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The Difference Makers

WSSU News & Information

Since Winston-Salem State University was founded, Rams have been challenging injustice and working to improve the lives of people, not just in Winston-Salem, but around the world.

For this issue, Archway magazine is highlighting 12 Rams who are impacting the lives of those in their communities and living the motto, “Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.”



1. & 2. Keturah Ross and Shequenta Wyche

Students, Department of Social Work


Cheers for Volunteers

Volunteers are vital resources who help Family Services of Davidson County deliver services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims.

Keturah Ross and Shequenta Wyche, social work majors at WSSU, have volunteered a combined total of nearly 700 hours at the agency during this academic year. 

Wyche said, “Interning at Family Services of Davidson County has really shown me the importance of domestic violence prevention and being able to advocate for individuals who may not advocate for themselves.”

Wyche and Ross intern at Family Services two days per week. Their work includes assisting clients with taking out protective orders, following up with clients on court dates and going to court with clients. 

In February, the WSSU seniors also were instrumental in leading an outreach event for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month that was presented to middle and high school students across Davidson County. The program focused on healthy relationships and the warning signs of unhealthy relationships.

Ross, of Greensboro, said her long-term goal is to establish her own non-profit.

“Interning at Family Services has given me a better understanding of the importance of being an advocate for other people,” Ross said. “I’ve become more self-assured that I am moving in the right direction.”

Wyche, from Raleigh, said she wants to become a school social worker.

Their volunteer work is coordinated through Project GIVE, a volunteer service program that matches members of the WSSU community with non-profit organizations and their service programs. During the 2017-18 academic year, WSSU students volunteered for more than 45,000 hours of community service, a annual impact of more than $1 million.




3. & 4. Heidi Bristow and Nancy Smith

Faculty, School of Health Sciences

Helping Seniors Live Better Lives

A growing number of older adults in the communities around WSSU cannot maneuver safely in their homes, causing their quality of life to suffer.

Nancy Smith, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, and Heidi Bristow, coordinator for Project REACHE, a program created through a $269,000 grant from United Way of Forsyth County, are helping seniors obtain renovations or maintenance to their homes so they can remain independent and age successfully where they are most comfortable.  

Through Project REACHE, WSSU’s physical therapy and occupational therapy students have participated in nearly 200 home visits for home health therapy and home safety assessments.

Bristow said 59 residents have received assistance with home modifications.

“WSSU has such an opportunity to invest in the community,” Bristow said. “There are many older residents who are at risk of losing their independence, who need repairs to their homes, and need handicap modifications to stay in their homes long term. The therapy we provide and health education they receive gives them tools to remain independent.” 

Smith said: “This is impactful for our students in that they are learning to be community-based professionals who engage residents to be part of the solution to community issues, in alignment with WSSU’s motto, “Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.” Students are learning how to engage residents in bettering their health as well as engaging them in the process of home modification.” 

The program also includes clinic visits and wellness classes.

Bristow said participants have demonstrated decreased risk for falling in their home and are reporting more confidence about their balance, and have decreased the number of falls that they are having.




5. Aaron Jackson

Staff, School of Health Sciences  

Healthcare on Wheels

Over the past four years, the Rams Know H.O.W. Mobile Unit has provided health screenings and healthcare referrals for more than 5,000 people, most of whom are uninsured or underinsured.

Since early 2018, the Rams Mobile, the only HBCU-based mobile unit in the nation, has expanded its services and hours and added a second unit. Also, last fall, Rams Mobile launched Wellness Wednesdays, a public health outreach for WSSU students.

Behind the success of Rams Mobile is Aaron Jackson, the coordinator for the unit. Jackson handles clinic scheduling and the day-to-day operations of the unit.

“Health is the most basic component of humanity, which should be granted to all regardless of your personal biases/fears towards another,” Jackson said.

In January, Jackson was honored with the City of Winston-Salem’s Young Dreamers Award, which honors emerging or proven young city residents.




6. Rep. Harry Lewis Jr. ’63 

WSSU Alumnus 


A Lifetime of Public Service

Harry Lewis served as a social worker, special education teacher, physical education teacher, track coach, assistant principal and principal in Chester County, Pennsylvania, for 41 years before retiring in 2006.

After his retirement, Lewis continued to make a difference for residents in his community. In 2014, he was elected as state representative for the Pennsylvania 74th District, becoming the first African American elected to a statewide office from Chester County.

He retired in 2018 after serving two terms. Among his accomplishments was securing $6 million in grants for a revitalization project, which brought 110 permanent jobs to the area.

In November, Lewis was named the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry 2018 Citizen of the Year.



7. Hazel Joyner Smith ‘71

WSSU Alumna

Showcasing African American Film

Hazel Joyner Smith is a pioneer in the creation of innovative programs promoting cultural diversity inclusion and awareness.

In 2006, she created The International Black Film Festival (IBFF) of Nashville, the first festival series in the state of Tennessee to highlight the contributions of African American filmmakers.

“Since our inception, the festival has been received by the film community with much enthusiasm and has offered a venue for the underserved, emerging and veteran filmmaker to screen their work,” Joyner Smith said in her 2018 IBFF welcome.

With “Defining Our Stories, Transforming Our Image” as its theme, IBFF is committed to presenting culturally accurate depictions in film and giving a voice to the “unheard, unseen and unknown viewpoints.”

“Our mission is to educate, engage and empower communities within the diaspora by telling their stories, sharing their experiences in their own voice through the art of film, music, and television,” she said.

Before establishing the festival, Joyner Smith served in two consecutive roles as an assistant director and program director of the Fisk University Race Relations Institute.




8. Rep. Derwin Montgomery ‘09

WSSU Alumnus


From City Hall to the General Assembly

As a 21-year-old WSSU student, Derwin Montgomery was elected to his first of three terms to the Winston-Salem City Council, becoming the youngest elected official in North Carolina.

As a City Council member, Montgomery served on all four of the Council committees and was the chair of the Community Development, Housing and General Government Committee.

“We have been able to champion new affordable housing policies, increase minimum wage for city employees, and oversee the largest public-private investments in the city in a generation,” Montgomery says on his website.

In 2018, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives, representing District 72, which includes WSSU. Montgomery is also director of the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and co-owner of The Winston-Salem Chronicle.




9. April Johnson ’04

WSSU Alumna


Nurturing Students Through Art

As a middle school student, April Johnson struggled with academics and behavior. She began spending more time in art class.

“Art saved me,” she said in a recent release from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

Today, as an elementary school art teacher, Johnson works to create the same experiences she had for her students.

"Everyone can do something," she told CMS. "If you can't paint, I will give you some clay. Art is the opportunity to remake yourself. Kids get labeled. Art allows them to reinvent themselves and do things they don't even realize they are capable of doing."

Johnson was named the 2018 CMS Teacher of the Year.  

More here: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools News




10. Darren Absher ’94, ‘17

WSSU alumnus


Helping the Underserved

Darren Absher started saving lives as an emergency medical services volunteer at age 13. Three decades later, as a graduate of WSSU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice, he is taking the knowledge he’s learned to help future nurse practitioners apply evidence in treating underserved populations locally and globally. 

For his capstone project, he researched how healthcare teams work together to treat patients at the Community Care Center of Winston-Salem, the largest and most comprehensive free clinic in North Carolina.

“The health of many people who are impoverished is often ignored in our country,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of them are ethnic minorities. I was particularly interested in this demographic after recognizing Hispanic/Latino people accounted for a majority of patients utilizing this safety-net clinic and represent the fastest growing segment of the overall U.S. population.”

More here: Nursing scholar hopes research will improve care for city's underserved




11. Miranda Legg

WSSU Student 


Taking Care of the Planet

In 2018, Miranda Legg used her passion for recycling to help WSSU win a national recycling contest and a $30,000 grant for Simon’s Green Acre, the community garden at WSSU’s Enterprise Center.

Legg, a biology major from Lexington, helped WSSU beat out competitors on 50 campuses across the country to win the competition from Garnier’s Rinse, Recycle Repeat campaign.

“I have always cared about the Earth, and I thought I was environmentally conscious, but participating in this contest has opened my eyes to the seriousness of the world’s plastic pollution problem,” Legg said. “It was amazing to see people come together, and the support I received to win the scholarship was incredible. But my excitement for this garden is on another level. Our school’s motto is ‘Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve,’ and the garden is a great way to serve others.”

More here: WSSU wins $30,000 community garden through nationwide recycling competition 




12. Sonja Harry

Faculty, School of Health Sciences

Serves Students, Serves Country

Sonja Harry, an associate professor of social work at WSSU, has devoted nearly 20 years to educating students and serving her country.

Harry, a native of Covington, Louisiana, joined the Navy Reserves and began the process of becoming a commissioned officer in 1996. As a reservist, Harry has been deployed twice.

Harry’s military commitment doesn’t prevent her from supporting students in WSSU’s Department of Social Work, which is the winner of the 2018 HBCU Digest Award for Best Social Work Program

Harry often meets with students to help them identify their goals and ensure that they are prepared through a WSSU social work program initiative called RAMREADY that she helped to implement.

“She is the epitome of a servant leader and is a consistent example to our social work majors and alumni,” said Yolanda Meade Byrd, associate professor of social work and chair of the Department of Social Work. 

More here: WSSU's Sonja Harry serves students, serves country