Young leaders

Young leaders

From The News-Gazette's Black History Month 2013 section, published Feb. 10, 2013.

Central Illinois Business magazine chose these nine young professionals to be featured in the November 2012 edition as part of the annual '40 under 40' Awards. The honorees were chosen for combining successful careers with their commitments to volunteering in their communities. Read on to get to know them and learn of their accomplishments.

Tori Exum-Johnson

(40 Under 40 Woman of the Year)

Human resource manager, Staff Human Resources, University of Illinois

Community involvement: Active member of Central Pointe Church of Christ in Bloomington; Cubmaster and Webelos II leader; Girl Scout leader; Prairie Fire District Boy Scout adult leader trainer and member of various Scouting committees; assistant coach, C-U Allstars 11U AAU Travel Basketball team; co-director for Upward Basketball; board member of Central Illinois Youth Football League, Homestead Corp. and Champaign County Workforce Development; Canaan Academy PTA; CASA advocate; NAACP Education Committee; C-U Optimist Club member; election judge.

Best advice I can give or have received is: Never lose sight of your faith, values and priorities. Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.

My partner/best friend/mom would describe me as: The Energizer Battery Bunny that you used to see in the commercials. I tend to keep going and going

To relax I: Because I watch very little TV, I'm usually three to four years behind on TV series, so I pop a bag of Homestyle popcorn, kick my feet up, put on my favorite blanket and watch old TV series on Netflix. The TV usually ends up watching me.

A word from the nominator: "Tori's best qualities are that she has a vision that has always been beyond her years and she's never been afraid to act upon it." — Lorenzo Kindle, housing representative at the University of Illinois and brother of the nominee

Bryan Banks

Assistant vice president, special assets, Busey Bank

Community involvement: Audit committee member on the Charleston Transitional Facility board; Champaign West Rotary Club member; Carle Foundation board member.

Proudest professional accomplishment: Passing the certified public accountant exam on the first try. I was told that only 10 percent of the people who sit for the exam can say the same.

I attribute my success to: Hard work, a never-quit attitude and a commitment to cultivating relationships.

Interesting fact you may not know about me: I referee college football and recently called the game-winning touchdown pass that broke the record for most passing yards in a single game.

My mentor is: My father, Sam Banks.

My partner/best friend/mom would describe me as: Charismatic, driven, focused, caring.

A word from the nominator: "He has shown that he can perform at a high level by achieving the level of "senior" at one of the world's four largest accounting firms, but shows he lacks complacency by seeing new opportunities that fit with his overall career goals and seizing those opportunities. He also has shown he understands the need to give back to the community by joining service organizations but has shown that he understands membership is not enough by participating in volunteer activities. — Steven Henderson, special assets coordinator, Busey Bank

Chris Hamb

Owner and developer/designer

for Chrisp Media

Community involvement: Member of the Champaign County NAACP Executive Board, Canaan Men's SAFE House Steering Committee and the Salem Cyber Church Committee; member of Canaan Baptist Church and Web Ministry Chair; mentor with C-U One-to-One Mentoring program; United Way's Emerging Community Leaders (2009) and 2010 eBlackCU Difference Maker.

Proudest professional accomplishment: The day I started my business.

Best advice I can give or have received is: This is not a dress rehearsal and there are no understudies.

Interesting fact you may not know about me is: In my previous career, I was a librarian and faculty member at the University of Illinois.

My partner/best friend/mom would describe me as: Hardworking and hardheaded.

A word from the nominator: "Chris diligently works to 'make it happen,' whether it is digital or something else. He strives for excellence in anything that he does. He loves to take on new challenges and when faced with problems, he figures them out." — Summer Curry, human resource associate, UI

Tony Howard

Assistant principal, Edison Middle School, Champaign

Community involvement: Champaign Public Library board member, C-U One-to-One Mentoring Program mentor, and eight-grade basketball coach.

Proudest professional accomplishment: Watching my first group of students that I ever taught graduate from high school.

Best advice I can give or have received is: "Try not to become a man of success but a man of value." — Albert Einstein

Interesting fact you may not know about me is: That I am an avid collector of Air Jordan sneakers.

Most important lesson I've learned in my professional career is: Have a good elevator speech ready at all times, because you never know who you will come in contact with.

To relax I: Listen to music and fish for crappie and blue gills.

A word from the nominator: "He is motivated to succeed in all that he does and when he sees a need in our building that will ultimately improve the climate and/or academics, he immediately starts planning how that need can be met." — Justin Uppinghouse, principal, Edison Middle School

Kerris Lee

Partner at Lost Points LLC

Community involvement: Co-founder of Illini for Kids; donates a portion of company revenue to the community, including building an interactive technology exhibit for the Orpheum Children's Science Museum; member of Champaign Organization of Developers and Engineers; finance and membership committee of West Urbana Rotary club.

Proudest professional accomplishment: My proudest professional accomplishment is when I started a business at age 14. We sold our product in London, Japan and the U.S. I remember signing the contract with a corporation and thinking that it was a dream come true!

Best advice I can give is: Preparation plus opportunity equals luck.

Most important lesson I've learned in my professional career is: Be willing to do the things everyone is not willing to do. It's the difference between working with your clients and having a growing relationship with your clients.

My partner/best friend/mom would describe me as: energetic, thoughtful, funny at times, ambitious, tenacious, and sincere.

A word from the nominator: "Kerris's goal is to help empower this community to truly be a beacon for others. Kerris is one of the most humble and hardworking people I've known." — Dan Ditchfield, owner, The Atlas Agency

Lester Potts

Firefighter/ fire investigator for the Danville Fire Department

Community involvement: Runs a youth football organization; member of Corinthian Masonic Lodge #31; member of the Killer Bees Motor sport club, which does volunteer service projects.

I attribute my success to: Hard work, love, support and prayer. My parents loved me enough to push me to work hard, corrected me when I was wrong and supported me in the things that I chose to try, pushing me to work hard all the way. I was lucky enough to find a wife that does the same things.

Best advice I can give or have received is: Set long term goals, so that short term failures don't stop you, and remember that progress is a process.

Most important lesson I've learned in my professional career is: It does the soul good to help someone else.

My partner/best friend/mom would describe me as: Generous to a fault.

A word from the nominator: "Lester unselfishly volunteers his life (not just his time) to the children and families of this community and previously to our country with his past military service. He chose to be a firefighter because he is a 'helper.'" — Stephanie Potts, counselor and transfer articulation coordinator at Danville Area Community College and spouse of the nominee

Jonte Rollins

Linkage, engagement and communications coordinator at ACCESS Initiative

Community involvement: Member of working groups with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Champaign-Urbana Foster Care Coalition, Catholic Charities, Illinois Youth Democracy Day, Illinois Permanency Enhancement Project, Regional Office of Education and the Champaign school district; Bethel A.M.E. Women's Missionary Society; Champaign Graduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority; Gamma Upsilon Psi Society; and president and co-founder of Cover Girlz Motorcycle Club, a local social/service club.

Proudest professional accomplishment: The creation of the BeYOUtiful Girlz (Smart Girls) Conference, an annual event for local middle and high school girls.

Best advice I can give or have received is: Mistakes are the best way to learn. Don't be afraid to make them. Try not to repeat the same ones too often.

My mentor is: My mother, Benita Gay.I have watched her triumph over every hurdle life has thrown her way both personally and professionally. She has modeled for me not only what it means to be a strong black woman but what it takes to be resilient. Through her, I've learned how to be assertive, persistent and passionate.

A word from the nominator: "No matter how demanding the tasks she's undertaken turn out to be, she remains focused on life goals of strengthening youth and families, reducing stigma and eliminating disparities." — Lynn Canfield, associate director of Champaign County Mental Health Board and Champaign County Developmental Disabilities Board (one of nine nominators)

Yavonnda Smith

Principal at Prairie Elementary School, Urbana

Community involvement: Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and Gamma Upsilon Society; Member of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church and serve as the church clerk, co-director of Baptist Youth Fellowship Ministry and Hospitality Ministry.

Proudest professional accomplishment: Being named a Golden Apple Teacher in 1998, and being named principal at Prairie School.

Best advice I can give or have received is: If a task has begun, never leave it until it's done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.

Interesting fact you may not know about me is: That my sister named me when she was 3 years old.

Most important lesson I've learned in my professional career is: TEAMWORK is essential!

To relax I: Shop!

A word from the nominator: "She is dedicated, hard working and seeks to help others first. She is an unsung hero in our community." — Gayle Jeffries, assistant superintendent of human resources, Urbana school district

Rickey Williams Jr.

Former executive director, Boys & Girls Club of Danville

Community involvement: Danville city alderman; Love, INC (In the Name of Christ) board member; Danville High School Restructuring Monitoring Committee; Vermilion Advantage board member; Community Church of God Worship Leader.

I attribute my success to: My faith in God, being raised well by parents who love me and a good work ethic.

Interesting fact you may not know about me is: I was the first black homecoming king at Millikin University.

Three people I'd want on my team are: If work, my mom, dad and sister. If sports (let's say football) Tony Dungy, Robert Griffin III & Larry Fitzgerald.

Most important lesson I've learned in my professional career is: Do what you said you would, when you said you would do it, and how you said you would do it. Integrity is imperative.

My mentor is: Mrs. Sybil Mervis

A word from the nominator: "He is hard-working and believes in investing in his community. He believes in better things for the youth in our community and the community itself." — Deb Guidry, office manager, ESS Clean Inc.

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