Supporting leaders of tomorrow

Published 1:51 pm Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leaders in the technology, business and medical fields spoke to encourage and inspire area students during an event held at Charleys Waterfront Cafe last Friday evening.

The event was organized by Wil Dean, founder of Ellis Acres Memorial Park in the Town of Dillwyn.

Before the event, participants took part in an icebreaker activity where they signed their names underneath characteristics that described them — such as whether they drink coffee, whether they are afraid of heights or have pets — and asked others in the room to do the same.

Email newsletter signup

Amari Butler, a senior at Buckingham County High School, said before the event she was looking forward to connecting with other students and area leaders.

“I’d like to start talking to people,” Butler said.

Two of the speakers included Dean’s sons, Jonathan and Justin, Chris Duffas, of Washington, D.C., who works for a technology company,, that specializes in Bitcoin currency, Jeremiah Hunt, vice president of senior business banking relationship manager with Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jason Murillo, who had worked as a conductor and engineer for CSX Transportation and Railroad before attending Liberty University to major in business, and Funmi Baldauf-Dean, who works in the medical field and encouraged young women and men to pursue their goals and not allow racial stereotyping to discourage them.

Citing their journeys through college, career changes and the armed services, the speakers encouraged youth that career paths may not be straightforward and challenged them to ask questions and to be proactive in pursuing their goals.

After the events, students could interact with the speakers and organizers and ask questions regarding career choices and college applications and scholarships.

High school and university students, during the event, asked questions and spoke with fellow students and members of the community.

Dean, introducing the event and speakers, encouraged the participants to broaden their horizons. He showed them a photo taken on what appeared to be a tranquil island, but a perspective on a mountaintop showed a different, less tranquil view of the island.

“When we open our mind and expose ourselves to different things, what do we see?” Dean said. “If we just look at this area it looks fine, but until we see this big area over here, once we get on the mountaintop, we can look out and see more. That’s what we want to do tonight, to help us to see more.”

Jonathan, a surgical and cosmetic dentist, currently operates several dental services in Las Vegas. He noted that he had been enrolled in the University of Virginia as an undergraduate, later attending dental school at the University of Maryland. 

Jonathan encouraged the students to not be afraid to ask questions. Citing an interest meeting he attended for the Air Force, he said his goal was to move to the west coast. He asked a commander whether he could be stationed in Las Vegas. Jonathan said he would sign up to serve if he could be stationed in Las Vegas.

“If I hadn’t asked that question, I wouldn’t be in Las Vegas,” Jonathan said. “Just that one day, me and a friendship with someone in dental school who opened up my circle, allowed me to get to Las Vegas, and I have been in Las Vegas for 14 years.”

Demaro Gough, a student at Old Dominion University, noted struggles in a class and asked for suggestions of the best ways to study.

“Besides asking the professors, would you also look for other solutions, such as a study group?” Gough said.

Jonathan cited learning study methods from classmates in dental school who would write and rewrite notes several times before exams.

“It initially felt like it was a lot of work, a lot more effort,” Jonathan said. “Once it became a habit to me, it was no problem.”

He said his experience in dental school had been 18 years ago, and he encouraged students to look toward the future.

“When you’re faced with obstacles, don’t let certain things get you down, and have the foresight to realize that it will get better; put in the work, and it will get better,” Jonathan said.

Justin is a partner and managing director with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that offers consultations to organization managers on how to best operate their company.

Justin is the first African-American leader in the BCG company.

He encouraged the audience to pursue their passions and to have a Plan B to fall back on. He cited a former coworker, John Stephens, who had worked for the company but loved to sing. Justin noted people know John now as music artist John Legend.

Justin said John had continued to work at BCG while pursuing music part-time, then left the company when his singing career excelled.

“You can follow your passion, but make sure you always have a backup plan,” Justin said.