminology and basic banking concepts.

“We want to give them building blocks for later in life,” said Edwards-Allbaugh, who also serves on the Diversity & Equity Committee of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville and on the boards of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and the Girl Scouts Virginia Skyline League.

She plans to partner with local schools to create after-school programming, similar to clubs students already attend. For those workshops, she will also partner with 100 Black Men of Central Virginia to provide programming and mentorship for both boys and girls.

At UVA, Edwards-Allbaugh will work with McIntire School of Commerce professor Dorothy Kelly, who teaches personal finance, and Curry School of Education and Human Development professor Julia Taylor, who focuses on youth counseling and support.

“It’s a good match,” Edwards-Allbaugh said of working with Kelly and Taylor. “Dot is focused on college students, so we can really look at it generationally, and Julia brings extensive expertise and resources in youth counseling.”

Tanesha Hudson

Project: Charlottesville Black History docuseries

Tanesha Hudson standing looking off to the right with hands on her hips
Filmmaker and activist Tanesha Hudson will continue her work documenting and sharing the history of Charlottesville’s African American community. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Hudson, a community leader, activist and filmmaker, has already completed a documentary tracing the history and culture of Charlottesville’s African American community, going as far back as the 1787 Constitutional Convention. That film, “A Legacy Unbroken: The Story of Black Charlottesville,” premiered in November and was screened again last week at Vinegar Hill Theater.

The lifelong Charlottesville resident plans to use the UVA fellowship to develop other media projects focused on African American history in Charlottesville, including a docuseries and a podcast. Her UVA mentor is Claudrena Harold, a professor of African American and African Studies and history who has written and co-produced short films about African American history and black student history at UVA.

“I think it is important for black people to know where we have been, and for us to have something to look forward to on where we want to go in this city,” Hudson said. “That is really important at this point. I think that the black culture has been diminished here in Charlottesville and I feel my goal is to bring it back.”

In addition to her filmmaking work, Hudson started a women’s program to honor women of color fighting for social justice and, in August, created a “Made in Charlottesville” concert celebrating local musicians and community organizations during the city’s Unity Days events.

Hudson said she hopes partnering with UVA will be beneficial to the community and help repair relationships that have been fraught in the past.

“When we look back over the years at similar projects, a lot of it was misused and built up distrust in the University. Information was misused, or wrong,” she said. “Being able to do this work my way, without restrictions on the project, would say a lot to change the narrative.”

Destinee Wright

Project: Business directory, website and mobile app identifying and supporting black-owned small businesses in the Charlottesville area

Destinee Wright sitting in a wooden chair in a hallway looking at the camera
Destinee Wright is building a directory of local black-owned businesses and plans to create an app to allow customers to easily search for what they need. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Wright will use her time at UVA to expand the Black Business Directory she started on Small Business Saturday in 2018 to promote local black-owned businesses. A UVA alumna, Wright owns and operates two local businesses: Destinee Marketing LLC, which creates social media strategies for small businesses and nonprofits, and Luxie Hair Services, which provides mobile hairstyling services to primarily black women across Virginia.

“As a black business owner myself, I understand that having people know about you means everything,” she said. “Sometimes, when you are just getting started as an entrepreneur, it’s hard to get the word out.” 

Wright started the directory two years ago as a blog post to promote Small Business Saturday. It took off quickly, and she realized she had hit a nerve. She began building a more comprehensive open-source, open-index directory that has already been used by the City of Charlottesville as an official resource for marketing, business information and other efforts. (Learn more about the directory and how to submit businesses to be included here.)

At UVA, Wright hopes to grow this directory into a website and mobile app that will allow users to easily search for products or services they need. She will be working with faculty mentor Daniel Graham, a computer science professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I am excited to be able to partner with people in the community and at UVA to build something people can use every day,” she said. “I have already had businesses reach out and tell me that they are getting clients from this.”

This is not Wright’s first partnership with UVA. She has partnered with The Fralin Museum of Art at the University to create workshops for citywide artistic and educational outreach on the history of black Charlottesville residents. Wright has also volunteered with organizations like the Community Investment Collaborative, a local nonprofit that provides resources and a 16-week intensive program supporting local entrepreneurs. 

“I am really passionate about connecting people, about making it easier for people to support each other,” she said. “I love the idea of the fellowships, and it’s an awesome opportunity to get support, and to have resources and other hands on deck to bring these ideas to fruition.”