5 people under 25 who are making an impact
From advocating for local people struggling with mental illness, to using art to communicate powerful messages, to starting businesses and volunteering, there are young people in Springfield who are making a difference. These five people under the age of 25 — Alyssa Farmer, Jamie Reidle, Deatae Lewis, Navee Singh and Diamond Jackson — are already making their presence known and they are just getting started. Meet them.
Alyssa Farmer, 24
With her art featured at local events and exhibits over the last few months, Alyssa Farmer uses her paintings to promote self-love, self-acceptance and positive body image. Often centering her work around female empowerment, the majority of her paintings are nudes of Black women, which highlight bodies with curves, a variety of hairstyles and communicate positive messaging. Even though Farmer’s work is more abstract and often inspired by photos she finds online through Pinterest, much of it also serves as a reflection of her embracing who she is.
“It’s actually pretty amazing to me to see how loud her work speaks from someone who’s always been so quiet,” said local artist Michelle “Micki” Smith, who featured Farmer’s work as the up-and-coming artist for her recent, “The Audacity of Her” exhibit. “Being able to do art and exhibit art, for her, has even changed that up a little bit. I’m seeing a lot more confidence in her.”
Last month, during AfroChella Illinois, Farmer’s growth as an artist and increasing confidence was on display when she painted a faceless Black woman with a crown in front of a live audience at the event.
Continuing to grow her voice within the local art community since graduating from Millikin University with her bachelor of fine arts in 2019, the Lanphier High graduate also works to create more opportunities and exposure for other artists in the area.
Consistently promoting #Supportyourlocalartist on social media and sometimes even incorporating the hashtag in her work, Farmer hopes to see the community lift up other local artists.
“I want to be a platform for others to reach their peaks,” Farmer said. “And I want to continue my career doing exhibits, shows and hopefully being able to tour around the world and put my art out.”
Appreciation for Farmer’s work has reached beyond central Illinois. It was international artist, Southeast High graduate and current Texas resident Barbara Mason who selected her as the up-and-coming artist for Smith’s showcase last month.
A couple of Farmer’s paintings also were featured at the Illinois State Museum as part of the Juneteenth Noir Art Exhibit.
Jamie Riedle, 23
Even though she has been in her role with Memorial Behavioral Health for just shy of a year, Jamie Riedle already has been able to add calm in the midst of chaos as a community outreach and engagement specialist on Sara Anderson’s complex care team.
“It’s a very high-stress, high-energy, fast-pace role that she’s in,” explained Anderson, who manages the team and previously served in Riedle’s role. “But she is able to maintain a very just calm demeanor. Maintaining that very calm, patient demeanor in turn helps our clients calm down and helps them with deescalating. But it helps our team too.”
Riedle started her job in October 2020 and often works with people struggling with chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. While the needs of those she works with vary, it often makes for unpredictable days and weeks where she balances calls and home visits to check in on people, with connecting clients to services they need and working to deescalate situations where people are in crisis. Tasked with other responsibilities, including reminding a number of people about their upcoming appointments, Riedle depends on lists to maintain order and make sure everything gets done.
“Mental health is important in general,” Riedle said. “I think everyone should be aware that you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life. You might see someone here at ‘tent city’ or something and you don’t know how they got there. People can automatically assume that maybe there’s a substance issue or maybe they just don’t want to work. But they often forget that mental health piece.”
The former Rochester High soccer player earned her bachelor’s in psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2019. This summer, she will complete her master’s in health care administration through Maryville University’s online program as she plans to continue to follow in Anderson’s footsteps and one day take on a leadership role within the mental health industry.
With so much responsibility, Anderson planned a six-month adjustment period for Riedle. Instead, it took her less than three months to adjust and be able to regularly go out into the community and provide support for others in need.
“When they’re having their worst day or their worst moment, she gets in there and shows that compassion, shows that patience,” Anderson said. “Her ability to empathize is very inspiring. Then it’s just her ability to maintain that humility and integrity throughout it all. She doesn’t get discouraged very easily.”
Deatae Lewis, 18
Earlier this year, Deatae Lewis earned his high school diploma from Lawrence Education Center. Having turned 18 years old last month, he has a clothing line, works full-time as a certified nursing assistant, and continues to find new ways to learn about business.
He officially launched Bloodahs Clothing in April after more than a year of purchasing wholesale clothing and accessories to flip for profit. His clothing line, which features T-shirts and basketball jersey shorts symbolizing brotherhood and unity, is already gaining popularity in Springfield, Jacksonville and beyond Illinois.
Although Lewis has been working as a CNA and using his love of fashion and clothing to generate his own income since he was 16, his focus on building the future he wants for himself came after multiple challenges in school including a pair of emotional outburst struggles in middle and high school.
His compulsive behavior — as he and others who have watched him grow over the last few years described his mental health struggles — forced him to reevaluate. Lewis credits the time he spent away from traditional school, the anger management classes he took, and the counseling he received with helping put him on his current path.
“You know when you hear people talking about their dreams all the time. But you know, in the back of your mind, that they’re not really going to do it,” Lewis explained. “They’re just saying it. That’s how I was.”
Now, he uses the $25 he makes hourly as a full-time CNA to invest in his business. After spending part of last summer in Atlanta, Georgia where he took part in a small business expo to network and build his brand, he is focused on learning about credit and plans to begin working toward an associate degree in business management at Lincoln Land Community College this fall.
“I want him to come back and speak to my class about starting a business,” said Erin Tighe, a fifth-grade teacher at Jacksonville Elementary who has known Lewis since kindergarten. “He has an intrinsic motivation to be great. … It’s so important to have that representation in our classrooms.”
Navee Singh, 23
Over the past four years, Navee Singh has started a variety of businesses — everything from a food delivery app that was similar to DoorDash and Uber Eats, to a marketing agency and a music production business.
While those early businesses fell through, Singh is building a track record of successful entrepreneurial ventures.
In 2019, Singh got his real estate broker’s license and began investing in properties across the Midwest in cities as big as South Bend, Indiana and villages as small as Ludlow, Illinois. As the chief executive officer of Dyad-Ventures property management firm, which he runs with his parents, he owns about 60 units. His real estate portfolio includes single-family homes, multi-family homes, retail properties, apartments and mobile homes.
During the pandemic, Singh also teamed up with a friend to open Toasty-Subs. Not only does he own and operate the Springfield sandwich shop with one of his business partners, but he also owns the property at 2025 S. MacArthur Blvd.
“I’ve known Navee since he was 15 years old and he’s always been a hard worker,” said Toasty-Subs co-owner Joe Ryan. “Whoever works with Navee will see themselves grow and achieve more because he pushes them to step out of their comfort zone and do their best. He’s a great business partner and is a large part of the equation that has made Toasty-Subs successful.”
After graduating from Springfield High in 2016, Singh initially enrolled at Lincoln Land Community College. But said he ultimately decided his time and money spent on tuition would be better invested in starting his own business ventures while working with his parents at their family restaurant, Flavor of India.
“College was just not my cup of tea,” Singh said. “I failed chemistry three times and I failed biology three times in college.”
He credits his dad, Karnail, for his work ethic, which often leads to him working 18-hour days in balancing his businesses and the properties he manages.
Singh said he remains focused on the future and continuing to build on what he has learned by watching his parents as the family immigrated from India to central Illinois when he was 13.
“We were very broke,” Singh explained. “Our hard work, making smart decisions, investing in the right places has made us come to where we’re at. But we like to work like we’re still broke.”
Diamond Jackson, 23
When Diamond Jackson left Springfield in 2016 for West Lafayette, Indiana to attend Purdue University, she didn’t expect to return home after college. But she also departed central Illinois with her sights set on a different career path before realizing during her first fall semester that she wanted to be a lawyer.
Transferring to the University of Mississippi, Jackson earned her bachelor’s in sociology with a minor in African American studies in 2019. With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to return home before beginning law school. Since returning to Springfield, she has built on an impressive track record of community service and community involvement she began when she was attending Southeast High.
Jackson currently serves on the city’s police community review commission, is the second vice president of the Springfield NAACP and earlier this year joined the Springfield Decatur alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., considering it as another opportunity to remain involved in local community service efforts.
“I needed someone that could help bridge the gap between young people and adults,” said Springfield NAACP President Teresa Haley. “She was that perfect person to be able to provide that insight — being outspoken and being able to speak her mind.”
Each month when the NAACP’s local branch meets with law enforcement agencies in the area, Jackson has the opportunity to provide feedback from a young person’s perspective to further develop and improve relationships between the community and local police.
“She’s just a nice young lady,” Haley said. “She’s approachable, she’s passionate, she’s professional and she believes in speaking up and speaking out. I’m very proud of her accomplishments and where she wants to go.”
The former student board member for District 186, who spent high school advocating for the school district’s student body and volunteering with the Central Illinois Foodbank, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Springfield NAACP, aspires to pursue a career as a civil or family lawyer and ultimately become a judge.
While Jackson plans to begin law school in fall 2022, she is currently appreciating her unexpected return home and the ability to make a difference in her hometown.
“It’s different living in Springfield as an adult than it was as a child,” said Jackson, who works as an efficiency liaison for Ameren Illinois. “At 18, I was ready to fly out of here. But at 23, I can really appreciate Springfield and see it in a different light. I see it in a volunteer perspective and being able to meet community members. My mom had me watch the news when I was younger. Seeing people on TV and now to work beside them and they asked for my input, that means a lot.”