Sweet Tea and Butter at The Nantucket Project:

My interview with LaTonya Pinkard

Dear Friends,

Thank you for joining me on my new adventure! Life is so beautifully serendipitous. One week after I transitioned from my role as co-founder of Visible Men Academy (VMA)  & Visible Men, I found myself on stage at The Nantucket Project (TNP) interviewing LaTonya Pinkard in front of 500 people! LaTonya is the star of the NetFlix Docuseries Last Chance U,  a fierce education warrior, and an all-around phenomenal human being.  It’s no exaggeration to say this was one of the greatest professional moments of my career, and it was in Nantucket – seriously, pinch me again!

The months preceding my exit from VMA were complex, but I knew in my founder’s heart it was time. I’m going to share more about that journey and all that it required and inspired in me, in the coming months. Suffice it to say, at this phase of my life, and at this time in history, I’m called to diversity and inclusion work focused on investing in women, the power of storytelling, and equipping change makers with skills for impact and success.

….So here I was, two weeks ago on stage with LaTonya Pinkard at The Nantucket Project at 1:00 on Sunday, the 16th of September….and it was exhilarating. I was nervous and excited and fully aware that this moment was a huge opportunity builder for LaTonya and me, and the work we do. It’s relevant to share that my husband Neil Phillips, who is an insanely talented public speaker, was slated to interview former President George W Bush right after us, so there were Secret Service agents everywhere. Almost as intimidating as a Presidential detail watching your filmed interview was the fact that the audience at TNP was filled with some of the most high achieving and fascinating individuals I ’ve ever encountered. These audience members included CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, tech innovators, creatives, movie stars, Wall Street executives, local Nantucket residents, political and academic leaders, a high concentration of Ivy Leaguers, sophisticated millennials, TNP Scholars fired up to save the world, wellness crusaders, truth tellers, and the local fishermen and seagulls casually perched on the bow of their ships right beside the TNP tent. Being nervous isn’t bad, it just means something important is happening, right?

Latonya Pinkard works around the clock to prepare young student athletes at Independence College in Kansas for academic and life success. I won’t share too much more because I want you watch Last Chance U and catch her in action for yourself. Let’s just say as an educator at a community college, she has her work cut out for her, and she reveals pride, passion, and purpose in her approach to ensure her students thrive. Latonya is a fabulous self proclaimed “Southern Girl” with advanced degrees, a fondness for nice shoes, and a woman to watch going forward. In the first episode of Last Chance U (Season 3) she introduces herself to her students and is crystal clear about the high expectations she has for their success. LaTonya’s ability to connect deeply with her students becomes apparent very quickly. They respect her, and she respects them. As she’s telling them about her background, she says, “As we always say in the South, Sweet Tea and Butter make everything better.” That is some truth – especially the part about the butter.

LaTonya and I were introduced via email a week before she arrived to Nantucket from Kansas, and me from Florida. We agreed to meet briefly but not rehearse anything. Both of us felt that delivering an authentic exchange was critical, and as the interviewee she said she preferred not knowing what I was going to ask her (brave soul)! We met on Saturday morning by bumping into each other on the steps of the First Congregational Church after we were both “taken to church” by a powerful sermon delivered by Pastor and best selling author Nadia Bolz-Weber. Nadia’s unconventional style complete with intricate body art brings LGBT, preppy conservatives in Nantucket reds, young, old, black, white, rich & poor together in the name of God, Acceptance, and Love – and that’s my kind of church. As fate would have it, when I asked Latonya what she thought of Nadia’s sermon and she said “I loved it”, I knew we would hit it off – and we did. We had a 30 minute power bonding session over lunch after the sermon. Lunch at the White Elephant in Nantucket overlooking the bay was extra delicious because we met Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson…that’s right, Nelson Mandela’s grandson (and Founder of Africa Rising Foundation, Inspirational speaker). Ndaba’s family legacy of civil and human rights work is obviously revered globally, so kind of a big deal. This exchange caused both LaTonya and I to fan ourselves in disbelief. This brief but memorable lunch was all the “prep time” we were going to have. Fortunately, my nerves were disappearing after being inspired by the TNP program of trailblazing speakers.

It felt like we were in the South that Nantucket Sunday at 1:00 pm. It was hot , and as Latonya and I were getting “mic’d up” we were sweating, aka glowing. But a cool breeze blew through the tent, TNP played the Last Chance U trailer featuring Latonya in action, and I walked onto that stage with notecards and courage, ready to celebrate the work and life of LaTonya Pinkard, and all that it meant to make her Visible to this audience.

Remember, LaTonya agreed to be my life coach, (and yours too!) Here are my favorite LaTonya-the-life-coach quotes…keep them in your back pocket:

We are going to get you right.
You are better than you expect yourself to be.
Sweet Tea and Butter makes everything better!

On the other side of fear and hardship lives brightness, and opportunity. Be on the lookout for these opportunities, for yourself, and for others. Be Brave! Become the architect of your own beautiful life, and share your SHINE with the world!

Here’s to Visibility…Opportunity…Impact!

Shannon Rohrer-Phillips

Hillary Bridges, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the Nantucket Project and the TNP team delivered on the gender equity front at TNP8 front in my opinion. Here are some of the women I saw rock it on stage at TNP8 below. Thank you to the founders of TNP, Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan, for the opportunity to join forces with a neighborhood of phenomenal women.

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