Shaunta McDowell is a corporate employee who is passionate about leadership. The wife and mother of two is the author of two books. Her first book, Processing Chicken While Producing Winners, teaches others that they have what it takes to win, while she details her life in and out of the foster care system in Letting Go: Damaged but Not Done. Shaunta is also the founder of the non-profit organization Finding Your Way Out Of Poverty (FYWOOP), where she utilizes her leadership and management skills to inspire others to serve their communities and evolve into leaders. Her motivational leadership tools have been shared with corporate executives, assembly workers, students, and teachers.
We’re excited to feature Shaunta as our first Southern Author Spotlight. Learn more about her below.
Fancy: How would you describe your swagher? What makes Shaunta, Shaunta?
Shaunta: My swagher would be that I am outgoing. I’m relatable. I’m hardworking and consistent.
Fancy: And I see straight to the point. Laughs. So what inspired your book, Letting Go, Damaged but Not Done?
Shaunta: What inspired my book was my life circumstances and the things that I went through from coming to Mississippi, being in foster care, my mom being on drugs, and my dad, really not wanting to take the role of a father. Plus, I just had to hustle to take care of my family, make sure that we had everything we needed, and just basically, let it all go. It was so much hurt through the years of just trying to remain stable and become the person I am.
I went from working as an hourly employee to being a supervisor to being a superintendent over a location. I did all the hard work, and I had to be persistent to ensure that I put my family in a good place. But I was really angry when I wrote the book Letting Go. I was angry at the circumstance because I felt like my mom and I had gone through all these challenges to get to where we were, and then she was snatched away with cancer at the end when she finally got it together. I had been going through strife since I was like eight years old, but in the end, I just want to tell people, you got to let it go and continue to thrive.
Fancy: How difficult was it to write your book? Were you worried about what others may think?
Shaunta: No, I didn't use names because I didn't want to hurt family members. I wasn't worried about what family members thought, but the one person that I actually worried about what they thought was my mom. And I was in the process of writing the book when she was dying. I read stories to her out of the book. It’s a lot more that I could have said that I just didn't say, but no, I wasn't worried about what anybody thought because it is my story. It was my life. It’s what I went through, and if you don't like what happens to me, then maybe you shouldn't have been the person that was doing it to me. It was a long time coming of getting things off my chest. I could have been harsher than I was, but I was nice.
But I had no problem with it. In fact, I'm writing a movie script about the book.
Fancy: That sounds interesting! Your mom is a major character in your book, and I’m sure she played a significant role in your life. How did you adjust to life without her?
Shaunta: I was disappointed at first. This Saturday makes three years, and it’s been very hard. But as a result of her passing, even on my roughest days, I tell myself, “Mama, I’m going to keep pushing for you.” You know, even the most challenging times are a win for me. I’m not going to dwell on negative stuff because I know the worst day of my life was October 16, 2018, when she passed.
Fancy: Wow, I didn’t realize the date was approaching. I’m sending you prayers of peace of strength because I am sure this is a difficult time for you. I can’t imagine. So did you have a writing routine, or how did you go about compiling the book?
Shaunta: Well, this is actually my second book. I first started writing when I was about 13. I didn’t realize it, but I was writing my emotions down. I started writing to give myself some type of healing for the stuff that I was going through. I just put it in a journal. I would always write, but I didn’t realize that those writings would be stories later on.
So Let Go, Damaged but Not Done is my second book. When I wrote the first book that I published, it was hard because I didn't understand what I was doing. But I got in contact with a really good editor, and she edited books for this guy named Ken Blanchard, The One-Minute Manager, and she basically walked me through the process of how to write a book. When she taught me how to do that, I just went on, and I kept writing. I'm writing my third book right now. But then I also have another editor, who works with me. I'm constantly writing.
Fancy: I know you are a superintendent in a poultry plant. So is it your goal to be a full-time author?
Shaunta: I just enjoy writing, telling stories, and reaching people, you know- touching people's hearts because that is what I do. I feel like if you tell the story to someone, that is proof. I wrote that book to leave a legacy. So that when I die, the younger kids there will know what happened. You see, they live a completely different lifestyle. So with them having a book to read, they are educated about how our lives were before them. But no, writing is a hobby. It's something that I like to do. I want to make the movie because I feel like I will reach a bigger audience if I have it on the movie screen. So that's why I'm seeking out doing a movie about it.
Fancy: And you say you are working on the script now?
Shaunta: I am. The script is so close to being done. I literally have been working on it for a whole year. I’m working on it with Iron Rock Films. They are out of Florida, and once I get to the point where it’s finished, I’ll go to the next level, but we are halfway done with the movie script.
Fancy: That sounds exciting. So what tips would you give others about letting go?
Shaunta: I would tell them to reach in their inner selves and use every circumstance they’ve been through to build themselves up because everything you go through in life is literally meant to elevate you. It just depends on your response to what happened to you. I chose to respond differently. I would also tell them not to hold on to stuff, especially not in a negative way. Use all your negatives as positives. I would say to them if you don't feel like letting it go, use it to benefit you, and that's what I've done. All the negative stuff that happened to me- I took a hit and just used it, and actually, it has made me a lot stronger and a lot more relatable to people.
Fancy: Writing is therapeutic but letting go is another beautiful thing. So tell us about your organization, finding your way out of poverty.
Shaunta: Finding Your Way Out Of Poverty is a mentoring program. I mentor and coach high school students and young adults. Right now, I'm doing a “Free Yourself” program on financial literacy, how they represent themselves on social media, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, and career development. It is basically what I did coming up, finding my way out of poverty- for example, not expecting anyone to give you anything, to learn and earn. I’ve been working with high school students and young adults for the past four years, maybe longer, but I started this organization four years ago. At the end of the day, I want them to contribute to the communities they live in, and the only way they can contribute is if they have funds or skills.
Fancy: I like that you are teaching about emotional intelligence because that’s not something they taught us in school or at home during my day. But how do you teach emotional intelligence?
Shaunta: We go through scenarios of how to respond and react to certain situations. I will tell you what happened to me. I went to a class, and the leadership coach basically told me that if I could handle my emotions and know what to target them towards, I could make $20,000 more per year. Well, I ended up making $40,000 more per year by learning how to channel the energy. So I started working with high schoolers and young adults, teaching them how to deal with the many stressors they go through because social media will kill you if you don’t know how to channel that emotion.
So I put that as part of my program as well. If you can’t be financially literate, don’t know how to represent yourself, and don’t know which direction you are going in, whether entrepreneur or career development, it’s hard to get where you are going. If you have your emotions on your sleeves and don’t know how to channel them, it’s going to be hard, especially when you sit at the table with certain people because it’s not about your emotions. It’s about the facts.
Fancy: I know that you are a superintendent at Sanderson Farms, the third-largest poultry producer in the country. What is it like being in such a high position as a Black woman?
In the state of Mississippi, which I reference a lot in my book, there are no women superintendents. Still, I work in Louisiana, and there are two women superintendents, including myself. I’ve been doing what I’m doing for 26 years, so for the location and the position that I am in, it’s good because I can relate and help with the policy and implementation. Plus, I get to be hands-on with the employees, the supervisors, direct training, and development. It wasn’t always like that. It was tough for me to get where I am today. The third book that I am writing is called The Corporate Underdog, In It to Win It, and it talks about my advanced training journey. I went from being a supervisor to being an advanced trainee. It was a very different environment in a plant because I got to learn the entire business. It wasn’t friendly all the time. It was a whole other level because I was sitting at the table with the company president or sometimes on flights with all white men.
Fancy: That would definitely be a new level for me! So do you have any other projects or events that you are working on?
Shaunta: Well, I started a company called Strategic Winning, and my third book will fall under that company, and it’s basically teaching people strategies on how to win in perspective areas. It’s dealing with finances, promotions, asking for what you are worth, and not being scared to do it. There was a time when I didn’t ask for what I was worth because I didn’t know. But nowadays, I am not scared, I know my value, and I know what I know. I’ve been in the field. I’m able to relate. I’m knowledgeable about what I do. I’m not going to be scared to ask the price. If I can’t be paid what I am asking for, I must not need to do it.
Francheska “Fancy” Felder is the founder/publisher/EIC of SwagHer Magazine. She’s a-Single mother of 3-Libra - Trapping scribe-Lover-Mental health advocate- Country girl-Proud, liberated Black goddess@fancyswagher