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Annual Meeting Awards nominations are due March 11. Submit a nomination today.

Ignite Conference Speakers

Opening Speaker

Chris Singleton

Chris SingletonChris Singleton is a former professional athlete who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2017. Following the loss of his mother in a racially motivated mass shooting, Chris became an inspirational speaker and best-selling author who has shared his message of unity and racial reconciliation with NFL and NBA teams as well as multiple Fortune 500 companies across the country. He shares with more than 100 organizations and 30,000 students annually.

He lives with his spouse Mariana and his sons CJ and Caden in Charleston, SC.


Keynote Speaker

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth SmartThe abduction of Elizabeth Smart was one of the most followed child abduction cases of our time. Elizabeth was abducted on June 5, 2002, and her captors controlled her by threatening to kill her and her family if she tried to escape. Fortunately, the police safely returned Elizabeth back to her family on March 12, 2003, after being held a prisoner for 9 grueling months. Through this traumatic experience, Elizabeth has become an advocate for change related to child abduction, recovery programs, and National legislation.

Elizabeth triumphantly testified before her captor and the world about the very private nightmare she suffered during her abduction, which led to conviction.

The Founder of the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation”, Elizabeth has also helped promote The National AMBER Alert, The Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions. Elizabeth has chronicled her experiences in the New York Times best-selling book, "My Story."

In addition, she and other abduction survivors worked with the Department of Justice to create a survivors guide, entitled, “You're Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment.” This guide is meant to encourage children who have gone through similar experiences not to give up but to know that there is hope for a rewarding life.

Elizabeth has recently released a new powerful and inspiring book about what it takes to overcome trauma, find the strength to move on, and reclaim one’s life. "Where There’s Hope" is the result of Elizabeth’s mission: It is both an up-close-and-personal glimpse into her healing process and a heartfelt how-to guide for readers to make peace with the past and embrace the future.

Elizabeth’s abduction and recovery continue to motivate parents, law enforcement and leaders worldwide to focus on children’s safety. She emphasizes vigilance by "everyday" people and the belief that hope always exists to find every missing child.

Smart attended Brigham Young University, studying music as a harp performance major. She married her husband Matthew in 2012, and they now have three beautiful children. Elizabeth’s example is a daily demonstration that there really is life after tragedy.


Afternoon Speaker

Precious Williams

Precious WilliamsPrecious L. Williams is a 13-time national elevator pitch champion and sought after international professional speaker and speaker development trainer. She has been featured on "Shark Tank," CNN, Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine, Essence Magazine, and the movie "LEAP."  She also is the author of five No. 1 Bestselling books: “Bad Bitches and Power Pitches: For Women Entrepreneurs and Speakers Only, “Bad Bitches and Power Pitches: The Workbook,” “Pitching for Profit,” “The Pitch Queen“ and her latest book “Rainmaking 101 from Day One.”

To understand Precious is to understand her experience. She once weighed 327 pounds and somehow used her moxie, grit and determination to talk her way into funding for a company that didn’t even exist — Curvy Girlz Lingerie. She made her company a reality and her ability to think on her feet, boldly break the rules and tell a story has since made her the #KillerPitchMaster. Some also refer to her as the female MacGyver of business! She began her serial entrepreneurial journey in 2011.

She has trained more than 375 business pitch champions and has previously partnered with digitalundivided, Founders First Capital, EnrichHer and IFundwomen to train their business cohorts as a pitch coach. She has served as judge at numerous pitch competitions including: Sistas in Biz Expo, Brunch Pitch, Fast Pitch (NYC) and Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center (TX).

In addition to helping women entrepreneurs and business leaders, she is a corporate sales trainer and helps teams create killer communication skills, craft messaging and understand how to pitch and build sales programs.

Precious is a world-class speaker and trainer for global brands including: BMW, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Harvard University, Columbia University, George Washington University, Intuit Quickbooks, Yelp, Sirius XM and more.

Never one to forget her roots, she gives back by working with organizations like Bottomless Closet, the Bowery Mission Women's Center, DreamWakers, Savvy Ladies, and Dress for Success.


Breakout Session Speakers

Ashley Gadson

Ashley GadsonAshley Gadson is the founder and director of South Carolina Development Trainings, LLC. Ashley is a certified trainer for SC Endeavors in the fields of professional development, child growth and development.

Ashley has worked for more than 12 years serving families and children across the Carolina’s in foster care and family preservation services and as a licensing coordinator. She also authored a children’s book, Magnificently Made, which was published in 2013.

Ashley was recognized in 2016 by South Carolina Black Pages as Top 20 under 40. She has provided leadership and professional development training for many companies and agencies across the Carolina’s including USC Lancaster Upward Bound and Trio Program, Midlands Technical College Continuing Education Program, Urban League of Columbia/Charlotte, Brookland Academy. USC Early Start Program, and USC Lancaster Admissions Department.

Ashley has two busy and bright sons and a loving husband. Ashley is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Ashley received a master’s degree in individual and family development from South Carolina State University in 2009 and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of South Carolina in 2005. Ashley firmly believes that personal and professional growth directly influences community growth.

Roxanne Latimer, MD

Roxanne LatimerRoxanne Latimer, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician. She practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine. Dr. Latimer earned her medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine and completed her residency at UMass Memorial Health Care. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. Dr. Latimer is accepting new patients.

 

April Messimer

April MessimerApril joined Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in 2007. She concentrates on wealth management strategies, income management, and retirement services for individuals. She also works closely with clients to help them with their credit and lending needs including home financing, lines of credit and securities based loans through Bank of America, N.A. April has earned her CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification and the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor™ designation.

April served on the Susan G. Komen South Carolina Board from 2017-2019. She earned her Bachelor's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. April lives in Myrtle Beach with her husband, Jonathan, and their daughter.

Paige Weaver, PA-C

Paige WeaverPaige Weaver, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine. She earned a master's degree at Seton Hall University.

 

 

 

Shelbia Wiley

Shelbia WileyShelbia Carter Wiley is the Executive Director of Engaging Minds Services, Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on providing services for victims of human trafficking and abuse. She is a member of the Coastal Region Human Trafficking Taskforce and serves as the co-chair for the Interfaith Committee of Horry and Georgetown counties.

Through collaboration, relationship building, and mentorship, she has put together a team that focuses on providing best practices for survivors of human trafficking. Her team is in the process of building a safe house for survivors of human trafficking. Shelbia is an author of two books, Mental Exoneration and Don’t Touch My Golden Parts. She is a special education teacher with Horry County Schools and a teaching associate at Coastal Carolina University.

Shelbia earned an Associate Degree in business administration, a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Christian counseling, Master of Science in education with a concentration in leadership in educational administration and an advanced degree in theology. She is married with two children and five grandchildren. 

Olga Kazakova

Olga Kazakova is owner of Design the Sign. From Belarus, she initially came to the United States with $300 in her pocket on a student visa. She worked multiple jobs to make ends meet while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Coastal Carolina University. It’s there she met her former husband, and together while still in school they started designing websites and mobile apps for local businesses.

Soon after, the demand for printed products became apparent and they opened Design the Sign as a sign and printing business.

What started with a single printer set up in the living room has grown to a thriving print company in a 3,000 square foot office space that houses a whole team of designers and production workers - a true realization of the American Dream.

Design the Sign is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and is a certified diverse business enterprise by the state of South Carolina. Design the Sign was awarded Leading Business of the Month sponsored by South State Bank by the chamber in March 2022 and was honored by WMBF News during Women’s History Month celebrations.

Amy Lawrence-Lovely

Amy Lawrence-Lovely is a partner at The Lovely Law Firm in Myrtle Beach where she practices criminal defense and civil litigation.

In her 15 years of practice she has tried a case on MTV, gotten some monster verdicts and exonerated an innocent man - all while wrangling children, maintaining a 5 a.m. workout regime and taking on way too many pro bono cases. Amy is proud to say she still wakes up every morning excited about the practice of law.

Heidi Vukov

Heidi Vukov moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina in the early 1990s and shortly thereafter opened Croissants Bistro & Bakery in Myrtle Beach. Since then, Croissants has become a destination restaurant on the South Carolina coast, winning multiple awards and attracting locals and tourists alike. In 2011, Vukov was named South Carolina Restaurateur of the Year and went on to write a cookbook, “Bonjour, Y’all!” which published in 2015.

After 22 years in the restaurant business, Vukov wanted to make a difference in the industry and the Myrtle Beach community with her legacy project, Heidi’s Corner Restaurants. In July 2017, Vukov opened a second location of Croissants Bistro & Bakery, as well as a new sustainable seafood restaurant, Hook & Barrel. The restaurants feature the first two completely “green” kitchens in South Carolina for full-service restaurants. The kitchens have no gas for cooking and utilize energy-efficient induction cooking technology. This environmentally-friendly equipment creates a cleaner, safer, and healthier place to work and visit.

Vukov was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster as a 2018 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. In that role, she represented the state at key tourism and agricultural events.

In July of 2023 Heidi’s Corner Restaurant Group opened a drive thru coffee and homemade ice cream shop, The Coffee and Cream Cabana. “The Cabana” serves coffees roasted from Croissants Bistro and Bakery and homemade ice cream made on premise.

Vukov’s passion for the food service is matched with her love of the Southern lifestyle and the people of the South Carolina coast. Vukov believes in sourcing local ingredients seasonally from locally-grown produce to locally-caught seafood.

Heidi Vukov lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her husband, Gary. Her four children all live in the Grand Strand area.

Annette Peagler

Annette Peagler is an Emmy nominated journalist with WBTW News 13 where she anchors the 5:30 and 11 p.m. newscasts. She also anchors WFXB’s Fox News at 10 p.m.

Annette has worked in the newsroom for more than 15 years as a producer, reporter and anchor for stations in Cincinnati, Ohio and Jackson, Miss and Memphis, Tenn.

Her most noteworthy stories include interviewing Congressman John Lewis, United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Chadwick Boseman. She also interviewed Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate and former federal prisoner who was granted clemency by President Donald Trump in 2018. She received an Emmy nomination for her story on the recording studio Stax Records in 2020.

Annette is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Conway Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She has emceed several community service events in her community - including our Ignite Women’s Conference. She takes pride in her community work and enjoys mentoring young journalists.


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