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Gala honors 10 locals for 'Black Excellence'

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A black-tie gala will honor 10 locals who represent "Black Excellence" in the community, says Josh Maddox.

Maddox, who heads JM Branding and Marketing, created the awards two years ago, and has used it to give "appreciation and recognition" to those "whose main focus is changing the narrative and stigma of being from the inner city."

It will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the All Wars Memorial Building.


This year's 10 honorees are:

Aliyah Brown grew up in Atlantic City, with a family of hairstylists, entrepreneurs and creatives.

Her grandmother Joyce Battle was known for her prestigious seamstress work as an interior decorator throughout South Jersey in the late 1980s .

Inspired by her family, Brown discovered her love for hairstyling when she was just 4. By the time she turned 10, she started doing protective hairstyles like braids and twists in her neighborhood.

Brown worked in the casinos and as a substitute teacher after graduating from Rowan University, but soon realized she had another calling. She followed her passion to a cosmetology license, and now is at the Beauty Bar in Atlantic City, where she specializes in sew-ins, coloring, making wigs, wig reconstruction, wig installments and much more.

Talia Callaway is a wife and mother who prides herself on respect and integrity.

She enjoys spending time and making memories with her family, including her co-workers.

"I value the importance of healthy connections and meaningful relationships," she says. "I strive to create a positive workplace atmosphere for my staff, which will allow them to provide the experience to the families we serve."

Her background includes experience in in Head Start case management and N.J. Early Intervention as a child developmental specialist. She is a certified teacher with Special Education and Elementary Education Endorsements in four states.

She started Intentional Interventions that offers mental health services to continue her dedication to quality applied behavior analysis services.

"We promote purpose-driven progress," Callaway says. 

Mika English started her career in the beauty industry professionally at the age of 18

She opened her own salon at 24, and pursued her dream career as a celebrity stylist by 27.

Mika was able to experience New York City's Fashion Week, the Met Gala , video shoots, high-end photo shoots and one-on-one sessions with A-list celebrities .

While living her dream career, she developed an all natural hair product GREW BY M.E. (for Mika English) that has helped solve many hair problems for her clients.

She is now continuing to proudly pursue her career behind the chair after 21 years

The increased gun violence in 2019 was a call for help in Atlantic City's troubled streets. ASAP Riders emerged.

The grassroots Against Shooting Another Person founded by Rashad "Asap FAH" Faheem, his daughter, her friends and the late Darius D. Brown, transformed grief into action.

ASAP Riders united the community at a time when isolation was the norm, and loss from illness and violence was all too common.

"A.S.A.P. Riders isn’t just about rides," Faheem says. "It’s a movement to bridge divides, bringing together those touched by gun violence to heal and support one another. Through each event, we connect families across Atlantic City, turning spaces of sorrow into places of hope."

He thanked the group's partners and sponsors, which include Tha Afty Grocery Store, Freedom City Bike Shop, J.D.A.I. and Kenneth Lazan Faulk Jr., founder of the Community Art Academy/

Jaslynn Jackson Is the owner and master stylist of Twist'd Textures Hair Lounge.

Jackson has more than 20 years of experience in hair care, maintenance and product knowledge, which she has grown over the years.

She expanded her passion for hair when she got her cosmetology license from Shore Beauty School in 2009.

Jackson is well-versed in a wide range of hairstyles, including loc maintenance, crochet braids, feed-in braids, up-styles, Marley twist, color, cuts and many more natural styles.

Locs are her passion, but she also loves to cut.

"When you're ready for the big chop or the most precise cut, I'm your girl," she says.

Her clients say Jackson is a great listener and attentive. She takes pride in the passion she has for hair and concentrates on each individual need based upon her clients.

Kelley Prevard works can be seen in various places in the area.

The self-taught artist and muralist from Atlantic City centers her work around healing and storytelling. What began as a creative outlet has evolved into her unique voice, echoing the experiences and narratives that shape her identity.

Prevard's art is deeply influenced by social, historical, and cultural events as she explores the profound aspects of womanhood.

Prevard has participated in numerous exhibits across New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. She recently completed an awe-inspiring mural that spans the entire top floor of Atlantic City City Hall. She also was chosen for the prestigious Philadelphia Mural Arts Fellowship for Black Artists.

She remains committed to translating experiences of trauma and loss into artworks that heal, tell stories and create communal spaces. With each stroke of her brush, she continues to redefine artistic boundaries and inspire others to embrace the power of art as a catalyst for change.

Lorenzo Smith Jr. is the chief executive officer of Ernest Trans School of Trucking.

Starting his journey in 2015,

Lorenzo transformed his life through the trucking industry beginning in 2015, achieving financial stability within three years.

His entrepreneurial spirit led him to purchase his first truck, opening avenues for increased revenue.

Now he tries to help others.

The Atlantic City-based school fosters relationships with sponsors, local businesses and successfully places safe commercial drivers on the road.

Smith and his wife are committed to expanding the school's impact, shaping futures through accessible education and immediate job placement.

Jason "JSmart" Smart-El Jr. wears many hats.

He serves as a long-term substitute at Atlantic City High school as he awaits to take his Praxis Exam to become a certified teacher. He also runs JSmart Photography & Uniquely Rare Clothing and serves as a mentor and role model to the city's young men.

Smart-El is married to his college sweetheart, Kallay Smart-El, and has two sons, Jace and Jrue.

He taught English in China for eight months through a program called Amenson Year in China.

Since returning, his sole focus has been to better the community in any way that he can. He has worked with jobs that have dealt with at-risk youth, drug and alcohol addiction, and homeless prevention.

AC Weekly named him Top 40 under 40, he was a Community Role Model honoree with Friday is Tie Day, received the Community Impact Award from New Life Christian Fellowship, was given a resolution for community service by City Council and is an honorary lifeguard for life-saving acts, after he and another man saved a drowning family.

Smart-El lives by the saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and that is why he tries to make as many positive impacts within the community.

Frank Turner is a retired professional basketball player who has played in more than 30 countries in Europe over 11 years.

He is the chief executive officers of Frank Gabriel Collection & Lovely Affirmations.

The Atlantic City native was part of the High School's first basketball state championship team and the Group 4 title MVP.

He attended Canisius College, where he was recently inducted into their Sports Hall Of Fame.

Turner graduated with his bachelors and masters degrees and is now pursuing another masters in social work.

He says his biggest achievement is his son Royal Turner. Frank is also the CEO of Frank Gabriel Collection & Lovely Affirmations.

Alexxus Young is a proud wife and mother of three small children who has always had a passion for public service and advocacy.

Now she helps let people know what's going on in her city as assistant public information officer.

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.

Young holds both a bachelor of arts in communication and master of public administration.

She is currently enrolled at the American University College of Law.


Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Monday, April 15, 2024
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