My mission, since the start of my journey, has been to bring awareness to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. I just didn't know how to go about doing it, in a way to reach a massive audience, and have them listen. This epidemic of babies being born dependent on drugs, will not end, it has grown beyond that. However, we can lessen the cases, by our most powerful source, our voices!
Watching women on television, compete in the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant, changed my life. That was the moment, I saw outstanding women, using their appearance for good! They had platforms, and were out in the community. People contributed, paid attention, they listened; perfect! Hmmmm, but this was not so perfect for me.
I had my son not too long ago, I wasn't in shape, and I had been a stay at home mother, every since I became pregnant, because I was so sick. I didn't feel like myself, looking in the mirror, and I didn't feel successful anymore.
Still, I knew this could work, if I just tried. Pageantry gave me accountability, as no one else could stand on that stage for me. I was encouraged by so many supporters, and as soon as my crown and sash arrived, I was ready to get out there, and bring attention to my cause, by any means necessary.
When I put on my crown and sash, it made me feel like a superhero. I was still me, Shonjrell, but just a bit braver, and had a powerful weapon, to help others. I couldn't believe that it was really working, how many were letting me in, asking for my help, and helping me help others! I kept doing all I could, learning, speaking, and I watched those following me, grow within a short time period. I met so many amazing people, that I would have never encountered, not being a pageant queen. They were becoming my friends, and we learned from each other.
While this was great, it still was not enough. I needed ways to raise funding, awareness, and provide food and items for recovery centers. As I was working on a garden box in my yard, the thought popped into my mind, to write a book for children, about gardening, and donate the proceeds to recovery centers. I titled it "Reap What You Sew Garden," and used the word "sew" instead of "sow" in symbolism of repairing lives. I could not believe how quick this took off, how much the kids loved it, and that it was actually helping!
This lead me to write and illustrate two additional children's books, that are now published and in big box stores. I felt I could do anything I put my mind to.
The fact still remained, every week that I volunteered in the hospital, as a NICU Cuddler, I felt horrible for the innocent babies. They were in pain, I am not doing as much as I can. I am not enough, and people do not seem to care as much, because I was no longer a pageant queen. So I decided to try again, but one night, I had an idea!
We needed something to soothe and comfort babies going through detox. Their skin is so sensitive, they are inconsolable, they love to be held. From there, the "NICU Kuddler," was formed! I went home, and drew the design on my computer, and called my father. I didn't know if this would work, or how. After sharing the idea with my husband, he thought it would be impossible, as he and I both know the cost of obtaining patents, being involved in engineering. Still, for some reason, I didn't give up. Literally, in a blink of an eye, a person was put in my life, who said they would help me, if I made the prototype, find a patent attorney, then submit it. So I did it. I worked so hard, learned how to sew, did everything I was told to do, and he followed through with his promise. I was patent pending and trademarked. I am now an inventor!! Unbelievable!
I still searched for ways of spreading awareness, and continued my volunteer work, but I just felt I wasn't being heard through pageantry. We needed platforms right? We all should have a cause? I lived my cause every week, doing all I could, trying to fit in with all of these beautiful women, but it just wasn't going in my favor once it got to competition day. It felt like, I had so many behind me, hoping this super hero would save the day, but when it came down to it, I could not get where I needed to be for them. You start to question yourself, how you look, how you perform, but the one thing I never questioned, was my passion, and what I knew I could do. I could not escape seeing this problem grow in our state, in our country, and I didn't want to just stop, because I know if I keep trying, it will work, I just have to find the right route without a dead end.
It was not easy get up from my last fall. I saw from that loss, how competition could drive people to do anything to win, even if they hurt something so close to you. In this case, it affected my volunteer work, and I could do nothing about it, without looking horrible either way. I literally had to face everyone the following Monday, and they all already knew, just not the extent. They were sad with me, and said it was okay, if I didn't want to continue. I had made up my mind that I was not going to. I went to work at the hospital that week, and still, I felt on the fence, because of the babies I held with NAS.
What pushed me, was my dear friend saying, "Shonjrell, even if you lose, people still pay attention. People are watching you, and look up to you, so just try." I decided to compete that same night, so I wouldn't change my mind. I turned in all of my paperwork, paid my dues, then I had to leave for a trip to Rome that was already planned.
While there, something felt different. I felt out of body, learning about their hospital, and speaking to doctors about NAS. I could not believe, I had that opportunity. It empowered me! Still inside, I did not know if I was doing the right thing. I just kept moving forward, and did all I could to not look back.
Returning home, it was pageant time. I was contacted to speak with a company interested in my invention. All at once. So, I walked by faith. My friend, who is my hairstylist and MUA drove all the way to TN from SC, to help me at the competition. While I was driving with her in the car, I felt the urge to turn the car around. We were driving on the same highway, where my last competition was held. I got a heavy feeling, but I kept driving, because she believed in me so much, that she closed her shop, to come help me. When I arrived, everyone was so kind. The women all had amazing platforms, worked in their communities, had passion, and drive. We went around the room introducing ourselves, and I was so impressed with each one of these women, I was actually very proud to be there sitting with them! Writing this now, it's the first time, I have ever experienced doing a personal introduction of the contestants, face to face, with open discussion. I just felt like I belonged there.
I did not know what the outcome was going to be. Many didn't realize I was going to compete until the week before, because I did not want to get discouraged, I wanted things completely fair, and I really did not want to let anyone down. I prayed so many times those days, any chance I had alone, or silence. I thought about my mission instead of being crowned. I focused on searching and confirmation of my purpose of being there.
When my name was called, as the new "Mrs. Tennessee International 2018," I felt like I could not stand up, I was so happy, shocked, and thankful. I knew God put me there, I knew I doubted myself, and my faith, because all I could think about, is that I almost let people, end my dream. I was ending it for myself, because they do not know who I am. They do not see what I have to see. But, he does, God. God knows my heart, and the hearts of all those who are working tenfold more than me, who need this platform. The other attempts did not work in my favor, because it was not for me. It was not right, stars were not aligned. I cried all night and morning, tears of joy, knowing he heard my prayer. All I wanted, was to earn a title for my state, to help the babies and the organizations I am working for! I want to open more doors for many, to save more lives, and better them. We already were, but this enhances the chances by far, if you just do it the right way. I am so grateful, that I promise, this year will be the hardest i've ever worked, to make this happen. This may be my only chance, in this way. I just have to have faith!! I hope my story will show so many, you can do anything, go anywhere, and make a change! It starts with having a goal, and believing in yourself!