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You might have read an article in the news or might be going through a personal experience that has inspired you to do something, but you don’t know where to start. Strategist Shatonna Nelson is the founder of The Finest Hour PR Firm in Texas. She has a long list of clients, from national leaders in the entertainment and hospitality industries to politics and real estate development. Her work enables her to help people all over the world make positive changes in their own lives, in their communities and beyond. But, turning someone’s passion into action is personal for Nelson. She was raped when she was 11 years old and left to die in a ditch. Her cousin, who was like a brother to her, died in a car accident, and she lost her boyfriend to cancer. Nelson says she has turned her pain into purpose in an effort to help others. She has been recognized for her national contributions, which include a day being named after her by the Mayor of Houston and receiving the Yellow Rose of Texas. Nelson sat down with Jessica Abo and shared her tips for anyone looking to turn their passion into action.
Jessica Abo: Shatonna, will you first start by telling us a little bit about your philanthropic journey?
Shatonna Nelson: I always was really involved in the community, even at a young age. It was something that my grandmother did, so I would do. My very first organization, though, I founded at 16 years old. It was called The Heart of Texas Foundation. It was geared towards helping younger girls in the community. I was in high school, but I wanted to help out with middle schoolers and elementary girls. I would go in and teach them cheers because obviously I was a cheerleader, and I would use that time to also encourage them. It was really hard being a military brat. You move around quite often, you don’t always know what it’s like to really just get close to people. So that was my first effort.
It continued on all the way through college and took an activist standpoint, and then at some point I came back and I’ve worked with some incredible organizations. For instance, Samaritan’s Feet, they give out about a million pairs of shoes a year to kids across the globe. I’ve gotten to do that. Feed Your City Challenge allowed me to come in and work with them on several occasions and help give out food to different communities across the nation in wake of the pandemic. And it just kind of goes on from there. The journey has been so long and so amazing that the mayor of Houston gave me my own day, and also the governor of Texas gave me the Yellow Rose of Texas. And it’s just been an incredible journey. So many people allowed me to come in and organize and do things within a community, and give back, whether it was the money for food or school supplies, or just service in general.
Wow, you have done so much. Looking back at all of it, to what do you attribute your success?
It’s the very hard parts of my life that I give the credit for that. The things that maybe I was ashamed of at some point, the failures, the people who failed me, the forgiveness that I had to learn to heal. All of those different things along the journey. I think that’s the most impactful and empowering thing any of us can use to launch us or propel us in our lives. And so many times people don’t realize that. They’re just like, “Oh.” They’re shell-shocked from it. All the little things, all the chapters, all the moments, they all work together to form this amazing puzzle that can absolutely define you, redefine you and continue to help you maximize your life. So if anything, I’d say, the pain. It’s always the pain.
If someone’s listening to you and they’re thinking, but I can’t do that, what do you want to say to that person?
I would tell anyone who’s going through a hard time that if I can go from there and accomplish all the things that I’ve accomplished across the world, so can you. It’s just a matter of, what are you going to do with your pain, right? Are you going to let it completely break you or are you going to let it define you? And some days it’s probably going to break you. You just have to get up the next day and decide that it’s going to be a defining factor and go after whatever you want to go after and make a new decision and a new commitment to yourself every day, every single day, to push yourself a little bit harder, to maximize your life.
Let’s say someone’s passionate about mental health or the environment. What’s the very first step people should take to make a difference?
You have to research first. You need to understand where this is happening. What’s the community of people, in what region? What does it look like? What are they lacking in that community? And then you need to figure out what you’re going to do. Am I going to give time? Am I giving money? Am I organizing an event? So, the very first step for anything that you want to get involved in is planning.
Once someone has a plan in place, where do they go from there?
You want to promote. And I know that sounds crazy, because most of the time when you think about promoting something, it’s advertising or selling. But you’re promoting for different reasons. You want to promote to get maybe other friends who are aligned with the cause to help you out, or maybe you’re promoting so that people know that this is an issue. If you have a really great platform and you’re any type of influencer, you have a community of people who pay attention promoting, definitely helps give to that cause of whatever that may be. So planning, then you’re promoting.
You’re the publicist and strategist behind brands and people all over the world, from celebrities to political figures. What is the formula that you use at the end of the day to be successful and propel all of your hard work forward?
My secret sauce looks different across all different platforms. It really has so much to do with that plan, but propelling most of all for me is going after it, knowing that, “Hey, I may fail. This event may blow, people may hate it. I may not even be welcomed into this community or this cause that I’m trying to help. But I’m going to find out, I’m going to go forward,” and then I’ll go back and start all over again if it doesn’t work the way I want it to. So, propelling is ultimately just jumping and running into whatever you want to do. After, of course, you’ve already planned it.
You’ve also taken on the role as CEO of Limitless Resource. Tell me a little bit about that.
I’ve been working with national civil rights attorney Lee Merritt for some time, and we do so many things. He has 45 cases of the families that have been involved in officer-involved shootings and the deadliest police culture of our time. So we would see other needs outside of advocating and getting justice when it came to the law enforcement route. We had families that had mental health needs, financial needs. They needed to have legs in the community. They wanted to open up organizations in honor of those people. So I said, “Okay Lee, what do we do?”
We decided that we would open up this non-profit called www.Limitless-Resource.org that will provide multiple resources. We’ve worked with people all around the country who are coming in to provide these families with mental health. Financial resources, obviously, because most of the time it’s the breadwinner who was killed. So they need to be able to sustain while getting the mental health that they need to adapt to, and I hate to say this, a very unfair new normal. And then obviously they want to advocate and have campaigns, and that’s the other part of it. So it’s important, and I think we need it across the board for people everywhere.
How can we use social media to help us amplify our message?
I don’t get on social media unless I have something to post, because you can get on there and then you’ll be scrolling forever with mindless things. So, unless I have something about a cause, or maybe I want to get on to encourage someone that day, or maybe I want to share a piece of my story that’s not so great to remind people that everybody’s going through something.When it comes to social media, I encourage everyone to be that way. Not just when you post, but be very intentional about what you’re looking for. So you can definitely use it if you’re a person that wants to be a part of a cause. Look for that, find something, share that. And if you’re a leader in any cause in any community, definitely make sure when you’re getting on social media, you’re getting on there with the intention to promote, to help someone else plan or to help someone else prepare.