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Gambit's 40 Under 40 (2013) 

An annual look at 40 New Orleanians who are making the city a better place

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click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Ameca Reali, 30
Adrienne Wheeler, 35
Co-founders, Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana

Loyola University Law School graduates Ameca Reali and Adrienne Wheeler founded the Justice and Accountability Center (JAC) of Louisiana, whose most recent project was an "Expungement Day" in September. More than 500 people came to Christian Unity Baptist Church in Treme to seek help in getting their criminal records expunged. Reali and Wheeler now are sorting through those files.

"When our criminal justice system is as active as it is with arrests and two federal consent decrees, expungements become a vehicle for sustainability," Wheeler says, adding that background checks that turn up criminal records can prevent employment, housing and other services.

"Outside of jobs, it really can affect one's ability to engage in a community, volunteer, have custody of kids, volunteer at your kids' school, walk in a parade with them — it's not just jobs, which is huge, but it also reconnects with the things that help you stay grounded," Reali says.

Expungements typically take a year, though the process isn't uniform statewide and varies from parish to parish. In Orleans Parish, Wheeler says, one must get the records, wait for a hearing date, pay $250 for the expungement, and wait for a certificate of compliance from the state police — which can deny the request or ask for more information before it is processed.

JAC also serves as ground zero for addressing Louisiana's criminal justice anomalies. It works with community partners, from Mary Queen of Vietnam Church to Resurrection After Exoneration, to offer legal clinics and clinics for lawyers to help spread knowledge of how to perform expungements, among other services, such as post-conviction relief, that don't have other organizations promoting them. JAC's goal is to be a model for developing a legal service within the community that would make JAC obsolete.

"We pick one, work the model, hopefully fix it, share it, spread it and pick another piece," Reali says. — Alex Woodward

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Dr. Satya Reddy, 38
Ophthalmologist, Louisiana Cornea Specialists

Following medical school at the University of Kentucky and an ophthalmology residency at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Satya Reddy performed a self-assessment that led him to Chicago, where he completed a cornea fellowship at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary.

"When you're considering the cornea procedures, it comes in very technical dimensions," Reddy explains, noting measurements in microns (one-millionth of a meter). "It's a very high-precision surgery and it's very technologically advanced. It requires a very specific skill set and presents its own unique challenges."

Reddy took on many such challenges with cutting-edge techniques and talents that have made his Covington-based Louisiana Cornea Specialists practice a leader in the region. Specific innovations include applying LASIK technologies for enhanced safety and better results in cornea transplants; using a rare iris reconstruction to restore 20/20 vision to a man blinded by a knife wound when he was 10; and incorporating new technologies to treat macular degeneration.

The ophthalmologist opened a practice on the Northshore in 2009. "I realized the Northshore, which grew tremendously in population after (Hurricane) Katrina, lacked specialist-level cornea care," Reddy says.

A pilot and avid traveler who's been to 51 countries and scuba dived in the South Pacific, Reddy jokes when asked if a recent trip to take his 16-month-old son Viraaj to India to meet his grandparents was an incredible experience. "Traveling with a toddler across three continents on four flights each with long layovers is incredible in a whole other sort of way," he said. — Frank Etheridge

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Jacob Robinson, 8
Student/ actor

Jacob Robinson is a little guy with big plans. The 8-year-old from LaPlace hopes to turn his passion for acting into a full-time career. Jacob has appeared in popular kid-centric AT&T commercials, and he recently walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere for his first feature film, the horror thriller The Monkey's Paw.

"That was really fun," Robinson says. "I thought I did a really good job in my scenes, and I thought they did a really good job of making the movie. It was all just perfect — and I also got to ride in a limo."

When he was 5, Jacob's mother Brandi enrolled him in classes at the John Robert Powers performing arts academy in Metairie. She never imagined where it would lead.

"He's the one that drives his career, not us," she says. "He obviously has a talent for it, he has a love for it, and it's what he says he wants to do."

Brandi quit her high school teaching job last year so Jacob could attend school at home by enrolling in the public charter virtual school Louisiana Connections Academy. That allows the family to keep up with his hectic schedule of auditions, acting and singing and dancing lessons. The family splits its time between Louisiana and Los Angeles, living in L.A. from January to March for "pilot season," the time of year networks cast actors for upcoming television series. Brandi is hopeful that Jacob can land a pilot next year so the family can settle into a regular schedule. But, she says, if it doesn't work out, that's OK, too.

"Jacob takes it in stride," she says. "He understands that if you go in there, if you did your best, if you did everything that you can do, then it's not your fault that you didn't get cast for something."

Jacob is committed to pursuing a career in acting, though he admits there are a few things he misses when he's away from home.

"Mostly the Cajun food," he says, "because I just love shrimp and stuff." — Brad Rhines

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Lovie Lewis Rodgers, 30
Assistant professor, pharmacy practice, Xavier University

Lovie Lewis Rodgers knew she wanted to be a pharmacist when she was in middle school. Her mother had been ill for as long as she could remember, and Rodgers says the medical professional most attentive to her needs was her pharmacist.

Rodgers graduated from Xavier University in 2007 and is a clinical assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, where the graduating pharmacy class gave her the Preceptor of the Year Award in 2010. Of the dozen or so awards Rodgers has collected during her career, that is the one she's most proud of, "because it's all students, so there are no politics," she says.

For her fourth-year pharmacy students, Rodgers provides on-site training in managing patients' medications at Daughters of Charity. Under her direction, students are able to learn in an interactive setting and get real-life experience. Rodgers also is the faculty advisor for Xavier's women's dance team, a role that allows her to mentor young women who are just beginning to think about what kind of lives they'll lead. "They're able to relate to me," says Rodgers, who was on the dance team herself as a student.

Rodgers grew up in Hammond but moved to New Orleans to attend Xavier and has called it home ever since. She volunteers in the community and wants to improve the overall health of local residents by educating them about preventable diseases such as asthma and diabetes.

"New Orleans has a network of people trying to make a difference," she says. — Jeanie Riess

click to enlarge PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Jermaine L. Smith, 32
Development director, Educare New Orleans

As a kid in Atlanta, Jermaine L. Smith was lucky. The public schools in his neighborhood were good and his teachers nominated him to attend private school with a scholarship.

"To be perfectly honest, just getting that opportunity completely changed the path of my life," he says. "I had a great opportunity to have my horizons expanded and I want to do whatever I can to give other people the same opportunity."

To do that, Smith has raised funds for national and local nonprofits including the United Negro College Fund and Young Leadership Council, taught financial literacy at Walter L. Cohen High School and is development director of Educare New Orleans, a school in Columbia Parc, the successful mixed-income housing complex that replaced a portion of the St. Bernard Housing Development.

Raising funds is only part of his job, Smith says.

"One of the things that's really amazing about New Orleans is that there is an inherent entrepreneurial spirit and people want to do things for themselves, but what we lack historically is access to resources," he says. "I think we're doing a great job of not only creating those resources, but we're doing a better job of expanding the access to them."

Smith, who secured more than $2.5 million in grants as development director of the finance nonprofit A Shared Initiative Inc., feels that being a successful fundraiser is the result of many different things.

"I've been very blessed to work for organizations that have been well-managed and had great reputations," Smith says. "But more than that, we do exceptionally well here because we create great relationships with people — and in New Orleans that's especially important because everybody knows everybody else."

In his spare time, Smith enjoys relaxing with his wife, Megan Jessica Holt, and their 11-month-old son, Jefferson Henry Davis. — Megan Braden-Perry

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