HSSU alumni to receive Under 40 award for outstanding work in the community

Harris-Stowe State University will celebrate HSSU alumni at The Outstanding Alumni Leader Under 40 Awards on Friday, October 25 from 7 to 9 pm at the Missouri Athletic Club.

This event is for alumni members who have completed outstanding achievements in their various fields and communities in addition to giving back to HSSU.

Lea Sutherlin, Interim Director of Alumni Relations and Liaison to the Board of Regents said, “The purpose of the Under 40 event is to raise scholarships for students and to recognize our alumni.”

The HSSU Alumni Association holds the annual Gold Gala and the Distinguished Alumni Awards to celebrate previous classes.

“Traditionally, The institution and the alumni association holds events like the Gold Gala and the Distinguished Alumni Awards to celebrate previous classes from 30, 40 and 50 plus years,” Sutherlin said.

According to Sutherlin, there were questions from alumni members as to why there was not an event to recognize alumni of all ages.

“Dr. Warmack thought it was also important to recognize younger alumni members who have made outstanding achievements in their fields,” according to Sutherlin.

17 HSSU alumni will receive a 2019 Outstanding Alumni Leader Under 40 award.

Chris “CJ” Bilbrey, head baseball coach at HSSU, received the Under 40 award last year.

“I had the honor of representing HSSU at the first Under 40 awards dinner,” Bilbrey said. “I had no clue I was nominated, so it was an awesome surprise for my family and me.”

When asked why Bilbrey chose to attend HSSU, he replied, “I chose HSSU because a good friend of mine, Dan Parmeley, was a member of the baseball program at the time.”

Bilbrey mentioned the university was also a great “financial-fit” for him.

“I originally wanted to be a teacher so I could coach high school baseball,” Bilbrey said. “After a couple years, I realized my classroom was the baseball field; the college level was a better fit for me.”

Bilbrey said he and the baseball team dedicate some of their time to community service.

“Our young men also work with the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital each semester,” Bilbrey said. “Our guys love this place and I’m excited each day that I get to spread my love to this university on to the next generation.”

Nia Smith, African American Studies and AVID elective Educator, will be among those to receive the 2019 Outstanding Alumni Leader Under 40 award. She attended HSSU from 2005-2010, earning her BS in Secondary Education.

“I was surprised when I found out I would be receiving the award,” Smith said. “HSSU has many outstanding alumni; I’m honored I was chosen to be recognized.”

When asked why she chose to attend Harris-Stowe, Smith replied, “HSSU has produced the best educators in the St. Louis region.”

Smith said she is appreciative of the extensive classwork that has helped prepare her for a career in the education field.

“Harris-Stowe gave us ample knowledge and showed me how to do my job effectively,” Smith said. “When I graduated, I already had my foot in the door in addition to knowing how to run my own classroom.”

Due to the nature of the curriculum offered through the College of Education, Smith said she became a leader in her field because she was able to give her colleagues suggestions on best teaching practices.

“Harris-Stowe placed me in a teaching position before I graduated,” Smith said. “This institution has been instrumental in me getting a job in my degree field.” 

Outside of the classroom, Smith spends her time completing community service work, including coaching step teams in the St. Louis area, conducting a summer reading program, doing philanthropic work through her sorority and being the youth advisor to the Archonettes, where she mentors high school-aged girls.

Smith also sponsors the 8th grade college tour at Riverview Gardens Middle School.

Kalifa Gray, senior financial analyst and accountant at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, is another alumnus receiving the 2019 Under 40 Award.

“It feels like a tremendous honor,” Gray said. “I am greatly appreciative to Harris-Stowe for the acknowledgments of my professional and community accomplishments.”

Gray is a leader in the St. Louis area with an extensive list of community service projects and programs.

“I have been involved in back to school programs held over the past 14 years in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area,” Gray said. “I have been involved in the mentorship programs at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls club.”

Gray has also mentored kids and college-aged students through programs at Urban Future, the 100 Black Men, Collegiate 100, Arches, Vashon High School, and many others.

Gray graduated from Harris-Stowe with his BA of Science and Accounting in 2009.

“I chose to attend HSSU because it was a HBCU,” Gray said. “I wanted to have a college experience where I felt I could identify with the faculty and staff.”

According to Sutherlin, HSSU takes pride in its alumni members who go on to become outstanding leaders in their degree fields.

“This event is to show the community how HSSU is relevant,” Sutherlin said. “Graduates produced here are some of the top candidates for positions in their degree fields. HSSU graduates are a testament to the investments of the institution and its stakeholders.”

Tickets are still available and can be purchased at

Here is a complete list of 2019 Outstanding Alumni Leader Under 40 Awardees:

  • JaNae’ L. Alfred ‘08
  • Ashley Byington ‘13
  • David Estes ‘08
  • Kalifa Gray ‘09
  • Rashidah Ivory ’12
  • Quinton R. Jackson (Posthumously) ’12
  • Jazzmine Nolan ‘16
  • Cornelius Robinson ‘12
  • Stacy L. Shaw ‘06
  • Nia Smith ‘10
  • Brianna Taylor ‘15
  • Jonathan Thomas ‘11
  • William Brion Floyd Whigham ‘12
  • Roy Whitley ‘14
  • Ribbon Williams ‘16
  • Sir Ervin Williams III ‘15
  • Aaron Willis ‘05
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