The Black Trojan 20 (BT20) is a new annual USC Black Alumni Association tradition that amplifies alumni and students who are difference makers and game changers positively impacting their fields, communities or our university. It’s our way of honoring exceptional Trojans who inspire us to do more and be more. Here are the inaugural BT20 honorees, who were introduced during our Legends Homecoming Tailgate on Saturday, November 4, 2023.
Trojans who have a made substantial impact in their respective fields and/or society through their actions and/or innovations.
Lisha Bell ’01Economic Opportunity Manager, PayPal Ventures
Valencia Belle EdD ’23Founder, VB Ideals LLC and S.C.H.O.O.L.S.
T. Morgan Dixon ’00Co-Founder and CEO, GirlTREK
Fallyn Jones ’05Senior Vice President and Senior Compliance Officer, Citigroup
Fred Anthony Smith ’02Vice President and Head of Non-Scripted Development, SMAC Entertainment
Erroll G. Southers MPA ’98, DPPD ’13Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance, USC
President, Los Angeles Police Commission
Jevon Marco-Walls TorresSenior, USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Co-Founder, Giving Cycle
Trojans who have made groundbreaking achievements in their respective fields.
Hon. Triston EzidoreJunior, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Member, Culver City Unified School District Board of Education
Malcolm Jones PhD ’23Director of Health Innovation, USC Iovine and Young Academy
Creator and Director, Flight Lab at the Jordan Brand, Nike Inc.
Dami Kujembola MSL ’15CEO and Co-Founder, Amplify Africa, Inc.
Princess Isis LangSenior, USC School of Dramatic Arts
Founder, Cardinal Divas of USC
Gina Merritt DSW ’21Principal, Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures & Founder of Project Community Capital® (PCC)
Tracy Oliver MFA ’10Writer, Director, Producer
Jose J. Scott III MPA ’20PhD Candidate, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy
President, Graduate Student Government
Trojans who have inspired others by overcoming challenges to achieve their goals.
Kianna ArmstrongSophomore, USC School of Architecture
Co-Founder and Managing Director, Architecture + Advocacy
Thomas EndashawJunior, USC School of Cinematic Arts
President, Brothers Breaking B.R.E.A.D.
Alexia EnokouSenior, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism & USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Co-Director, Siblings in Solidarity
Candace HouseSenior, USC School of Cinematic Arts
Co-Chair, USC Black Student Assembly Black Career Fair
Jernei JohnsonJunior, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
Co-founder, Breonna Taylor Scholarship
Leonard Pitts, Jr. ’77Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Bestselling Author
Bridging the capital divide and pioneering innovation in venture capitalism to support BIPOC founders
Lisha Bell has more than 20 years of experience building and investing in digital products that bridge the capital divide for underserved communities. In her current position at PayPal Ventures, she leads the company’s $100 million economic opportunity fund investment in diverse emerging fund managers. Bell previously led two departments at PayPal: product for the financially underserved segment and pay with Venmo. Earlier in her career, she built digital financial products, including online banking and bill pay, for such companies as Wells Fargo, Kohl’s and Feedzai.
Bell is also the co-founder of BLXVC, an angel syndicate of moms funding Black and Brown founders. In addition, she hosts the podcast Sisters with Ventures, which amplifies the voices and stories of BIPOC angel investors to inspire women of all backgrounds to pursue venture capitalism as a means of creating positive change. Bell previously served as the deal flow lead for Pipeline Angels, an angel group of impact investors creating capital for women and non-binary femme social entrepreneurs, and as the board chair of Black Girl Ventures.
In 2005, Bell received the USC Alumni Association’s Widney Alumni House Volunteer Award in recognition of her service to USC. Bell has been featured in such media outlets as Forbes, Huffpost,Cheddar TV and Black Enterprise.
Bell earned her BS in business administration from the USC Marshall School of Business.
Eradicating intergenerational poverty with high-quality, cost-effective, college test preparation for young women in underserved communities
Valencia Belle has achieved a number of firsts in her life and career. She is the first in her family to graduate summa cum laude from graduate school—earning her doctorate from the USC Rossier School of Education—which led to her induction into two honor societies, Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Delta Kappa. In addition, she is the USC Rossier School’s first BAA Executive Board appointee.
Belle also leads the first BIPOC female-led benefit corporation in Alabama, VB Ideas LLC / S.C.H.O.O.L.S. Programs. This company provides high-quality, cost-effective test prep to girls seeking entrance to college with merit-based academic and athletic scholarships for STEM degree programs seeking female students.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Belle has spent much of her career in STEM education. The comparatively low ACT Test scores of Black students inspired her to create the S.C.H.O.O.L.S. Programs. The results have exceeded expectations. Students participating in the five-week program have increased their test scores as much as +5-10 for ACT and +100-200 for the SAT. Overall, the increases are 10x the national average for U.S. competitors.
In 2021, Belle was one of six inaugural recipients of a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business Wharton Knowledge for Impact Award. She also received a scholarship from Harvard University’s Institute of Urban School Leaders, and was named one of Business Alabama magazine’s 23 Women In Tech for 2023.
Leading the largest public health movement for Black women in the nation
T. Morgan Dixon is a relentless street organizer who co-founded GirlTrek with her college friend Vanessa Garrison in 2010. What began as a daily walking challenge for friends and family has become the largest public health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the country. In 2018, GirlTrek won The Audacious Prize, given to the boldest ideas for social change. Today, GirlTrek has more than one million members who walk daily to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Prior to co-founding GirlTrek, Dixon was on the front lines of education reform. She served as director of leadership development for Achievement First, the largest charter school network in New York City, where she trained and supported 23 school principals. She began her career with Teach For America as a high school history teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, and later served as a vice principal in Newark, New Jersey.
Named a “Health Hero” by Essence Magazine in 2014, Dixon has been profiled by the New York Times and Washington Post, and also featured on CNN. She has received social innovation fellowships from Teach For America (2012), Echoing Green (2013), Ashoka (2014) and the Aspen Institute (2015). She has given two TED Talks and has been named one of the top social innovators in the world.
Dixon currently hosts GirlTrek’s podcast, Black History Bootcamp, in which she guides listeners through walking meditations that reflect on stories of Black resilience and resistance.
Dixon earned a BA in political science from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Taking the lead on volunteerism and philanthropy in underserved communities
Fallyn Jones is a financial services executive and community leader who has achieved great success in her hometown of Dallas, Texas. In 2023, the Dallas Business Journal named her one of its “40 Under 40” in recognition of her professional and philanthropic accomplishments.
As Citigroup’s senior vice president and senior compliance officer, Jones is responsible for developing and implementing operational testing and controls for the bank’s global ethics office. In addition, she oversees business operations in North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region.
Committed to diversity and community engagement, Jones has served on Citigroup’s diversity council and as co-chair of the Black Heritage Employee Network-Dallas. She launched Citigroup’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Community Outreach Chair Steering Committee role to promote outreach opportunities within HBCUs in Texas and neighboring states.
Jones is also dedicated to advancing her college prep school alma mater, The Hockaday School. She currently serves on the school’s board of trustees and co-founded the Hockaday African American Alumnae Affinity Group.
Throughout her career, Jones has made time to volunteer for a wide range of nonprofits, sharing her financial expertise to lead fundraising campaigns. She also fostered a partnership between Methodist Hospital and her neighborhood association to support senior health and wellness initiatives.
Jones earned her BS in public policy, management and planning from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Using the power of media to elevate our stories
Fred Anthony Smith is an Emmy Award-winning producer whose credits include some of NFL Media’s most dynamic and impactful programming. During his nearly two-decade tenure at NFL Media, Smith produced and directed such critically acclaimed documentary shorts as The Story of 9/12, about the aftermath of 9/11, and The LA Marathon, about the relationship between Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the late rapper/entrepreneur/activist Nipsey Hussle. The latter film earned Smith two Emmys, an NAACP Image Award and a Webby Award.
In 2020, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Smith produced NFL Media’s Say Their Stories, a series of features highlighting the lives of victims of social injustice. His other NFL Media credits include Breaking Ground, an exploration of HBCU football and the NFL. He also served as the creative lead for NFL Media’s “Inspire Change” original content initiative.
In 2022, Smith joined SMAC Entertainment, the content creator, cultural connector and business incubator founded by Constance Schwartz-Morini and Michael Strahan. As SMAC’s vice president and head of non-scripted development, he is currently overseeing Coach Prime (Prime Video), the documentary BS High (HBO), and a new documentary series on the evolution of the Black quarterback in America (Amazon Prime).
Smith earned his BFA in filmic writing from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Creating environments where everyone feels safe, protected and respected
Erroll Southers is a noted counterterrorism expert and former FBI special agent who serves as USC’s associate senior vice president of safety and risk assurance.
In this position, he oversees the university’s Department of Public Safety, Environmental Health and Safety, and Fire Safety and Emergency Planning. Since joining USC in 2003, he has served as a professor of practice in national and homeland security, the director of the Safe Communities Institute and as the director of homegrown violent extremism studies at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Southers’ career has spanned all levels of law enforcement. He formerly served as assistant chief of homeland security and intelligence at the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, as well as a SWAT team member and Santa Monica Police officer. In 2023, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass named him president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, which functions like a board of governors for one of the nation’s largest police agencies.
Over the course of his distinguished career, Southers has worked closely with state and national leaders, most notably President Barack Obama, who nominated him for the post of transportation security administration assistant secretary. In California, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Southers deputy director for critical infrastructure of the California Office of Homeland Security. More recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom appointed him to California’s Commission on the State of Hate.
In 2013, Southers wrote Homegrown Violent Extremism, which is regarded as the definitive academic study of domestic terrorism threats. He frequently lectures and consults on terrorism and security around the world, and has testified before Congress numerous times.
Southers earned both his MPA and his DPPD from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
Developing innovative programs to engage youth in philanthropy
Jevon Marco-Walls Torres is a senior progressive degree program student pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer science and business administration, as well as his master’s in computer science. He is the co-founder of Giving Cycle, a leading provider of innovative programs to engage youth in the experience of philanthropy.
Directly guided by input from middle school students and incoming high school freshmen, Giving Cycle has provided unrestricted grants to over 50 nonprofits, collectively totaling more than $55,000. To help Giving Cycle grow, Torres has spearheaded efforts to develop fundraising campaigns, lead summer camp initiatives, and facilitate community outreach and support.
At USC, Torres has served as a Black Student Assembly freshman ambassador, as well as the secretary, treasurer and president of the USC chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). During his tenure as the NSBE president, the USC chapter was named Chapter of the Year (Region VI) for 2021-2022. Torres is also proud to serve as the vice president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
After graduating from USC, Torres plans to begin his career as a software engineer with McKinsey & Company and to continue his lifelong efforts as a civic-minded entrepreneur and socially conscious philanthropist.
Making history as the youngest elected official in Los Angeles County history
Triston Ezidore was just 19 years old when he became the first Black man to serve on the Culver City Unified School District Board of Education—making him the youngest elected official in Los Angeles County history.
The son of Jamaican and Vietnamese immigrants, Ezidore attended Culver City High School, where he pushed for better support of Black students and advocated for an improved mental health curriculum during the Covid-19 pandemic. When these issues weren’t fully addressed, Ezidore decided to run for office and was elected to the school board on November 8, 2022. Since he took office, the school district has passed the Black Student Achievement Plan, which aims to examine biases against Black students and close achievement gaps. Ezidore also successfully pushed to add a mental health curriculum to graduation requirements for high school seniors.
Ezidore is a fervent advocate for creating a school district where all students can thrive. He firmly believes that those closest to the challenges should have the most influence, and champions this principle in his advocacy for education, labor, women’s reproductive health and political empowerment.
In addition to serving on the school board, Ezidore has taken on roles with a number of community organizations, including the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
Ezidore is currently pursuing a degree in political science from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Breaking ground as a health justice advocate and industry physiologist
Malcolm Jones is a Trojan trailblazer, the first Black student to earn a PhD in biokinesiology from USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. While earning his doctorate, he taught therapeutic exercise techniques and the physiology of physical therapy to doctoral physical therapy students. Jones also led a summer course to expand the idea of what it means to be a scientist/clinician to high school students.
As USC Iovine and Young Academy’s newly appointed postdoctoral scholar, research associate, he oversees the school’s health innovation minor; in this role, he is eager to develop research projects and industry partnerships that enhance the learning experience and connect students to their communities.
In addition, Jones is the creator and director of the Flight Lab, a gold standard human performance lab with a mission to make sports science more accessible, in the International flagship of the Jordan Brand under Nike Inc.
Jones is also the director of Health Research for Better Watts Inc., a nonprofit that catalyzes environmental justice by supporting solutions rooted in social determinants of health in the Greater Watts community of South Central Los Angeles.
Promoting African creativity to a global audience
Dami Kujembola is an entertainment lawyer and entrepreneur originally from Lagos, Nigeria. His experience in the entertainment and media world includes positions as a record label lawyer, digital platform in-house counsel and CEO. Kujembola launched his career in 2013 at G-Worldwide Records, as its first in-house lawyer, and oversaw the signing and management of one of Africa’s leading talents, Kiss Daniel.
Kujembola then moved to Los Angeles and worked at Fullscreen, LLC, one of the largest multi-channel networks on YouTube, where he drafted and negotiated several talent agreements for content to be exhibited on Fullscreen’s Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) service, as well as channel agreements to facilitate the growth of Fullscreen’s YouTube network. He is currently the CEO and co-founder of Amplify Africa Inc., a leading African entertainment/media company in the United States, where his goal is to create platforms for education in various African nations while promoting African creativity to a global audience. Under his leadership, Amplify Africa has grown to a monthly digital reach of over 5 million millennials across the U.S., U.K. and Brazil. It has also produced over 200 events, including: AFRICON, one of the largest conferences for people of African descent in the U.S., and the Afro Ball, an annual gala recognized by the U.S. Congress as a way to acknowledge the achievements of diaspora Africans.
Kujembola holds a master of studies in law with an emphasis on entertainment law from the USC Gould School of Law and is licensed to practice law in Nigeria. He is a strong advocate for immigrant rights and passionate about transforming lives through mobility.
Showcasing majorette-style dancing on a larger platform
Princess Isis Lang is on a mission to spotlight Black creativity through the performing arts. The musical theatre major has created the university’s first all-Black majorette team, the Cardinal Divas of USC, which has become a viral sensation. Inspired by the majorette teams at HBCUs, Lang formed a troupe to bring culture and diversity to USC. The troupe’s amazing performances at USC sporting events have led young Black women across the country to form similar groups.
During her time at USC, Lang has also served as a student ambassador, campus tour guide and member of the Undergraduate Student Government. She hopes to continue creating spaces for Black creativity and stories after graduating.
Leveraging real estate development and innovative funding models to create employment and economic opportunities in underestimated communities
Gina Merritt is an award-winning real estate developer who has underwritten more than $4 billion in real estate transactions specializing in community development. The principal of Northern Real East Urban Ventures (NREUV), she excels at managing large development projects with complicated financing and ownership structures. NREUV’s recent real estate advisory engagements include two high-profile consulting projects: the University of Virginia on its Affordable Housing Initiative, and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority on its Sustainability Study. NREUV is also managing over $400M in development for its own account.
In 2008, Merritt founded the Project Community Capital® (PCC), an economic empowerment platform; she later redesigned it to include the collective impact model in 2021. PCC is an innovative platform that bridges the social capital required to connect residents and businesses of underestimated communities with employment and economic opportunities. PCC works with developers, contractors and public agencies to place individuals in construction and permanent employment.
Her expertise and commitment to helping underserved communities has earned Merritt several honors over the years, including the 2022 Stevie Award for Changemaker of the Year-Race, Baltimore Business Journal’s 2022 Leaders in Diversity Award and the 2022 Social Innovation Summit Award-Economic Empowerment 2022. More recently, the Maryland Daily Record named her one of its “Top 100 Women in Maryland” in 2023.
Merritt earned her doctorate in social work from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
Telling authentic and meaningful stories on film and television
Tracy Oliver is winning raves for her honest and funny stories about Black women on film and television. The multihyphenate talent (writer/director/producer) made entertainment history in 2017, when she became the first Black woman to write a film that grossed more than $100 million at the box office—the risqué comedy Girls Trip, starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and a scene-stealing Tiffany Haddish.
The success of Girls Trip kicked open doors for Oliver, whose other film credits include Little and The Sun Is Also a Star, which were both released in 2019. That same year, she scored a hit on television as the creator/executive producer of BET’s First Wives Club. Two years later, her comedy series Harlem premiered on Amazon Prime to rave reviews. Both series showcase Oliver’s gift for writing stories about Black female friendship.
Prior to enrolling in the USC School of Cinematic Arts MFA program, Oliver studied at Stanford University, where she double majored in American studies and drama and created the Black theater company, Black Stage. She also befriended her Stanford classmate Issa Rae, and the two worked together on the web series, Awkward Black Girl.
In 2021, Oliver signed an overall deal to develop both TV and feature film projects for Apple, with an emphasis on diverse and meaningful stories. She recently joined the USC School of Cinematic Arts Board of Councilors.
Researching the impact of social welfare and poverty alleviation policies in Black and Brown communities
Jose J. Scott III is no stranger to seeing a need and stepping in with innovative solutions. A USC Sol Price School of Public Policy graduate currently pursuing his doctorate, he is currently seeking to understand the unintended behavioral impacts of social welfare and poverty alleviation policies, specifically in Black and Brown communities. He has lectured at the undergraduate level on topics such as social welfare policy, race and social values, and the intersection of sustainability policy and urban poverty. Scott is also a research assistant at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Center for Center for Economic and Social Research.
Since coming to USC in 2018, Scott has held several leadership positions in different student organizations. He currently serves as the president of both the university’s Graduate Student Government and Graduate Policy and Administration Community (GPAC). He is also the president and founder of the Black Price Society and the Behavioral Science Society.
In recognition of his extraordinary research, Scott has been named a Diversity, Inclusion and Access Fellow and a Dean’s Merit Scholar. He is also a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, a national honor society for public administration students.
Outside of USC, Scott serves on the National Research Center on Poverty and Economic Mobility’s Advisory Committee. He previously served on the Association of Public Policy and Management’s Policy Council.
Scott earned his MPA from the USC Sol Price of Public Policy.
Inspiring young people to become changemakers through the power of design
Kianna Armstrong is a versatile artist and designer who is dedicated to creating positive change and building community through her creative work. As an aspiring architect, she believes in the transformative potential of architecture to shape both physical spaces and the lives of the people who inhabit them.
This belief led her to co-found and serve as the managing director of Architecture + Advocacy, a student-run 501(c)3 nonprofit committed to empowering underrepresented communities in South Los Angeles. Through this organization, Armstrong has been instrumental in making architectural education and services accessible to low-income BIPOC communities and fostering collaboration between residents, architects and planners. She has organized workshops, community-driven design-build projects and advocacy campaigns in these communities.
Armstrong is committed to leveraging her education to inspire young people to become changemakers through the power of design. She is currently majoring in architecture, with a minor in entrepreneurship, at the USC School of Architecture.
Cultivating community and leadership development for USC’s Black male students
Thomas Endashaw is an aspiring screenwriter, comedian and producer who has fully immersed himself in several university organizations. He currently serves as the president of Brothers Breaking B.R.E.A.D., a student organization dedicated to empowering Black men and creating a nurturing community for them to become effective servant leaders on and off campus.
Endashaw also serves as the president of USComedians, USC’s stand-up comedy club, where he hosts weekly open mics, writing sessions and monthly shows. When he isn’t in class, he performs regularly at comedy clubs across Hollywood. His career interests include screenwriting, stand-up comedy, and working as an executive producer. He is currently studying the business of cinematic arts at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Raising awareness about mental health and inclusivity for USC’s Black female and non-binary students
Alexia Enokou is passionate about engaging others and forging meaningful connections that transcend language and culture. She brings this passion, along with her analytical, writing and strategic communication skills, to her work with Siblings in Solidarity (SIS), formerly known as Sisters in Solidarity. The name change reflects the organization’s commitment to inclusivity, welcoming Black female and non-binary students.
Thanks in great part to her dedicated efforts, this initiative, which was originally established by the university’s Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, has become a registered student organization. This change ensured financial support and opened the door to create new opportunities, like the S.I.S. Summit; this conference celebrating the mental well-being of Black women drew more than 100 attendees.
Enokou is pursuing a double major in public relations and global studies, with a minor in comparative literature.
Elevating the visibility of USC Black student creativity
Candace House is a senior studying the business of cinematics arts with a minor in Spanish. A native of Washington, D.C., she is also a student ambassador/tour guide with the USC Office of Admission; the marketing lead for an all African-American student film project entitled Three Colors; and co-chair of the Black Career Fair for the Black Student Assembly (BSA). During the 2022-23 school year, House served as executive director of the BSA.
Her goal at USC is to create a legacy and facilitate a bridge to the Black community for those who seek it. She believes that each event BSA created during her tenure had a purpose, and hopes to bring light to all of the amazing work that Black USC students produce. Post-graduation, House will be working at Deloitte’s Washington, D.C. office as a SHINE marketing associate.
Making a difference in mental health and social justice
Jernei Johnson is passionate about social justice, mental health advocacy and community service. Giving back and helping others are top priorities for Johnson, who co-hosts the Alone Together podcast. This podcast aims to spread awareness about mental health and guide people who feel like outcasts in society—especially in the Black community.
In 2020, Johnson partnered with the University of Arizona Black Alumni Association to launch the Breonna Taylor Scholarship. This scholarship is now available at USC.
Johnson is currently pursuing a degree in psychology, with a minor in mind-body studies, at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She plans to become a psychologist.
Paving the way for Black journalists and authors
Leonard Pitts Jr. is one of the most admired journalists of his era, a Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator who spent the majority of his decades-spanning career at the Miami Herald. He is also a critically acclaimed novelist whose books include Freeman and The Last Thing You Surrender.
Pitts entered USC at the age of 15 in 1973 and began his career three years later as a writer for SOUL, a nationally distributed Black entertainment tabloid. Over the next several years, he worked as a freelance writer for many publications, including TV Guide and Parenting, as well as a staff writer for Casey Kasem’s radio countdown program, Casey’s Top 40. Pitts joined the Miami Herald in 1991 as its pop music critic and was given his own general-interest column in 1994. It proved so popular that it won national syndication three years later.
Pitts was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and is a three-time recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Award of Excellence. He was chosen NABJ’s 2008 Journalist of the Year and is a five-time recipient of the Atlantic City Press Club’s National Headliners Award, and a seven-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Green Eyeshade Award. In 2001, Pitts received the American Society of Newspaper Editors prestigious ASNE Award for Commentary Writing, and was named Feature of the Year – Columnist by Editor & Publisher. In 2002, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists gave Pitts its inaugural Columnist of the Year award. In 2016, the organization named him to its Hall of Fame. Pitts retired from the Miami Herald in 2023.
Pitts earned a BA in English from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.