Shine Brighter: The Importance of Leading with the Heart

The Shellie-Ann Braswell “Shine Brighter” award is named after a woman who was an amazing volunteer, mother, community leader, and loving person who made every effort she was involved with, shine brighter.

That light shined brightly for 47 years until her untimely death on Thanksgiving morning in 2021. Before that, she had graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando and attended Florida State University where she earned a bachelor’s and Masters degree in International Affairs and Spanish. She served as Senior Director and Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Central Florida Urban League, while helping raise a blended family of six children alongside husband, Allie Braswell.

“Shellie’s smile could warm the coldest heart,” Allie said. “She had one of those makes-you-feel-good smiles that brought energy to every room she was in. She volunteered because she had the ability to improve the education of not just her own kids, but every child in the school. She could really light up a room.”

Shellie-Ann threw all her strength, determination, courage, and heart into school projects that would support her community and create memories for everyone involved with them.

If you want an idea what all that means, consider what she did with “ArtEco,” one of the first community events staged at her children’s charter school – Innovation Montessori – in Ocoee, Florida.

Art and respect for the environment are two core pieces of education at Innovation Montessori and Shellie-Ann, President of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), wanted to celebrate them in an event that would appeal to everyone in the community.

That made good sense. The school had recently opened its new campus on an 18-acre plot of land filled with trees, flowers and the beauty of Florida environment. It was, all by itself, a piece of art and ecology worth celebrating.

So, get some of the students to draw their view of the surroundings, convince a few more to plant a garden or two in the fertile location and you’ve got a picture-perfect day for everyone.

But Shellie-Ann wanted a little more out of the day and took on the task of creating a memory no one has forgotten.

She recruited a local environmentalist to come and talk to students, parents and visitors about the value of nurturing the habitat surrounding them.

She invited the school band to provide music that adds to the appreciation of the environment.

She convinced the theater department to build a stage and perform scenes from the musical “Beauty and the Beast” with the band helping provide the background music.

And students didn’t just post their artwork on a classroom wall. They built booths to display the art and ecological projects they worked on and some even sold their work to visitors and donated the money to the school’s art department.

And finally, she convinced members of the PTO and Board that they could make this a fund-raising event if they put on their aprons, fired up the barbecue pits and sold hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks to the visitors.

The event ran for eight hours. Hundreds of people – students, parents, relatives and visitors from Ocoee, celebrated ArtEco Day with smiles and appreciation for all memories the event created. Those are memories that can only be produced by someone who is willing to throw their strength, determination, courage, and heart into making it an unforgettable experience.

“Shellie was an organizer, no doubt about that,” Allie said. “She took all the skills that made her so successful in the corporate world and gave them back to the students and all the people in the school community.”

Shellie-Ann’s impact went well beyond ArtEco. She organized a Fall Festival fundraiser for the school. She helped students participate in parades in the local community. She delivered personal gifts to staff and faculty. She raised funds to help teachers take students out of school for off-campus learning experiences.

But the job she loved most was being a Mother and helping her children get the most out of their education. Her oldest daughter, Alexis, was a teaching assistant at the school when her three younger daughters, Kai, Yaadele and Yaanisa, were students. The two boys in the Braswell family, James, and Allie III, are members of the Army and Air Force respectively.

Shellie-Ann was the parent who executed her volunteer work with the highest level of integrity for the benefit of the students and charter school community.

“Those were critical years in the foundation of our daughters’ lives,” Allie said. “Shellie wanted to be there with them, to give something back and spread the value of education to her own kids and the other kids at school.

“School was not just a place to send your kids while you went to work. I’m sure she would tell all volunteers to keep doing what they’re doing, extend their energy to someone else and develop another champion whose spirit urges other to give their best.”

And, in the process, make the world shine a little brighter.

The First Annual Building Hope IMPACT Summit & Awards will present the Shellie-Ann Braswell Shine Brighter Awards on June 23, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The Finalists for the awards demonstrated the same spirit of leading with love for the benefit of all the children of their charter schools:

Shellie-Ann Braswell “Shine Brighter” Award FINALISTS

Dominque Moore, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, Washington D.C.

Sabrina Payne, Pi STEM Academy, Kuna, ID

Shawna Thissen, Promesa Academy, San Antonio, TX

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William Fay

Bill Fay is a freelance writer supplying content for the communication outlets Building Hope uses to promote and expand charter school programs in the U.S. Bill started his career as a sports writer for the Tampa Tribune and Associated Press. He has written about Super Bowls, NBA Finals and college football, basketball and baseball championships. He has turned his attention to more serious subjects like public transportation, personal finance and now, education. He welcomes opportunities to learn more from the charter school audience and become a voice for their community.