Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC staff and student-athletes visit the edmund pettus bridge in selma alabama and take a selfie

Dialing Up DEI Appeal

Photography by Travis Ellison

Montgomery is leveraging the area’s compelling Civil Rights history to attract group travel, benefitting both the visitors and local businesses.

Montgomery is a hub of significant history, and in recent years, a deeper appreciation for this has drawn tourists from around the globe. More tourism is always good for the area’s economy. But a recent influx of corporate groups looking to harness the stories of the city’s past to bolster their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts is also providing business benefits. One obvious plus of group travel is getting more “heads in hotel beds,” and therefore more tax revenue and more people spending money locally. 

But, these groups are also underscoring the valuable experiences right here that Central Alabama-owned and -based businesses can use as they seek to enhance DEI in their offices, Experience Montgomery’s Executive Director Ashley Jernigan explained. “In the wake of events in the past five years, there is a need and want to have a better understanding of social justice to enhance diversity and inclusion in schools, in organizations and at work, and here, our Civil Rights history is key to that. You leave with the truth of not only what happened before, but what is happening now too,” Jernigan said. “That’s something these groups are taking advantage of, but also something businesses right here at home can tap into.” 

Putting emphasis on DEI in the workplace increases employee morale and can boost your bottom line. Recent studies show how a variety of backgrounds and experiences foster a culture of innovation, while also ensuring every employee feels invested, which translates to increased loyalty and often increased productivity.

Game Plan: DEI 

The NCAA’s Big Ten Conference understands how motivating a tour of the area’s historic sites can be; its leadership brought 200 staff and student-athletes, including some from the PAC-12 and the ACC, to Montgomery in July 2022 for its inaugural Big Life Series event. The visit also marked Experience Montgomery’s first curated DEI experience. They got so much out of the field trip, they came back for a second visit this past July; this year, 125 people made the journey south. 

The trips grew out of a 2020 Big Ten initiative called The Equality Coalition, which highlighted the importance of voting rights. “We wanted to do a voting rights history trip,” said Omar Brown, Big Ten Conference’s Senior VP, Community & Impact Officer. “Originally, the plan was 14 students going to Selma to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but as we looked into it, we saw how much related rich history there is in Montgomery.” The scope of the trip grew, as did the number of people who wanted to come, which meant Montgomery— with its regional airport, plus plenty of hotels and other tourism infrastructure—better fit the group’s needs. 

“I’m so glad we ended up expanding. The bridge crossing was moving, but in Montgomery, we saw the other side of the struggle and the story,” Brown said, “through the Civil Rights Interpretive Center at ASU, plus the Legacy Museum and the Memorial for Peace and Justice. We left thinking Selma is a vital spoke, but Montgomery is the hub.” The group ate at locally owned restaurants—The Cheesecake Empori-Yum was a favorite—stayed and conducted meetings at The Renaissance Hotel and explored the capital city’s walkable downtown. 

The Power of Up Close & Personal 

“The overall impression was compelling for all of us,” Brown said. “What the students saw and learned showed them they each have the power to make a change in today’s world.” Jernigan echoed Brown, noting the difference that comes from connecting with these sites in person. “We have multiple college-age groups who come do these visits annually, and it’s cool to watch young people viewing the photos of these Civil Rights warriors and figuring out how young many of them were,” she said. “They are often surprised but also excited to see they can impact change too.” 

Jordan Robinson, a sophomore on the UCLA track team, called the visit “eye opening.” “It showed me how we [young people] need to look beyond thinking about ourselves,” she said. “We can stand up now. We don’t have to wait for older people to do it. We can be the change we want to see.” 

Hamsika Arnipalli, a sophomore on The Ohio State University fencing team, noted the intricate details gleaned from seeing history (not just reading about it) at the Legacy Museum. “As a person who is not part of the Black community, most of what I learned about slavery came from public school,” she said. “Seeing more of the personal aspects was shocking and gut-wrenching. You feel there is still more work to do.”

In 2022, when University of Michigan students were in the ASU Interpretive Center, they noticed photos showing past Wolverine students standing up for civil rights alongside others in Montgomery. “That really drove it home for them,” Brown said. 

Individuals are motivated by the spirit stirring details of the 1950s and 1960s fight for inclusion, but these trips can provide team building too. Following the 2022 visit, several of the student-athletes commented on how the shared pursuit strengthened team bonds.

Immersion & Inspiration 

During the Big Ten’s 2023 visit, Dr. Lawrence Chatters, Executive Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Initiatives at The University of Nebraska, pointed to the intentionality built into their itinerary as a highlight, as well as the warm welcome. “The hospitality was so nice,” he said. “And the visit exposed these students to the people on the ground in the Civil Rights Movement. It was great to see them find power as they saw such resilience in action; it was all enriching.” 

The impression Montgomery’s history made on participants of the Big Ten trips proves its ability to appeal to a wide range of visitors and groups, a fact Jernigan said has been apparent but is now being re-emphasized. “The opportunities our historic sites provide for learning about important U.S. history have been drawing visitors and groups, from family reunions to conferences, for years, but we’re now focusing on marketing Montgomery this way.” 

The results are Montgomery Immersion Experiences, which are designed by Jernigan and her team to include tailored itineraries that meet groups’ specific wishes and needs. The Big Ten group is only one example. She pointed to the 150 people—including the mayor, city council and county commissioners—from Alexandria, Virginia, who recently enjoyed an experience curated just for them. “They did a remembrance project that connected their history to ours,” she said. They brought soil from a local lynching site with them and presented it to EJI, while also taking in Montgomery’s and Selma’s civil rights sites. 

Jernigan again stressed the impact these visits can have. “Everyone who does them moves through this journey of what happened, but also, where we are headed and what should happen next,” she said, “and everyone leaves feeling empowered and energized.”

Jennifer Kornegay

Jennifer Kornegay works with the rest of the CentrAL INC! team to plan and create the articles and content for each issue. She is also a freelance writer and editor with work published in national and regional publications.

Mary Emily Byrd

Associate Media Advisor

On the Job

I network and connect with people within and also outside of our community to help them achieve their business goals. I love being a small part in helping others grow their business and also see results.

All About Me

First Job: Nanny.
Favorite Locally-Owned Businesses: Dirk’s Filet & Vine, Chappy’s, and Peppertree Steaks n’ Wine – their twice-baked potatoes are an all-time favorite.

Ashlee Allen

Digital Campaign Coordinator

On the Job

Work closely with the sales and creative teams to develop and implement digital strategies to increase online presence and improve marketing efforts for clients.

All About Me

First Job: Sales Associate.
Favorite Locally-Owned Businesses: Vintage Year, Pine Bar, & Jo Wells Boutique.

Kelsey Womack

Digital Marketing Specialist

On the Job

I manage website and search engine marketing needs. I work to fine-tune the keyword strategy of clients to get the best results.

All About Me

First Job: Panera Bread.
Favorite Locally-Owned Businesses: Nancy’s Italian Ice.

Jina Miniard

Associate Publisher

On the Job

Currently, I am the Associate Publisher and manage the magazine – content, deadlines, production, printing and the launch (which is always the best part).

All About Me

First Job: Babysitting. 
Favorite Locally-Owned Businesses: El Rey, Taco Mama and Chappy’s (of course it’s all food)

Terry Barber

Director of Sales and Marketing, Alabama National Fair & Owner Manager, Little Engine Broadcasting

On the Job

I split my day doing three different jobs. 1) Director of Sales and Marketing for the Alabama National Fair, 2) Owner Manager of Little Engine Broadcasting which owns two radio brands in Montgomery, Praise 96.5 WMGY and WRBZ and 3) Owner Manager of Little Engine Traffic which performs back office support for radio stations across North America. I enjoy being on the frontline of consumer marketing and behavior. I have been in the broadcasting business for over 40 years and joined the team at the Alabama National Fair in 2021.

All About Me

I came to Montgomery in 1999 to run a group of radio stations. My wife Margaret and I have navigated 38 years of marriage and raised three sons, Peden, David and Michael. 2023 is a busy year for us as we are adding two additional grandchildren (for a total of 5) and a daughter in law. We will need a bigger mantle this year for our Christmas stockings.

  • First job: I took a job at 14 years old at my local radio station in Newton, MS. 
  • Favorite business book: A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.
  • Favorite song: Thunder Island by Jay Ferguson
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Trust but verify.

Layne Holley

Director of Marketing & Communications

On the Job

I focus on three primary areas: promoting ASF’s productions throughout the season, from Shakespeare to classical to contemporary and new works, as well as our camps, classes and tours; ensuring our customer experience is top notch, from the moment you buy your ticket, to everything you do and see that’s not on the stage while you’re with us; sharing far and wide, through partnerships and media, ASF’s brand and mission to build community through transformative theatrical experiences.

All About Me

I grew up in Holtville. I earned my BA at Auburn University at Montgomery and then spent several years living in New York City and building my career in marketing and communications. That’s also where I met my wife, also a Southerner. The pull to be closer to family kept growing, so we moved back to Alabama in 2006 and bought what was always my very favorite house in Wetumpka. It’s been really great to see Wetumpka change and grow over the past few years, and that’s why I’m so excited to be on the editorial board for a magazine that is looking at the region from the intersection of business and community—because change takes all of us.

  • First Job: My very first job was picking up pecans in our large grove for my grandmother — I had the option of being paid by the pound or in cakes and candy.
  • Favorite business book: The Art of Money Getting by P.T. Barnum
  • Favorite song: Depends on the day and the mood, but I can always enjoy some Andrews Sisters.
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Always know who you’re talking to.

Joshua Byrd

Assistant Vice President & Relationship Manager, River Bank & Trust

On the Job

My job is all about forming and cultivating strong relationships. At some point in everyone’s lives they have a need for a banker. My role is to provide expertise and assistance to them. I enjoy seeing individuals’ short-term and long-term goals be accomplished. There are times I play a major role in seeing those goals to the end, and other times I can witness those successes, which is fulfilling. I have the opportunity to form relationships and connections in the community that I may not have otherwise formed.

All About Me

My family is originally from the small rural town of Gray Court, South Carolina, with a whopping population of 845. After graduating from Clemson University and living in the Clemson area, my father accepted a job with Russell Corporation in Alexander City in 1991, relocating us from South Carolina to Alexander City. Six years later, we moved to Millbrook. Now, my wife Missy, my daughter Kynleigh, and my son Kai continue to reside in Millbrook.

  • First job: My first job was at McDonalds on Highway 14 in Millbrook. 
  • Favorite business book: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki 
  • Best business advice you’ve received: “Always treat people how you want to be treated. This goes beyond being nice. This means doing what you say you will do, within the timeframe that you said you would do it. Be punctual, respecting everyone’s time. Be respectful. Be honest, always.” 

Darryl Washington

Director of The Department of Economic Development, City of Montgomery

On the Job

As the City of Montgomery’s leading economic development practitioner, I promote, develop and implement programs and activities that; provide sustainable economic impact to the City of Montgomery and it’s stakeholders, creates vibrant spaces throughout the City and connect citizens with job opportunities. What I love most about my job is collaborating with various community stakeholders to improve the quality of life and place for our community.

All About Me

I grew up in Birmingham with a strong and nurturing family and community support system. I graduated from Ramsay High School, received my BA degree in Marketing/Management from Morehouse College and I earned a Masters in Public and Private Management. I’ve worked in the field of Economic Development for over 25 years in Columbus, GA and Birmingham, AL. Prior to joining Mayor Steven Reed’s Cabinet in May 2022, I served as Chief Operating Officer for Urban Impact, a nonprofit contracted by the City of Birmingham to lead the revitalization of Birmingham’s Civil Rights National Monument District.

  • First job: My first job was a newspaper carrier for the Birmingham News when I was 10 years old.
  • Favorite business book: Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Favorite song: Joy and Pain by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
  • Best business advice you’ve received: In every adversity, look for the benefit that comes from it. Even bad experiences offer benefits, but you have to look for them.

Ashley Taylor, CPA/ABV,CFF, CVA/MAFF

Principal, Jackson Thornton Valuation & Litigation Consulting Group

On the Job

I work with our clients to help them determine the value of their business whether they want to sell, gift for estate planning purposes, or bring on a potential investor. I love this line of our business because the clients get to tell their stories. I get to work in a multitude of industries and typically hear how a close family or entrepreneur brought their dreams to life through their business. On the litigation side, my sister likes to tell people I fight crime with numbers.  I provide attorneys with litigation support to determine economic damages in cases related to business interruption, loss in business value, lost profits, marital dissolution, and personal injury to name a few.

All About Me

I grew up in Katy, Texas. My family relocated to Millbrook, AL when my stepdad received an offer to rebuild a hospital computer system in Montgomery. Based on the initial culture shock, my plan was always to go to college and never come back. However, I took a job offer at Jackson Thornton and got so involved in the community that I just didn’t want to leave. I wanted to do what I could to help tell the story of Montgomery and all the opportunities the community has to offer. Also, I met a boy that was not interested in moving to Texas.  

  • First job: I worked at a Mexican restaurant as a hostess in high school.
  • Favorite business book: I just started reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. 
  • Favorite song: Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car by Billy Ocean 
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Always be a gate-opener, not a gatekeeper. Go to lunch with your partners and invite a younger staff person to join. Attend a client meeting and bring someone that could bode well from the experience. In each situation, you are helping someone else build their network or grow professionally.

Ashley Jernigan

Owner and Principal, JDB Hospitality, LLC

On the Job

JDB Hospitality municipalities, organizations, and higher ed institutions develop strategic plans to expand their hospitality and tourism efforts. My work allows me to be at the pulse of what’s new and happening in Montgomery. Allowing me to highlight, expose and consult with new restaurants, attractions, and entertainment venues. I am on the state tourism’s board of directors allowing me direct access to national media, statewide tourism professionals, and a statewide master calendar of events where I additionally find ways to tell Montgomery’s unique story and promote what’s happening in the area. All with the intention to increase visitorship to the city.

All About Me

I came to Montgomery, sight unseen, in 2004 to attend ASU. In fact, I came on scholarship after writing an essay outlining my future goals which essentially explained I would make ASU and Montgomery proud by doing exactly what I am doing today! I met my husband Carl just months after graduation. We have been married for 8 years and have two children, Helena and Ashton, and our black lab, Carly. 

  • First job: Student Worker in the Community Relations Dept at Alabama State University 
  • After hours: RV’ing at a State Park with my family 
  • Favorite song: Just Do You by India Arie 
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Plan the work and work the plan. 

Ann Harper

Economic Development Director, City of Millbrook

On the Job

I help grow and enhance our local tax base by recruiting new businesses to our community and working on projects that facilitate and improve the quality of life for our citizens. In a smaller city like mine, I don’t necessarily have a lot of resources and staff, so I wear several hats. It’s all about leveraging resources and finding partners to accomplish our goals. The bottom line is that I’m a “connector”.  I enjoy my job because I get to meet people, and I derive satisfaction from knowing that I’m helping my city to flourish.

All About Me

I was born in Ancon, Canal Zone (Panama) but spent my early childhood in Falls Church, Virginia, near Washington D.C.  When my dad retired from the Federal Government, we moved to Millbrook. I am a Stanhope Elmore High School graduate and have a BS in Public Administration from Auburn University and a Master of Public Administration from AUM.  Prior to working for the City of Millbrook, I worked for the Alabama Wildlife Federation in fund development. I am married to Michael Harper, an attorney, and we have one daughter Aliceann who is 26 years old.

● First job: My first job in high school was working at a movie theater in northern Virginia selling tickets and working concessions.
● Favorite business book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
● Favorite song: I have lots of favorite songs and they all seem to originate from the classic rock genre (the 70s and 80s).
● Best business advice you’ve received: “Do what you say you’ll do.”

Kevin King

Founder/Executive Director, The King’s Canvas

On the Job

We are a creative placemaking organization that provides opportunity and access to marginalized artists. I enjoy what I do because we are one of several community-building arts and culture entities that refused to depend on institutions to accept us but instead created our own infrastructure that facilitates more equitable practices in the art community. 

All About Me

I am a native of Mobile, Alabama. I moved with my wife Nicole and my daughter Kaiya to the Washington Park neighborhood in 2008 to work with Common Ground Montgomery. I have served as Associate Director for Common Ground Montgomery ever since. After receiving art supplies from my family, I re-engaged with the arts after 16 years and was moved to open the King’s Canvas to fill the gap and provide creative opportunities in West Montgomery. I’ve been involved in nonprofit grassroots and advocacy efforts for years and have a genuine connection and love for the community. 

  • First Job: Southern Lithographing in Mobile Alabama  
  • Favorite Business Book:The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret by Ivan Misner, Ph.D., and Mike Macedonio 
  • Favorite song: Triumph by Wu-Tang Clan 
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Boyd Stephens encouraged me to “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution”  

Ronda A. Cherry

Customer Service Manger,
Alabama Power

On the Job

I get to lead, motivate, and develop a diverse team of outstanding customer service professionals. In addition to leading the Montgomery Business Office Customer Service team, I also partner with APC and Customer Operations leaders to champion and ensure a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture as managing sponsor of the Customer Operations Culture Committee.

All About Me

Originally from Middletown, Rhode Island in New England, I am an avid New England Patriots fan. In addition to watching football, I enjoy reading, networking, photography, cooking, traveling, and spending time with family. Community involvement is extremely important to me. I am a proud member of the Alabama Power Service Organization. I serve on the Boards of Directors for River Region United Way, Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama, Second Chance Foundation and CASA. 

  • First job: At 16, my summer job was as a Teller at the Bank of Newport in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • Favorite business book: Cues by Vanessa Van Edwards
  • Favorite song: It is Well with My Soul (hymn)
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Trust is better than perfection. Create an environment where people are safe to take risks, make mistakes, be creative and challenge the norm. Be authentic, supportive, and trustworthy.

Tiffany Robinson

City Clerk/Treasurer for the City of Wetumpka

On the Job

The City Clerk serves as the Chief Financial Officer for the City. I am also responsible for City Council communication through regular council meetings, maintaining all city records, annexations, and municipal elections. I am passionate about Wetumpka, love watching it grow and being part of a great team that strives to make Wetumpka a better place to live, work and play. In Wetumpka, we strive to work with each entity whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce or Wetumpka Main Street to produce quality of life experiences for our community. One of our tag lines is; “together we can”! If the River Region works together, everyone benefits.

All About Me

I am married to Tucker Robinson and we have two boys, Pierce and Sawyer. Tucker and I met while attending Troy State University. I graduated in 1998 with a major in Journalism and a minor in Public Relations. After graduation and marriage, we planted our roots in Wetumpka, where Tucker is from.

  • First job: My first job out of college was working for B.A.S.S. Inc. in the advertising department.
  • Favorite business book: Companies We Keep by John Abrams
  • Favorite song: Get the Party Started by Pink
  • Best business advice you’ve received: Don’t sweat the small stuff and pick your battles.

Pam Mashburn


On the Job

I make sure that CentrAL INC! reflects the energy and pulse of our diverse business community.

All About Me


Shelby Shubird

Digital Media Manager

On the Job

I do all things digital– strategizing with the CentrAL Inc! team on digital
advertising, social media, eNewsletters, and more!

All About Me

Abby Wilson

Digital Media Specialist

On the Job

I work on social media accounts. I enjoy how the social media landscape is
constantly changing. 

All About Me

I graduated from The University of Alabama at Birmingham in August 2021 with a Bachelors of Science in Marketing with a concentration on Digital Marketing. I was born and raised in a small town about 50 minutes from Montgomery. I am the youngest of three children, and while I don’t have any children myself, I do have a miniature poodle, Mac, that I treat like my child. I love to travel anytime I get the chance. One of my goals is to see all 50 states!

Jessica Barganier

Graphic Designer

On the Job

I designed the logo for CentrAL INC!, and I also design print ads, collateral, and social media posts.

All About Me

Erika Rowe Tracy

Art Director

On the Job

Page design has always been my favorite creative project, and working behind the camera for many years gave me a passion for starting with great images. Now, creating images that build a strong base for design is my favorite form of creative collaboration.

All About Me

I’m a proud Montgomerian. From high school at BTW Magnet to college at AUM, the friends and family I’ve grown to know here are a huge bonus to my daily life.

  • First Job: Working the register at Luigi’s Pizza
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Small Business: Cloverdale everything — ExVoto, Welle Studio, Vintage Cafe, Stonehenge, and more. It’s my pleasure to support these businesses!
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: El Rey is never a bad idea.
  • After Hours: Getting outside brings me lots of joy and inspiration. Solvitur
    ambulando—it is solved by walking.

Heather Ruddock

Creative Director

On the Job

I am responsible for the overall creative design and layout for CentrAL
INC!, and I’m also responsible for keeping the branding style consistent throughout all print and digital materials.

All About Me

I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Auburn University at Montgomery. My husband, Chris, and I live in Wetumpka. We have a dog named Cinder that I adopted from the shelter.

  • First Job: Associate at Books-a-Million
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Small Business: Vivian O’Nay
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: Wharf Seafood
  • After Hours: I love to spend time with my family and friends. I’m a laid back person, so I like to swim, watch television, and occasionally play video games. I also like to get out and try new things when I get the chance.

Savanna Pruitt

Content Specialist

On the Job

I manage and create the content for CentrAL INC’s social media channels. I also make sure the website content is posted, updated, and optimized. I occasionally write articles for the magazine.

All About Me

  • First Job: Cafe Associate at Panera Bread
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Small Business: Any antique or vintage shop– Prattville Pickers, Eastbrook Flea Market, and J & G Flea Market are a few of my favorites.
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: It’s not technically a restaurant… but Prevail has the best coffee and treats around!

Kinsey de Torres

Managing Editor

On the Job

For CentrAL INC!, I am responsible for managing editorial needs, gathering news releases and event photos, and managing out website content and CentrAL Weekly newsletter. I also manage client communication and ad tracking for CentrAL INC!

All About Me

  • First Job: All growing up, I helped with my family’s wedding business, TLC Weddings. But for my first “real” job in high school, I worked as a Nanny.
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: Brunch is my absolute favorite meal, so I love the Cork and Cleaver and the Bubbly Hen.

Jennifer S. Kornegay


On the Job

I work with the rest of the CentrAL INC! team to plan and create the articles
and content for each issue. I love learning about and sharing the stories of the multiple driven people in Central Alabama who are doing innovative and interesting things that strengthen our community.

All About Me

I’ve lived all over the South but have been in Montgomery for 24 years. I
graduated from The University of Alabama (Roll Tide!). My CentrAL INC! hat isn’t the only one I wear; I’m a freelance writer and editor, and my writing has been published in national and regional publications including Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and Conde Nast Traveler.

  • Favorite Locally-Owned Small Business: I shop a lot (too much?) at Welle Studio for clothing and accessories. I also love Vinson Market for fun gifts and plants.
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: Vintage Year (for fancy dinner) and Chris’ Hot Dogs (for not-so-fancy outings)
  • After Hours: I enjoy hiking, reading, and spending time with family.

Angie Jordin

Media Advisor

On the Job

I am a media advisor/sales team member for CINC! I get to work with business owners to define their brand, tell their story, and create compelling ads for the magazine.

All About Me

  • First Job: I worked at a flower and tux shop when I was 16.
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: Sommer’s Place Restaurant is my Sunday after-church go-to!

Christina Bennett

Senior Media Advisor

On the Job

I work closely with CentrAL Inc! advertisers.

All About Me

  • First Job: Store Clerk
  • Favorite Locally-Owned Restaurant: Tipping Point.

Brandon Householder

Website Specialist

On the Job

I built the website for CINC! I make sure everything is functioning correctly, running smoothly and all systems stay up to date.

All About Me