By Mollie Davis
Just settling into her new office space in the Washington Commons building on College Avenue, Veronica Allen McClendon’s optimism is obvious as she spoke of her future in the Corridor. Up the grand staircase and to the left, a few items of office furniture were carefully arranged on the beautiful hardwood floors; marble fireplaces, stained glass windows, and stately white trim characterize the refurbished southern building. The newly minted law office is still being furnished in preparation for a ribbon-cutting in the future, but until then, Veronica and her associate, Betty Bailey, are content to work amid their metal folding chairs and moving boxes. A graduate of Mercer University and Duke Law, Veronica recently co-founded Toussaint McClendon Law to pursue her passion for children’s justice in Central Georgia.
Veronica is no stranger to the Corridor. As a senior at Mercer seven years ago, she was one of four students who compiled the research and proposal that snowballed into the College Hill Corridor movement. In the course “The Fate of Our Cities,” classmates presented their research and proposals to revitalize the community around Mercer’s campus and downtown, the cumulation of a semester’s worth of work in the capstone course. Excited by the possibility of turning potential into reality, Veronica and three other students encouraged their professor to present the proposal to university administrators and community leaders. Her passion to see their ideas through to fruition helped lay the foundation for the continued enthusiasm and success that characterize the community movement today. “I was continuously amazed at the progress of the community each time I came back to visit,” she said with a smile, remembering the early days of College Hill’s launch. “This place has come such a long way!”
After her graduation that May, Veronica moved on to Duke University School of Law, where she pursued her interests working with children and school discipline issues. During her time in Macon she had volunteered regularly with the Powerhouse Youth Center, mentoring and tutoring the young people in her community who needed it most. Her experiences there inspired her to pursue a legal education to equip students to overcome social problems they faced everyday, such as poverty, gang involvement, and homelessness. During her time at Duke, she seized opportunities to take classes about youth and people with disabilities, filling up her already challenging schedule with supplemental classes on school discipline and education reform. After graduation, she received a fellowship to work with the Georgia Department of Legal Services on Third Street in downtown Macon, bringing her right back to where it all began.
It was during those two years that Veronica rekindled her passion for Macon, taking in all the new sights and sounds of downtown and the Corridor. It was also there she met her future partner, Betty Bailey (then Toussaint), who shared her passion for serving youth in the legal system. The women joined forces in summer 2013 to open their own law firm. “I quickly learned then that in order to get a job, I needed to make a job,” she explained. Today, their firm specializes in children’s law issues like school discipline, juvenile criminal defense, under 21 child personal injury, and family law.
She is still amazed at the growth and excitement she sees in the Corridor. “The momentum has just continued to build,” she said, explaining that when she graduated, Mercer Village was a parking lot and downtown was a ghost town.
Even better, she admits, is seeing familiar faces at her favorite Macon hang-outs, many of whom are Mercerians who’ve made permanent homes for themselves in Macon. Her college roommate, Stacey Harwell, is now a minister at Centenary United Methodist Church at the corner of College Street and Coleman Avenue, just a stone’s throw away from the campus where they first met. Alex Morrison, another student in the capstone course at Mercer who propelled the College Hill plan into action, now works for the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority.
From her second story office, Veronica has a clear view of what will soon be the new College Hill Lofts development, which will add mixed-use housing and local eateries within walking distance of College Street and Washington Park. That lot between Forsyth and Hardeman will soon be teeming with growth and activity, another sign of progress – thanks in no small part to Veronica – in the Corridor.