The Walden name is a familiar one in Georgia, especially when it’s mentioned next to the likes of Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers Band and Capricorn Records. My late Uncle Phil Walden and my father Alan Walden were both inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame for their contributions to our State’s rich music heritage.
I am proud of this legacy and how it shaped American music. But I am most proud of is what my uncle and my father represented – an unbridled passion to stand up for others and work hard so those voices were heard.
That brotherhood -- which included my uncle Phil, my father Alan, and an artist named Otis Redding -- did the unthinkable during a time of deep-seated segregation. They went to work to bring audiences together despite the division that existed in society. You can go anywhere in this world today and hear the music they worked so hard to bring to light.
That kind of legacy has inspired my journey as a servant leader. I’ll never discover another Otis Redding, but I learned from my family how to:
- Set the stage for positive change by working with others.
- Recognize people who can make a difference.
- Believe in the power of those people, where we come from, and where we can go, together.
For the last 20 years, I have worked in a career based on community relations. I work professionally with local organizations and small businesses to share their stories through effective marketing and public relations. My career has allowed me the opportunity to work directly on initiatives that affect our region in areas of:
- Economic Development
- Health Access
- Internet Access
- Mental Health Access
- Community Collaboration
- Regional Recognition, nationally and statewide
I’m a lifelong resident of Central Georgia. My childhood was spent between Bibb and Jones Counties, where my father lived in Round Oak. I returned home directly after graduating from Georgia State University for my first job as a State employee for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. I later moved to Warner Robins and lived there for five years, where I served as the editor of Houston County Magazine, also known as “H,” a locally-owned publication. I would eventually find my way back to Bibb County, serving as a writer and editor of several publications, including the 11th Hour, before discovering my place in community development as an early board member of the Bragg Jam Festival.
While serving on this board, I met my husband Jamie Weatherford, a third generation candy manufacturer. Jamie’s family business, Crown Candy Corporation, moved from Atlanta to Macon in the 1970s. Today, Crown Candy’s manufacturing facility employs over 120 people during peak season and ships their product to retailers all over the country. Not only is the candy locally made, but you’ll also find Georgia peanuts and pecans among Crown Candy’s signature products. As plant manager, Jamie works directly with the Georgia Department of Corrections to hire from work-release programs; he believes some of his best employees come from second chances.
Jamie and I also operate a business together. In 2011, we launched Rock Candy Tours, a music history tour company based on Macon’s legendary music heritage. We started this business in direct response to the closure of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Our tour company remains an important asset in Georgia’s heritage tourism industry, as noted by National Geographic in 2016.
Jamie and I became deeply involved in Downtown Macon’s renaissance. I went to work as the director of communications on the grant-funded College Hill Corridor initiative that leveraged $200 million in public-private investment within a two-mile area between Mercer’s Macon campus and downtown. During my tenure with College Hill, I learned about the power of community collaboration, inclusion, and effective leadership, even when faced with complex community issues.
So, it was a great surprise for some when Jamie and I made the decision after the birth of our son Walden Weatherford that we would be selling our Downtown Macon home and moving to Twiggs County. But the fact is, I’ve always felt more at home in the woods. And I wanted the same for my son and our family.
Jamie and I have found our forever home in Twiggs County. We love our land, our neighbors, and our fresh sense of place woven throughout the rural areas that surround us. We believe that our true calling is serving the broader sense of Central Georgia as a whole. After all, our home is in the heart of it all. And we hope our commitment to this sense of place and purpose will inspire our young son to do the same.
Plus, we’re not the only ones in the neighborhood linked to the State’s storied music history. We are just 10 minutes from our neighbors at Charlane Plantation, the home of Chuck and Rose Lane Leavell. When we made our move to Twiggs, it was Rose Lane who told me: Welcome to God’s Country. She and Chuck travel all over the world with the Rolling Stones, so as a multi-generation resident of the area, she speaks with authority. Her unwavering love for the place she comes from is one of the reasons I asked her to serve as my campaign chair.
While the campaign for State House 144 will not be easy, I find inspiration in it daily. The people I meet give me a greater sense of purpose. I continue to learn that while there are issues for our region, there are also assets. And we need a voice that can communicate both on behalf of our Central Georgia region.
I am the Democratic nominee for the Georgia House of Representatives, District 144, for the November 6, 2018 General Election. This is the seat currently held by Representative Bubber Epps, who is stepping down.
But here’s what I want you to know: This isn’t about checking a box and choosing a side in identity politics.
This is about having sincere sense of place, invested integrity and hope in a region.
And I’m not here to just get your hopes up. I’m here to have the back of Central Georgia.
I’m here because we need to look like who we say we are as representatives of this State. We need more women in office. We need more mothers making policy decisions. I’ve quickly learned in these 20 years of community work that everything starts local. After all, all roads in this State lead back to Central Georgia. But we’re not stuck in the middle of anything. We’re at the center of it all.
More about Jessica:
- Georgia Trend “40 under 40” in 2015
- Leadership Georgia Class of 2013
- Leadership Georgia Board of Trustees, 2017-2019
You can read more about my awards, achievements, professional work and active community service on my professional website jessicalanierwalden.com.