July 21, 2020 | Posted: April 20, 2020 | Chris Woodley
The 19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." With uncertainties throughout the world, the time is now for emerging leaders. Only two years after graduating, alumna Chynna A. Phillips, MSW ’18, MPH ’18, was recently recognized for her leadership as a 20 Under 40 recipient.
Presented annually by The State Newspaper and thestate.com, the 20 Under 40 recognizes individuals 40 years old and younger throughout the Midlands region who are making an impact on the community through their professional, civic or volunteer work. Phillips is director of research and policy at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina and active in local community organizations.
“It was humbling when I first learned that I received the honor,” Phillips says. “The people who nominated me were individuals I had worked with, local and state legislators and executive directors of prominent organizations. It's motivating to know the impact that I have in my community is being seen and recognized. But there is still so much work to be done.”
Originally from Nassau, Bahamas, Phillips began her graduate studies at South Carolina in 2015 as a dual degree student at the College of Social Work and Arnold School of Public Health. She had met her future husband, Landry, as an undergraduate student at Xavier University in Cincinnati. They were married after moving to Columbia as her husband also pursued his graduate degree at the Darla Moore School of Business. On Jan. 15, 2017, they became parents when their son, Landry II, was born. According to Phillips, having a child gave her a new definition of love, sacrifice and happiness at the same moment.
Multi-tasking her classroom studies, field placements and parental responsibilities, Phillips also began working part-time as a project assistant at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina. She was later hired full-time as a research and policy associate and after graduating in May 2018, she was promoted to research and policy manager. Phillips was elevated to her current position this past December.
“Not being a native of South Carolina and advocating for policy as a young leader can be a hurdle sometimes,” Phillips says. “But I’m stepping into a space where I'm ready and willing to use my seat at the table. I agree with a quote by Shirley Chisholm (the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress) who said, 'If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’”
In addition to rising above the misguided stereotypes of millennials and being a working mom, Phillips credits the women she has met in South Carolina who have helped her balance professional and personal aspirations.
“There are amazing people in South Carolina, and the common thread within is that
women have always played a positive role in my career,” Phillips says. “They have
opened doors or provided good examples of being a working mom. The transition of
becoming a new mom and beginning my career was one that I had to overcome but having
a support system was important.”
While Phillips continues to succeed in her professional career, she credits the College of Social Work’s courses and field education with providing a foundation for her future.
“There are many amazing professors in the College of Social Work program who have taught me how to blend my social work values in every space I am in,” Phillips says. “For example, I now see the beauty in my natural desire to question why things are and the commitment to ensure that my decisions are person-centered while engaging with communities. These are skills that were developed through my social work training. In truth, the program made me a better advocate."
I loved my experience at the College of Social Work and would not have changed it for anything. I still interact with some of the professors, who are willing to brainstorm ideas with me because the learning does not stop after you graduate.
Phillips also credits her success to leadership in community organizations. One example is her work with the Midlands Business Leadership Group Diversity Task Force. This group is tasked with helping to ensure that more professional boards and committees are diverse, not only in racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also in lived experiences. Other current positions include serving as chair of the City of Columbia 2020 Complete Count Committee, advisory board member for the University of South Carolina Collaborative on Race and Reconciliation, and a national advisory member for Generations United.