Around Town

These 6 women help build our community

In every community, there are countless women building it up. During Women’s History Month, we wanted to take the time to call some of them out. Through their work to build up and encourage other women, their strength is evident.

Here are 6 women who give their strength to Charlotte every day:

(1) Kiesha Battles

Photo courtesy of Keisha Battles Toreka James

Kiesha Battles is a full-time yoga teacher who began practicing yoga in 2000. Over the years, she has created yoga programs, led retreats and managed the daily operations of a studio. She was also recently appointed co-director of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color at Kripalu Retreat Center. She has a vested interest in teaching yoga in the Northwest Corridor, where she lives with her husband and two sons. In 2017, she opened IAMYOGA studio and school. Battles partnered with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to create the first yoga teacher training at the Y led by women of color.

“In 2016, after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, several people approached (me) for a way that the yoga community could take action,” Battles said. This led me to organize a marathon-style teaching to offer community and reprieve from a city on fire. Yoga teachers and studios from all parts of Charlotte came together to practice.”

“Over the past three years, the community that supports me has propelled me into the spotlight. Since college, I’ve been an active supporter of community and charitable organizations. If I wasn’t serving community through yoga, I’d find some other means to engage and support.”

(2) Candace Bongiovanni

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Courtesy of Candace Bongiovanni

Candace Bongiovanni is the owner of CoCo Couture in LKN. She has been in retail and design for over 20 years and has owned her own business for over 12 years. With a focus on women helping women, Bongiovanni hosts free events to help build up other women in the community. The next one features a hair and makeup session followed by a headshot.

“Being a woman of faith, my inspiration primarily come from daily devotions and [from] believing in using the tools God has given me to accomplish any task at hand,” Bongiovanni said.

(3) Fonda Bryant

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Photo courtesy of Fonda Bryant

Bryant’s father is the late R&B singer, Johnnie Taylor, who holds the first platinum record ever certified by the RIAA. She survived a suicide attempt 24 years ago. She focuses on making a difference with mental health, the stigma surrounding it and suicide prevention.

Bryant is a contractor for Duke Energy during the day, but she spends most of her time as a mental health advocate. She volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Charlotte and sits on its state board, volunteers with the American Foundation on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health America of the Central Carolinas. She is the founder of the Sanity not Vanity event, where she mixes mental health and working out for mental wellness.

“I get my strength from what I went through 24 years ago.  I had no idea I was dealing with depression, and when I almost died by suicide from depression, I knew there were others like me going through the same thing,” Bryant said. I knew I had to turn around and help others. Being a suicide prevention advocate while dealing with a mental condition can be draining, but when you come across someone who needs help, it energizes.”

(4) Wendy Hickey

Photo courtesy of Wendy Hickey

Hickey is the founder and executive director of ArtPop Street Gallery. Since 2014, ArtPop has provided a $17 million advertising platform to over 300 artists across the country. Ad space is given in the form of billboards, newsstands, bus sides and in airports.

“I get my strength from the artists who are impacted by the program,” Hickey said.  “It feels amazing to be able to serve our local community through public art. Creating a successful and thriving art community while bringing local art to the masses fills my soul more than anyone can possibly imagine.”  

(5) Karen Hill Meyer

Photo courtesy of Karen Hill Meyer

Meyer owns and manages a fitness studio in South End called First Wind Cycling and Fitness, where she teaches cycling, strength and barre classes. She also works full time in business management for a risk team at Wells Fargo.

“I never could have done everything I do without my family,” Meyer said.  “They have taught me my whole life that anything is possible, no matter what stands in your way. I have faced my own battles with heart disease, as well as other major battles with the health of my family. I try to use my experiences and the power my family gives me to lift people up with a positive message about fitness, health, and happiness. Building up the community gives me a sense of belonging.”

She decided to share her love for fitness and health by volunteering with organizations focused on heart health. “I felt stronger, happier, and healthier. I wanted other people to find what I found,” she said. Then, in 2015, she opened First Wind Cycling and Fitness so she could reach even more people with a motto of: “Be happy. Be healthy. Be you.”

(6) Bree Stallings

Photo courtesy of Bree Stallings

Stallings is a professional artist, muralist and illustrator living and working in South End. She also helps write curriculum and develop programming for institutions, including the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture.

She has played a role in multiple community projects, such as the Blessing Box Campaign in 2018. This campaign used 20,000 submitted handwritten acts of kindness, from which 10 selected artists created projects. Over two community days with students, they wove the acts of kindness into different forms. She made two wearable dresses inspired by the idea of: “What would we look like if we wore the acts of kindness and the way we treated people?”

“I don’t believe in the mythos of the starving artist,” Stallings said. “I want to show people their value by demonstrating my own, to know that all of the Venn diagram circles I exist in have the own answers to their questions, resources to their problems.”