Raleigh Magazine’s 2021 20 in Their 20s

In April 2021, Feature Stories by Melissa Howsam1 Comment

Share this Post

Photography: Jennifer Robertson

Spoiler alert: This is what our future looks like. And it’s blindingly bright. … We asked. You answered! We received countless noms from people all over the city across all fields—and here are Raleigh’s top 20 in their 20s: the leaders of today, tomorrow and beyond.


The 23YO Canes MVP hardly needs an introduction. After being snatched up in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, the Finnish-born “goal-oriented” hockey player has no doubt made his mark on the ice in Raleigh. Off the ice you can find him playing golf, tennis or PlayStation. His ultimate goal? Winning the Stanley Cup. (Caniacs rejoice!)

Age: 23 Hometown: Rauma, Finland Family status: Single Years in Raleigh: 5 Fave resto: Bida Manda Bingeworthy: Game of Thrones Local podcast: Digging in With Tripp Who you look up to: [Former pro hockey player] Justin Williams Love most about Raleigh: Good weather, nice people and the Canes Who you want to meet, dead or alive: [Swiss tennis player] Roger Federer Vision for Raleigh: Bring another Stanley Cup to town How you give back: Participating in Hurricanes Foundation events and helping with local youth hockey.


MS, JD—Burba’s list of degrees and achievements is long (she is unsurprisingly already a high performer at her firm just four years in). But despite her prowess, this lawyer has not only not acquitted herself of giving back—she’s committed to it, primarily through pro bono service assisting low-income vets, abused/neglected children, the LGBTQ+ community and more. To wit, she’s the recipient of the 2020 North Carolina Bar Association’s (NCBA) Younger Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award, a graduate of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Raleigh program and a former board member for the Friends of the City of Raleigh Museum.

Age: 26 Hometown: Mt. Airy, Maryland Alma mater: University of Maryland; Vanderbilt (School of Management; Law School) Years in Raleigh: 3 You in three words: Driven, compassionate, pragmatic Pet: Fabulous tuxedo cat, Lady Cleopatra Mittens Fave cocktail spot: The Green Light Local podcast: Longleaf Pod, hosted by my pal Catherine Lawson Love most about Raleigh: It’s a hub for innovation and inclusivity, where people are connected and committed to improving Raleigh’s quality of life. I also love that Raleigh is the home of Bittersweet’s weekly Bubbles & Cake special.


Dedicated to working toward zero waste, Cross founded her refillery this spring, offering refillable household and personal care products to help build a more sustainable community. Beyond her day job and startup, her passion extends to working with local nonprofit Toward Zero Waste; cooking for Food Not Bombs (providing free meals to those in need); and partnering with businesses, restaurants, high education institutions, neighborhoods and individuals to create less trash.

Age: 23 Hometown: Asheville Alma mater: NC State Years in Raleigh: 4 You in three words: Passionate, outdoorsy, eco-conscious Mantra: Use it up; wear it out; make it do; or do without. Fave resto: Two Roosters Ice Cream Hobbies: Biking or running the Reedy Creek Trail; crocheting Fave retail: Cause for Paws thrift store Love most about Raleigh: All of the urban greenspaces, parks and Greenways that allow people to feel connected to nature even within the city Greatest ambition: To educate communities, business and restaurant owners; educational institutions; and individuals that creating less trash can be equitable, affordable and doable for anyone.


Simply put, Douglas is a force. “Passionate, smart, committed, visionary” are just a few of his rave reviews. With his infectious positivity and unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion, he has breathed new life into the Chamber’s annual Capital Campaign and Young Professionals Network—taking these highly reputable efforts next-level by keeping Raleigh relevant to young talent and transforming our ability to connect and grow the next generation of leaders. When he’s not paving the way for future leaders, you can find this community builder captaining a beach volleyball team and open-mic-night-hopping.

Age: 27 Hometown: Sanford Alma mater: ECU Years in Raleigh: 7 Fave retail: DECO Raleigh… so many unique finds Local podcast: Podcast Raleigh Who you want to meet, dead or alive? Betty White Mantra: Set yourself up to conquer the day and not let the day conquer you. Vision for Raleigh? [To] set ourselves apart as a leading metro with an incredible ‘quality of place’… intentional in our planning, designing and development so that everyone can afford to live in our city. Greatest ambition: Regardless of how or why our paths cross… I want to make a positive impact on anyone I interact with.


If there’s breaking news, the WRAL Breaking News Tracker is on the scene and Rosalia Fodera is there for it. Besides her vast industry success at just 27, the newly engaged Emmy Award-winning reporter is also working on her master’s in Christian ministry at Campbell University Divinity School. Around town, you can find her exploring local coffee shops (like Lucky Tree) to study, or nurturing her appreciation for Raleigh’s outdoor spaces over a picnic with friends.

Age: 27 Hometown: Somerville, Massachusetts Alma mater: Emerson College Years in Raleigh: 3 Fave retail: Uniquities Local podcast: How to Commit Journalism Local concert: The Jonas Brothers at PNC—I have loved them since the beginning. Mentor: Debra Morgan at WRAL. She cares about the community on and off the air, and encourages me to grow in my role by offering critiques and guidance when I need it most. Greatest ambition: To become a correspondent for a network news station. And with my new degree, I will preach one day!


For perspective, peep the best of what Raleigh has to offer via Gianni’s @raleighhiddengems Insta. Her 50K-plus followers (and growing) are a testimony to the uncanny platform she has built—not to mention her love of Raleigh and dedication to its endless, well, hidden gems. When she’s not #supportinglocal on social or real estate-ing, you can find the self-described “silly, adventurous, motivated” Raleigh-native hiking, thrift shopping and photographing (obv), and volunteering through Activate Good.

Age: 28 Hometown: Raleigh/Cary Alma mater: UNCW Years in Raleigh: Lifer, minus college and six months in Seattle Fave resto: Vidrio Fave cocktail spot: 10th & Terrance—views for days! Fave retail: I love thrift shops! I recently discovered Rumors in Chapel Hill. I also love DECO—great place to shop for gifts made by local artists! Best advice: “Elevation requires separation.” (aka letting go of what doesn’t serve you) Love most about Raleigh: Raleigh has a big-city feel and hometown vibe at once. I like that you can be in the city one moment and then, within a 10-minute drive, be surrounded by farmland. I like the contrast.


Besides being the executive chef behind the gastronomic gift that is APATT—the nationally recognized all-are-welcome pay-what-you-can DTR cafe—Gravens further dedicates himself to the community by giving back (Habitat for Humanity, Food Bank of CENC, Operation Catnip); and is a fan of foraging for wild mushrooms and floating—whether “kayak, tube or on my belly down one of the area’s wonderful waterways,” he says.

Age: 29 Hometown: Vicksburg, Mississippi Alma mater: LSU Years in Raleigh: 3 Mantra: Expect nothing and be cool with everything. Fave retail: Nice Price Books & Records Pets: Four rescue dogs (Franck, Maya, Lotus, Doodle), 1 cat (Logs), 1 tortoise (Curtis) Local podcast: NC Food & Beverage Podcast Fave “resto”: La Poblanita Tacos truck Mentor: Chef Sophia Woo (most recently of Mofu Shoppe) Best advice: “Tell that jerk in your head to shut up.” Love most about Raleigh: Its inclusive “we are all a family” vibe. I love how Raleigh can make me feel like I’m out with friends while walking alone Downtown. Vision for Raleigh: To continue its movement as a cultural and innovation epicenter… alive with art, music and revelry every day and night! … to have its own heartbeat that gives movement to the feet of all people.


If you ask King his greatest ambition in life? “I want to do a good job in painting,” he says. And “I want to be a good person.” As a leader in the arts community, King’s success is a triumph against all odds. Living with a disability, King was determined not to get stuck in a career selected for him—choosing to pursue art eight years ago. Since then, he has garnered commercial and critical success. “Making art and making money from art is hard for anyone,” says ArtAccess NC director Betsy Ludwig. “If you factor in the additional systemic barriers King faced, you can see why his talent and determination make him a leader in the arts community.” When he’s not painting or giving back via Artist Gala or VAE, you can find him enjoying his favorite music and flicks—and just generally being nice to people. Two things the world needs a lot more of: Art and kindness.

Age: 29 Hometown: Raleigh Alma mater: UNC-G You in three words: Innovative, perseverance, unabashed Local concert: My Papa’s concert, Thomas Taylor Jazz Mentor: My mom, Yuko Taylor Vision for Raleigh: I want Raleigh to be nice to all people. Best advice: Put my feelings in my painting. Love most about Raleigh: I have friends here. People are nice to me.


Guido landed in Raleigh to study engineering at NC State, and “the rest is history!” he says—history that includes becoming one of the masterminds behind “making aged spirits without the wait” (Aeva ages and infuses spirits in mere days—aka the closest anyone has gotten to the likeness of a time machine). Besides being a car enthusiast and a fan of cooking and running—and revolutionizing spirits-making, of course—he’s most passionate about mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs. Since he found it tough to find relatable mentors on his own journey, he says, “I want to be for others who I needed when I was younger.”

Age: 25 Hometown: Albuquerque Alma mater: NC State Years in Raleigh: 7 Fave resto: Garland—hands down Fave retail: State of Beer. I love the diverse beer selection, and the vibe is always spot on. Local concert: Rainbow Kitten Surprise & Caamp at the Ritz Bingeworthy: Peaky Blinders—don’t sleep on it. Who you want to meet, dead or alive: Steve Jobs Vision for Raleigh: I’m particularly excited about Raleigh’s burgeoning tech and entrepreneurship scene. I believe we have the right blend of people and resources to create a regional powerhouse. I’m excited to be in on it early, and be able to both observe and play a role in this transformation.


Hines recounts his best advice was from his high school counselor, who encouraged him to apply to the NC Teaching Fellows Program. “Little did I know that 10 years later, after being accepted, I would be a 20-21 WCPSS Teacher of the Year finalist.” A two-year back-to-back finalist, in fact. And his worst advice? “Some veteran educators have suggested not smiling at students till December in an effort to show your toughness. I choose to smile with my students every day.” We’re gonna guess smiling paid off. That and his loving, reflective, consistent persona.

Age: 28 Hometown: Louisburg Alma mater: NC State Years in Raleigh: 10 Mantra: The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately. Fave retail: House of Swank Local podcast: The Way Out Is Back Through Vision for Raleigh: I envision Raleigh embracing its diverse population and continuing to create more safe spaces for people of color, no matter their ZIP code. There is so much power in community, and my dream is to create and participate in a collaborative space for men of color in education. The space would be a refuge and a place for those that enter to refill their tanks.


Driven, accessible, committed—all the things you’d have to be to even dream of helping oversee admissions to a prestigious law school—much less in your 20s. That, and passion. “I enjoy working with students, primarily first-generation college students,” says Jimenez. To wit, he’s also spoken at local schools, volunteer-judged the YMCA’s Youth & Government Mock Trial, and participated in outreach efforts to assist the Latinx community. Beyond dedicating himself to the next generation, he looks forward to returning to his fave pastimes: the Alamo movie theater, local festivals and checking out the newest spots.

Age: 29 Hometown: LA and Charlotte Alma mater: UNC-CH Years in Raleigh: 6 Family status: Engaged You in three words: Gregarious, relaxed, reflective Mantra: Focus on what you can control. Fave resto(s): I can’t just pick one, so my top four: Gym Tacos, Che Empanadas, Sitti and Raleigh Raw Bingeworthy: WandaVision Fave retail: Quail Ridge Books Mentors: Judges Sam Hamadani and Ashleigh Parker Dunston—they are awesome people and do great things for our community, both in and outside of their workplaces. Greatest ambition: To have the biggest positive impact I can in my community, whether it’s my neighborhood, workplace or city—I just want to help people as much as possible.


Having quickly risen the ranks to UNC Rex pharmacy manager, Kang is a leader in the health care industry who also participates (with his wife) in activities with the MS Society and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Around town, you can find him grabbing pizza at Trophy and cocktails at Watts & Ward, sipping on new wines at Seaboard Wine, taking a stroll at Lake Johnson, or delighting in cakes from Hayes Barton Cafe.

Age: 29 Hometown: Raleigh Alma mater: UNC-CH Years in Raleigh: Moved back 2 years ago; 15 total You in three words: Adventurous, determined, practical Mantra: No amount of money ever bought a second of time Fave resto: Vidrio Local podcast: Wine for Normal People Local concert: Zac Brown Band Love most about Raleigh: The growing number of diverse businesses, restaurants and shops… and with them brings so many intelligent and unique individuals you can meet, talk to and learn from. Greatest ambition: Travel to all seven continents and all 50 states!


When she’s not kicking it with Erica & Danny on G105’s The Showgram, you’ll find this resilient, ambitious leader propelling our youth—she’s created two platforms to that end and serves as a Raleigh Girls Club education coordinator. “The Wake County Boys & Girls Club literally had a hand in raising me,” she says, “and I’ll always do all I can to show my appreciation.” She’s also a huge fan of performing arts, kicking it with her fam, “Netflix & chilling,” mall shopping, dining out, traveling and date/game nights (shout out to Drive Shack).

Age: 26 Hometown: Raleigh Alma mater: Elizabeth City State University Fave resto: Metro Diner—the Pineapple mimosas keep me coming back. Local concert: B2K Millennium Tour You in three words: The ultimate package Mantra: The only person that can stop me is me. Mentor: My parents have given me all the tools I need to survive. Vision for Raleigh: The new Atlanta or California—there is so much unrevealed talent here… we just need someone to bring the stage. That’s one of my goals, while also trying to change the mentality of our youth. Love most about Raleigh: The culture and the hustle. … The side of Raleigh I come from isn’t filled with opportunity, but it’s full of people making their own paths to reach the things they desire.


“You can’t wait for someone else to do something if you want it done”—the best advice of Neville’s life. So she did the thing. At the ripe age of 19, the NC State Park Scholar created game-changing sustainable start-up Reborn Clothing Co., which diverts textiles from landfills to make amazing products (and, now, new division Reborn U). Beyond upcycling, she loves running, pickup soccer, frequenting Transfer Co. Food Hall, working in Origin Hotel’s cozy lounge, brunch at Whiskey Kitchen, and dreaming of one day living in Oakwood.

Age: 23 Hometown: Linden, NC Alma mater: NC State Years in Raleigh: 5 Family Status: Single as a Pringle You in three words: Bullish, tenacious, resourceful Fave retail: The Flourish Market has great sustainable and ethically made products. Who you want to meet, dead or alive: Spanx founder Sara Blakely—she really paved the way for female founders and proved women know what women need. How you give back: Local sewing lessons in partnership with Parks and Recreation… and I’m really excited about a project we’re working on to upcycle beer grain bags with Raleigh Brewing Company that will result in some tote giveaways for a local Boys & Girls Club. Greatest ambition: I measure my success by impact—the more people Reborn can employ and serve, and the more textile waste we can divert from landfills, the more successful it really is.


When you have mentors like former Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis—not to mention A-list Ellis & Winters attorneys (think: Mike Winters, Jonathan Sasser and Thomas Segars, to name a few), your star is no doubt rising. Such is the case with Rini, who, when she’s not lawyering, you can find pursuing other passions—like Triangle ArtWorks, or furthering the local Bar Association’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives—or giving back by supporting the Food Bank of CENC, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Oak City Outreach, and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

Age: 28 Hometown: Cary Alma mater: Centre College (Danville, Kentucky); UNC-CH School of Law Family status: Married Fave resto: Centro Bingeworthy: The Office Local concert: Taylor Swift, 1989 Who you want to meet, dead or alive: Barack and Michelle Obama Love most about Raleigh: It’s full of bright, talented and ambitious individuals who just want to make their city a better place. I’ve loved watching it grow from a small Southern town to a city full of innovation and life.


Characterized as the “lynchpin” and “nucleus” of the WCED Business Recruitment and Expansion team—and just plain fun—Ross’ love for Raleigh is rooted in its people. To wit, she is hands-on making change for our community—her work to date has directly impacted the community, resulting in 11,892 new jobs and $821.8 million in investments for Wake County since January 2017. Beyond fostering real growth, she’s also a licensed real estate agent and actively involved in the Triangle Commercial Real Estate Women group and North Carolina Economic Development Association—not to mention a supporter of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Age: 29 Hometown: Goldsboro Alma mater: NC State Years in Raleigh: 12 Family status: Engaged Hobbies: Painting, taking our dog to Dorothea Dix Dog Park, listening to music, local concerts Pet: Miniature Australian cattle dog, Roo Fave resto: MoJoe’s Vision for Raleigh: I hope to see Raleigh continue to evolve and become more diverse without losing its small-town feel and Southern hospitality.


The Rockford is a Raleigh legend—and Ruiz, at just 27, is the executive chef behind those locally sourced delish dishes. Self-described as hungry, funny and goal-oriented, Ruiz—when he’s not cookin’ up unique combos on Glenwood South—can be spotted enjoying the weather at Fletcher Park… and aspiring to globe-trot with great people noshing on great food the world over.

Age: 27 Hometown: Arecibo, Puerto Rico Years in Raleigh: 9 Fave cocktail spots: William & Company; Atlantic Lounge Fave resto: St. Roch Fave retail: Apex Outfitters; Endless Grind Local podcast: NC Food & Beverage Podcast Mentor: Jake Wood [chef/owner of Lawrence Barbecue]—he’s been a great friend and mentor to me for a long time now. Love most about Raleigh: The sense of community and support between all the local businesses Worst advice: Good things come to those who wait. How you give back: I try to support as many local farmers and artisans as possible at the restaurant.


If you haven’t heard of Greear Webb yet, you will. At 20, he’s already affecting change, including co-founding a statewide nonprofit committed to providing young North Carolinians with the avenues necessary to create positive policy change. When he’s not helping voices be heard and fighting for equality, inclusion and opportunity, you can find this compassionate leader playing hoops or tennis, working to uplift Raleigh through Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) and Oak City Cares, or chilling over a vanilla latte at The Morning Times.

Age: 20 Hometown: Raleigh Alma mater: Sophomore at UNC-CH Mantra: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” (Shirley Chisholm) Fave resto: Beasley’s Chicken + Honey Local concert: Tank and the Bangas [at] African American Cultural Festival Who you want to meet, dead or alive: Frederick Douglass for his thoughts on how we’re operating as a nation and world today Love most about Raleigh: Diversity—of people, thought, opportunity, and history—as well as the way Raleigh fights to protect its youth Vision for Raleigh: To become a truly inclusive and representative model city for this country, and one where those from all backgrounds can thrive.


A born giver, Wiser started fundraising in high school before eventually making a career of it. Tirelessly dedicating his time and energy to serving and supporting local children and families, Wiser led the super-successful Frankie Lemmon Golf Classic and Giving Tuesday Campaign, and assisted in pulling off the much-needed 2020 Triangle Food and Wine Experience while also helping to raise funds for the restaurant industry (because pandemic). He supplements that do-gooding with more do-gooding in various roles at his church—“my favorite of which being our support of Healing Transitions,” he says. When he’s not working, you can find him golfing, woodworking and doing anything with his pup: “the best dog ever, Sydney—the cutest mutt you’ve ever seen.”

Age: 28 Hometown: Apex Alma mater: ECU Family status: Single Mantra: “Let’s not get tired of doing good.” (Galatians 6:9) Fave drink spot: Trophy Brewing Co. Local podcast: Criminal Who you want to meet, dead or alive: Tiger Woods Greatest ambition: Being a dad who raises children better than me, who endeavor to leave the world better than they find it.


Spontaneous, upbeat, perky—ever-fitting descriptors for the co-founder of a coffee shop. When she’s not brewing up “people-focused coffee” at her NC State Farmers Market locale, you can find her spreading kindness and dreaming of saving a life (for real—her life’s greatest ambition).

Age: 21 Hometown: Cary Alma mater: NC State Fave resto: A Place at the Table—duh! Local podcast: Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Bingeworthy: Schitt’s Creek Love most about Raleigh: [It’s] is a place of do-ers. … I am constantly energized by talking to and hearing about people who are working on amazing projects that are truly moving the needle. Fave quote: “Every time you spend a dollar, you vote for the type of world you want to live in.” I work to support the community throughout my everyday life. How you give back: I believe every decision you make is an opportunity to make an impact. Therefore, I am very conscious with my decisions and purposeful with who I’m supporting. If I want produce: farmers market; … a sandwich: A Place at the Table. Best advice: Be interruptible.

Share this Post


  1. Pingback: Three Female Morning Meteorologists Make History in Raleigh

Leave a Comment