by Kate Wallace
Bria Johnson doesn’t say the word “if” that often. She’s more likely to say “when,” as in “When I’m famous…” Atlanta Parent spoke with the 14-year-old singer, dancer and actor. Johnson wasn’t joking around when she casually started a sentence with that phrase.
A freshman at the DeKalb School of the Arts, Bria lives in Ellenwood. Last year, she surpassed more than 200 applicants to earn first place in the Gift Youth Inspirational Singing Competition, winning $20,000 in cash and prizes. Bria’s winning song was Jennifer Hudson’s, “I Am Changing.” The annual contest is sponsored by the Greater Atlanta McDonald’s Operators Association and can give talented young people in the metro area a jump-start in their careers.
Bria’s mom, Erika Ashlock, thinks back to her daughter’s preschool days, when a 4-year-old Bria and fellow classmates were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. After a few kids mentioned such things as “doctor” and “lawyer” and “teacher,” Bria belted out: “I’m going to be a singer!”
“I’ve been singing since before I could talk,” Bria says. “I sing all the time, you can’t escape it.” Her mom absolutely agrees. When she was in the fourth grade, Bria wrote her first song and began voice lessons. More recently, she made it through multiple rounds in “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.”
“When I sing, I like for people to be moved by my music,” says Bria, smiling. “I like to get connected with my audience and I like having fun on and off stage. I also love to make people laugh.” Her songwriting, she says, is inspired and influenced by musical greats such as Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson. But she’s yet to figure out if she wants to “go the Beyonce route or Nicki Minaj route.”
It’s clear that Bria and her mom – who is much more reserved than her affable daughter – have a strong bond. Although self-admittedly goofy, Bria also seems wise beyond her years. “I can’t take myself to the places I want to go, so my mom takes me and she’s dedicated to helping me pursue my dream,” Bria says. “But when I’m famous, she’s fired so she can take a well-deserved break!”
by Allie Fogel
With his confident yet quiet demeanor, seventh-grader Cobe Jackson has the heart and desire to serve. The Mableton 12-year-old strives to shine onstage and also thrives in academics, community service and as a playwright. He has even created his own nonprofit organization – and has thought about creating his own shoe line!
Cobe started acting at age 3 with the Alliance Theatre. His mom, Zanethia Eubanks, says that Cobe winning a school talent contest at age 7 in elementary school (dancing to “Planet Rock”) was a defining moment for her son. “When I saw him on stage, I knew Cobe had a special talent and immediately embraced all that he had to offer,” she says.
Soon after, Cobe took up writing. His play, A Life-Changing Adventure (A.L.C.A.) won first place in the 2010 Young Voices with New Visions Short Play Fest contest. Cobe is brainstorming ideas for other plays to write. “I hope to create four full-length plays that teach kids important life lessons,” he says. (He has written a second A.L.C.A. short play, subtitled A Lesson in Lying.)
His proudest moment to date was at age 11, when he played the title role in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s production of The Remarkable Farkle McBride. Cobe says that it was incredible to conduct the entire orchestra (which Farkle does in the story) and work with professional musicians.
“When I’m performing, I love to look into the audience and see everyone’s smiling faces,” says Cobe, a student at Cobb County’s Lindley Middle School. “All types of people, especially my mom, inspire me to do my best on and off the stage.”
Cobe’s goal is to use his talents to help people all over the world, especially those who are treated unfairly or living in poverty. That’s why he created the nonprofit organization, Co-Creativity; its mission is to inspire and spread love to less-fortunate children and adults – such as those in hospitals – through children’s art and performance. “We perform for the patients and do arts and crafts with them,” Cobe explains. “It’s so fun!” (For information, email email@example.com.)
But his energies don’t stop there. Dressed as Little Harry the Hawk, sidekick to the Atlanta Hawks’ mascot, Cobe has danced at Hawks’ basketball games.
“I like to encourage people to Dream in C.O.L.O.R.,” Cobe says, spelling it out. “It’s my motto that I created, which stands for ‘creating opulent life overcoming rejection.’ Through my work, I hope people will come together joyfully and leave behind all negative intentions.”
Chris and Mo Lewis
by Sara Doogan
Good genes and hard work make Milton High brothers Mo and Chris Lewis successful in sports – and as all-around individuals. Support from their family makes them role models among their peers. Eleventh-grader Mo and ninth-grader Chris come by athletics naturally: Their dad is Mo Lewis, former New York Jets linebacker.
But these young men are not following in their dad’s footsteps on the football field. The basketball court is where they shine.
“I’ll tell you this,” says David Boyd, English teacher and basketball coach at Milton High, near Alpharetta. “I really love the Lewis boys and they are a joy to coach.” In his 29 years as a coach, “they are probably two of the best young men I’ve ever had the chance to coach. Not only are they great athletes, but they also are outstanding in every other way: good students, very coach-able, they listen, and then they are great athletes, especially for their size.” Chris is 6-foot-8 and already has attracted interest from colleges, which is highly unusual for a freshman athlete. Mo is 6-foot-6. Boyd says both brothers are strong Division 1 college prospects.
“When I work with them on the basketball court, they are looking me right in the eye, they are always at full attention and listening to every single detail. And part of that comes from their upbringing, with a dad who played pro football for the New York Jets and a mom [Mindi], who was an outstanding basketball player in Baldwin County who played in state championships.”
Mo plays power forward and last year helped lead his team to a state championship. While he may aspire to be another Kobe Bryant, this young star already knows what he wants to do with his future. “I want to study law,” he says. Mo takes several AP classes and in his spare time volunteers at a local shelter and basketball camp.
Younger brother Chris plays forward for Milton and had two college offers before playing one high school basketball game. “I want to help my team win another state championship,” says Chris, who already plans to study engineering when he enters college in four years.
The boys’ dad is “fully supportive” that basketball is their key sport. “If they are happy, I am happy,” he says. “I just ask them to give 100 percent. They are just as serious about school as they are their athletics.”
With the Lewis brothers on the Milton team, another state title in 2013 is a possibility. “No question,” says Coach Boyd. “But we need the Lewis brothers to do it.”
by Sarah Egan
Most 16-year-olds can’t say they’ve received a personal letter from the president, or been recognized by the Georgia House of Representatives for winning the 17th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Charlotte McCauley can; such honors have sprung from the fact that she spends much of her free time working to make her community a better place.
For two years, the Buckhead native put on her journalist’s hat and went to the airport to interview soldiers being deployed or coming back home. She then created a short video montage to tell soldiers’ stories. This illustrated the need to further support the troops and helped McCauley in an effort to send 22,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies and more than 900 letters to troops overseas.
“People are going away to serve our country, and they are all a part of someone’s family,” Charlotte says. “They’re all doing so much for our country, it’s the least I can do to help.”
As a seventh-grader, Charlotte spent countless hours recording books on tape for visually impaired children. While still in middle school, she planned a body image seminar for young girls in her community that featured
Haley Kilpatrick, founder of the Girl Talk Foundation. “I think it is important to empower young girls,” she explains. The event included a fashion show in which a local boutique demonstrated that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Today, she still finds time to mentor a small Girl Scout troop working toward its coveted Gold Award, the highest achievement in the organization. She plans to work with the scout troop once a month while attending the prestigious Advanced Academy of Georgia at West Georgia College, where high school students from around the world take college courses to accelerate their education. (She previously attended North Atlanta High.) Charlotte also received a Foundation Fellow Scholarship for her academic accomplishments and volunteer work.
Charlotte credits her work ethic to her mom and older sister. She says that the amazing support system from her family has led to her success thus far. She hopes to continue to help others, and she has set her sights on “industrial psychologist” as a career.
Editor’s note: Atlanta Parent is always interested in hearing about young people who are going the extra mile to make a difference. If you want to tell us about someone, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.