100 People to Meet: Navigators
Whether breaking down barriers, building up communities or battling bad actors, these Virginia leaders are blazing trails to a better tomorrow.
Founder/CEO, Equality Rewards
As the Las Vegas-born son of Liberace’s music arranger, Justin Ayars got a fabulous start in life. However, he chose law over showbiz, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from William & Mary and a law degree from George Mason University. As the former chair of the Virginia Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, he’s been an advocate for the state’s LGBTQ citizens, and founded Q Media, the publisher of a “nonpartisan, family-friendly” gay magazine with a targeted upscale audience. His latest company, Equality Rewards, has launched a pioneering telehealth portal that helps LGBTQ patients find inclusive doctors. “There’s a mistrust of the medical community. Many LGBTQ people don’t get checkups,” he says. “In the time of COVID, that’s concerning.”
Director, Virginia State Parks
Can the state’s main custodian of public land do her work from home? “For the most part, yes, but one perk of the job is going outdoors,” says Melissa Baker, who became Virginia’s first female director of its system of 38 state parks in January. “We’ve been busy,” she adds. “The parks have had increased visitation ince we reopened.” Previously North Dakota’s parks director, Baker also helped to run Montana State Parks and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, earning her master’s in outdoor recreation management from Southern Illinois University and a doctorate in forestry, recreation management and protected area planning from the University of Montana. Everywhere she’s served, Baker has been a trailblazer. “There are other female directors,” she says, “but it is a male-dominated field.”
Chief, Pamunkey Indian Tribe
Pamunkey Indian Tribe chief since 2015, Robert Gray thinks that his tribe’s planned 13.4-acre, $500 million Norfolk resort casino will be a jackpot for everyone. “I truly believe that we will help the city and they will help us,” he told Virginia Business last year. Norfolk is projected to receive $50 million annually for public school construction through the project, as well as $30 million a year in gaming and sales taxes. Gray, a retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant and former Philadelphian, says that, with casino revenue, he will bring more Pamunkey Indians back to their Virginia homeland and institute much-needed upgrades for reservation infrastructure, including broadband. He’s also rolling the dice on another potential casino project, this time a $350 million project planned for Richmond and slated for consideration in 2021.
Vice president of public policy, Amazon.com Inc.
In a widely circulated May blog post, Brian Huseman called on Congress to pass a federal price-gouging law to combat unfair pricing of face masks and other medical equipment during the pandemic. A former Department of Justice attorney and a Federal Trade Commission general counsel before joining Amazon eight years ago, Huseman says the company is still lobbying Congress for a national law, as well as working closely with attorneys general across the country, including Virginia’s Mark Herring. The Oklahoma native also has his hands full overseeing public policy issues connected to Amazon’s $2.5 billion HQ2 project, now in its second phase of development. So far, hiring, permits and construction are still on target, Huseman says, with the $14 million renovation of Metropolitan Park approved and set to be finished in 2023, and interviews for 500 Arlington-based positions taking place this fall.