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When he was a child, Shelley Stewart benefited from the encouragement of his first grade teacher, Mrs. Mamie Foster. Her message was simple, “Learn to read, get an education and you can be anything you want to be.” That statement is as true today as it was then. It’s the method of delivery, however, that has changed. Undoubtedly, teachers remain a huge influence in the lives of children. But it’s also true that kids today are inundated with messages of all types directed at them. Getting through all the clutter is the challenge.

Dr. Stewart’s career in marketing and the media provide The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation with a unique set of skills for reaching our youth. It’s a basic marketing principle that when you understand your target audience better, you are more likely to affect change in their lives. When applied to the issue of illiteracy, this approach results in solutions like a fleet of former school buses that transport students through a life-like experience to a place where eight out of ten dropouts ultimately end up – prison. Innovations like The Choice Bus are typical of the unconventional approach Dr. Stewart and The Foundation take to solving the dropout problem.

Board of Directors

Dr. Shelley Stewart - Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1930s, Dr. Stewart’s background can be understood in two words - obstacles overcome. Today a successful businessman, as a child his future was anything but bright. Dr. Stewart’s rise to prominence began as a radio personality in the 1950s and ‘60s. His radio broadcasts were a conduit for protest organizations during Birmingham’s civil rights struggles. His expansion into marketing also began in the 1960s, culminating in his position as the President and CEO of o2ideas, one of the country’s longest-running and largest privately held corporate communication companies. With all that he has accomplished, Dr. Stewart’s path out of poverty and abuse only emerged once he had taught himself to read - the lesson that’s at the very heart of The Foundation he created.

Stanley D. Lawler - Stanley D. Lawler is a graduate of The University of Alabama and the Birmingham School of Law. Since 1962, he has been President of the Lawler Foundry Corporation, a Birmingham based company dedicated to serving fabricators and forgers with dependable, high quality castings and forgings. He is currently a Director of the National Metal Museum in Memphis and a longtime member of the National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association. Among his many civic roles, Lawler is a member of the Birmingham Rotary Club and Vice President and Senior Board Member of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation.

Matthew Dent - Matthew Dent, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Buffalo Rock Company, is responsible for the company’s overall operations, including 12 divisions servicing Alabama, western Georgia and the panhandle of Florida.

Matthew began his career with Buffalo Rock serving as an intern during his junior year at the University of Alabama, where he subsequently received his degree in Marketing from the Culverhouse College of Commerce. That proposed 3-month internship developed into a 2-year part-time position where Matthew garnered experience in warehouse operations, store level execution and sales, budgeting and planning, and direct support to the Tuscaloosa General Manager. Prior to his graduation in 1997, Matthew was hired full-time working directly with the Company’s Senior Leadership where he coordinated improvement projects and realigned operations, eventually being named Corporate General Manager of Marketing and Strategy. In 2005, as Vice President of Corporate Development, Marketing and Strategy, he assumed broader responsibilities, including the overall management of the 12 operating divisions and becoming directly involved with the executive management of his fellow officers. In 2008, Matthew was named Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer and then named President January 1, 2011.

Matthew has served and is currently serving with a number of organizations locally and nationally:

  • American Beverage Association (Washington, DC) – current member of the Board of Directors; 2010 and 2008 Advisory Committee Chairman; 2006 InterBev Advisory Committee member; Board of Directors nominating committee member (September 2004)
  • Pepsi Cola Bottlers’ Association – current Board of Directors member, past ADMINCOM (Administrative Committee) committee member, past MARCOM (Marketing Committee) committee member
  • Alabama Beverage Association (Montgomery, Alabama) – current Executive Committee and Board of Directors
  • Dr. Pepper Bottler Marketing Committee member – current since 2005
  • Shoal Creek Golf Club – current Committee Member; Board of Governors member (2004-2006)
  • The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation – current Board Member and Treasurer

Among other accomplishments, Matthew was named 2007 Top 40 under 40 by the Birmingham Business Journal.

Matthew enjoys spending time with his wife and their two young children. They reside in Birmingham, are active members at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church and enjoy traveling together, boating and water sports, playing golf, and being personally involved in their friends’ and families’ lives.

Marsha Johnson - Marsha Sampson Johnson is a writer, speaker, and advocate for the full inclusion of women and people of color at every level, and every discipline, in all work environments. She is known for her keen insights and high-impact presentations on leadership and navigating careers. Her experiences in major corporations, non-profits, small business, and local government anchor a body of knowledge and practical framework to which audiences easily connect.

A retired senior executive with more than 24 years at the Fortune 500 Southern Company, Johnson held executive positions in division operations, customer services, call center operations, talent management, human resources and corporate diversity. Her business and leadership acumen were developed through years of experience with the City of Jacksonville Florida, Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s Offshore Power Systems, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, Coleman Management Consultants, and the Southern Company - most notably Alabama Power Company.

The Jacksonville, Florida native is an alumna of Leadership Jacksonville, Leadership Atlanta, Leadership Mobile, Leadership Birmingham, and Leadership Alabama. She is one of 14 women selected internationally for the 2000-2001 class of the prestigious Leadership Foundation Fellows Program. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum, and serves on the boards of directors of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Forum of Georgia, and The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation based in Birmingham, Alabama.

Johnson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Government from Jacksonville University and is a graduate of Harvard University’s Advanced Management Program.

Jim B. Black, Jr. - Jim has over 35 years of experience in the banking industry, with the majority of his career spent at two large regional banks in the Southeast. He started his career with First National Bank of Birmingham (Amsouth Bank) in 1974 and held positions in Branch Administration, Correspondent Banking and as Senior Vice President in the Bond Department before leaving in 1995. From 1995 until 2004, Jim was Senior Vice President and Sales Manager in the Investment Department at National Bank of Commerce and since 2004, has been with FNBB Capital Markets. Jim has served on the Budget Committee of the United Way, Board Member of the Birmingham Football Foundation and a Lifetime Member of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce. He graduated from Auburn University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree and is a Life Member of the Auburn Alumni Association. Jim is a member of Inverness Vineyard Church and an Elder with Steve Franklin Ministries.

Sherri Stewart - Sherri Stewart is the Executive Director of the Birmingham based Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a national non-profit created to help reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate in communities across America. Stewart comes to the Foundation after a successful 27-year career in broadcast management with Sheridan Broadcasting Corporation's WATV-AM radio in Birmingham. She is the daughter of Shelley Stewart and the granddaughter of Mattie C. Stewart. As the executive director, Stewart will travel the country promoting the message of education to schools, communities, leaders and all those who have a passion for decreasing the nation’s dropout rate in the United States.


The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation
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