As I look back on 2016, there were several events and people that helped shape my year. For me, the year was a success, and part of my success comes from the people I surround myself with. We are all influenced by those we have the most intimate relationships with, but sometimes it’s the people we may not know the most about that tend to have the biggest impacts on our lives.
Coming from a city the size of Louisville, we aren’t exactly known as a place that gives birth to people who are changing the world. We often gravitate towards celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Jennifer Lawrence as big-time influencers from Louisville – and rightfully so. But I would argue that once you peel back the layers of this city, there are some amazing people doing some amazing things. I am always looking for inspiration, and tend to find it in the oddest of places. It’s the reason why I love social media so much, as I am fortunate enough to connect with and follow many people.
These people are part of my overall success for 2016, and rather than keep it all to myself, I figured I would share with you my list of six people in Louisville (in no particular order) who inspire me everyday…and they don’t even know it.
#1. Jason Clayborn | I’ve known Jason for several years now, and most of the city should know him too. He is an award-winning gospel artist having written several hits, most recently the #1 gospel tune “Better” by Hezekiah Walker. He received a Dove Award in the category of Best Traditional Gospel Song, and a Grammy nomination in the Best Gospel Performance/Song category for that song. But that is not why he inspires me. First off, Jason might be one of the only singers who has never hit a bad note, and I think he can sing any song in any genre and kill it. But watching his music career grow to where it is now with Jay & The Team is exciting. But seeing him balance his music career with his duties at St. Stephen Baptist Church, at the University of Louisville as the Director of the Black Diamond Choir, various singing engagements across the country, as well as being a dedicated husband and father, earns him the ultimate salute from me.
#2. Raeshanda Johnson | Most people know Raeshanda for her boutique All Is Fair In Love and Fashion. I met her a few years ago at an event that a mutual friend of ours, Fhonia Ellis, put together. We were both there as part of a panel to talk about business and success, but I left that event immediately having to look up who she was. Her background story is amazing, but more than that, she is full of ambition, passion and positivity – she’s a boss! Hearing her talk about going from being homeless to a successful business owner is amazing. But watching her change the lives of women everyday through her powerful testimonies she shares on Facebook is enough to put her on everyone’s “inspirational list”.
#3. James Racine aka “Maestro J” | Nothing inspires me more than seeing men change and impact the lives of kids. And Maestro J does this on a regular basis through his music class as Orchestra Director at Kentucky Country Day. Most of us know him for bridging the gap of hip-hop and classical music cultures in Louisville through various events around the city. The inspiration he provides comes in the form of the photos and videos he shares of his classes having a good time playing orchestral instruments, most notably this Mannequin Challenge video. As a former band geek and music lover, he is not only showing these kids that it is cool to play instruments, but he is also connecting with them on a personal level that most teachers fail to do in today’s school system. He shows me that we can work and play at the same time, while still being productive.
#4. Olivia Allen | Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of people, but this young lady is a force to reckon with. I’ve known Olivia and her parents, Harold and Anitra, for several years. Matter of fact, Anitra sang in our wedding back in 2006. Olivia is such a talented young lady. She is an aspiring actress who is heavily involved in the local arts scene in Louisville. On top of that, she does community service projects, collection drives and created the “I Can Be” Girls Confidence Conference. The added bonus of her is that every time I see her, she calls me Mr. Gathan and engages in respectful and intellectual conversations, while also sharing with me her future goals. When I see her, and all that she does as an 11 year-old child, it inspires me to do more as a thirty-something year-old adult.
#5. Lawrence Watkins | I grew up with Lawrence and have known him since we were kids, and he’s always been a braniac/book smart kind of guy to me – but he’s always been cool. Lawrence, the founder and CEO of Great Black Speakers, is always thinking of new businesses and products, and he’s a man who I think doesn’t sleep at all. In recent years, now that we are both working professionals, we have had the opportunity to converse more, and the one thing that he does that inspires me, is that he is always thinking of his next move. He doesn’t settle for anything. Some entrepreneurs will launch one business and stay with it, not Lawrence. I can’t even count how many businesses he’s launched or is involved in, but it’s a lot. And the other cool thing about Lawrence, is that he doesn’t keep all of his knowledge to himself. He is always willing to help others learn more about business, technology and entrepreneurship. Now that he is newly married and traveling the world, his work ethic hasn’t stopped or slowed down, he has just adapted his schedule to his new lifestyle.
#6. Nika Dillingham | Nika is blowing up the local fitness scene with her fitness company N-Spire Fitness. My wife attends her classes regularly and the two of them talk often about her fitness classes and where she wants to take her business. Taking a fitness class, and building it into a fitness company is no small feat, especially for a full-time working wife and mother of two kids. Her classes are busting at the seams, and she is changing women’s lives through healthy eating and fitness, one meal and one class at a time. She shares the success stories of the women who are a part of her N-Spire Fitness Crew and their results are amazing. But the part that inspires me is that she is basically working two full-time jobs, and she’s doing it well. And while I am sure she’s tired, you would never know it…she never stops! It just goes to show you that the human mind and body can often bear more than we can imagine, as long as we put in the work and keep God first.
These six people are like my personal interpretation of Barbara Walter’s “Most Fascinating People” – the local edition. The one lesson that I will leave you with, and one that is interwoven amongst all of the people above is, you don’t have to be famous to make a difference. Each of us can make a difference in the lives of someone, and sometimes we are making that difference without even knowing it.