Message from Bershan Shaw


“To impact 1 million people in communities across America to remove the stigma and shame associated with mental health.”

Message From the Founder of the Bernice Foundation

My passion behind the Bernice Foundation is to use my voice, as a woman, to stand up and speak up for equality. I have been through many trials, tribulations, and hardships, and still, I rise. I carry the torch for my mother, my best friend, who could not make it to the finish line because cancer and depression took her life. I carry the torch for my brother, who because of depression and drug addiction, could not carry the torch to the finish line. I carry the torch for every person who suffered and is suffering from disease, mental illness, pain, inequality, heartbreak, and the cruelty of the world’s injustices. I carry the torch for love. This is why I started the Bernice Foundation.

My Mother’s Story – Cancer and Depression

My mother passed away from stage 4 breast cancer at the young age of 59. Her depression came as a surprise because she was always positive, strong, and a champion for life. The depression was overwhelming, and she was too embarrassed and ashamed to get the help she needed. The depression lasted as long as the cancer. Can you imagine dealing with a health crisis and everyone being hush hush, and turning a blind eye to your mental health distress. In her era, acknowledging depression was just not done in African American Families.

My mother was from a small town, Lake City, Florida. In her family, she was the only girl with eight brothers. She had to prove herself and fight for what she wanted. As an African American woman in the 40’s and 50’s, she had to stand up for herself and for what she wanted. She had to use her voice and brains to have the opportunity to go to college at Tuskegee, and then worked hard to earn her Ph.D.

Everyone thought she should be a housewife, but that was not her passion. Her passion was championing women’s equality. She stood up for women! She taught me to stand up and be a champion for human rights. Together, we marched and challenged the system to eradicate social inequality, economic inequality, and make positive change. She taught me to never back down, to NEVER give up on what is right. My mother was my hero.

My Brother’s Story – Depression, Mental Illness & Drug Abuse

As a result of our family’s emotional suppression, my brother chose drugs as his outlet. Not knowing how to cope with the inner pain and turmoil of witnessing his mother’s decline, depression and eventual death, he turned to what was easily available. My father did not know how to help my brother. He gave my brother every material thing he desired, but it was not enough. The mental stress and pressure to remain silent about his inner suffering and his mother’s decline were crippling. Never getting the professional health he needed, he turned to drugs as an outlet to relieve his emotional pain and depression. The drug addiction triggered the onset of schizophrenia. My brother died from depression, schizophrenia and drug addiction.

Daddy’s Story – Racism, Social Inequity, PTSD, Depression & Cancer

My father, Jerro Shaw, was born and raised in Gilbert Louisiana, he was one of eight children. To help support the family, he had to quit high school and work in the cotton fields picking cotton. During the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, in the Jim Crow South, this was not unusual for most southern African American children and families. If you wanted to survive, you had to work, and work was in the fields. Some as young as five years old were put to work in the cotton fields.

My father’s uncle saw his potential and became his guardian. My dad went to live with his uncle, and life was changed for him. My dad finished high school and went on to graduate from the Tuskegee University. After college, my father proudly enlisted in the Navy. While enlisted as a sailor, he experienced the worst racism and brutality of his life. He endured daily racial slurs and sometimes beatings. Every day he was called “nigger, monkey, coon” and more. He was treated as a slave and called a slave, although was more educated than 90% of the white men who mistreated him. One day, he was brutally beaten with a steel pole by his white shipmates.  They broke his back, which he never fully recovered from. No one was disciplined or reprimanded. There was not even an investigation. My father was honorably discharged and denied disability benefits for veterans. He continued to suffer from terrible back pain and was forever scarred, depressed, and suffered from PTSD from the horrific racism he encountered.

My father met, courted, and married the love of his life, Miss Bernice Cooper. Determined to provide for his family, and uplift his race, my dad became an entrepreneur. He opened J. Shaw Construction Company. Through commitment, hard work, a fierce work ethic, and faith, he became one of the first African American men in Washington, D.C. to become a millionaire. My father’s desire to help people who suffered from social inequality and who were from similar socio-economic backgrounds, led him to create mentoring and scholarship programs. He mentored young adults who were from economically distressed communities and helped them realize their true potential. He helped to empower them with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the racism they would encounter in this world. Also, he taught them to give back and to be of service to others, just as he had been of service to them. Many students were provided the opportunity to finish college through his mentoring. This is another legacy that I am proud to have inherited.

In 2000, my father survived stage 4 prostate cancer, and in 2010, overcame lung cancer. My father, my hero, my warrior, was my best friend. People ask me where I get my work ethic, courage, strength, faith, love for life and people from. I tell them, I inherited it from my “personal hero” and warrior, my father Mr. Jerro Shaw. 

How I Dealt with Depression & Cancer

My mother’s and brother’s death affected me in more ways than I realized. At the time, I did not have a safe place to share my feelings; a place where I would not feel embarrassed or ashamed. They were both dealing with mental health issues and I wanted to protect them. My mother did not get the support she needed. We were too afraid to seek professional help or even ask for help because of the stigma associated with the words, “depression and mental illness.” In many black households, it still is taboo to speak about mental illness. We just kept on keeping on because that is what we have always done. It has become a generational cycle and a national problem.

I survived breast cancer twice. While at the hospital, getting chemotherapy, I knew I had to begin to live my life fully or prepare to die. If I did not pour love, purpose, and passion into my spirit and life, I would never be healed. That is when I began telling my warrior story. In the hospital room with other men and women, I began coaching and lifting them up by pouring love, faith and strength into them. I knew I had to give back. That is my assignment. To give and give big.

I decided that day to let go of anything that did not serve me, fill me, inspire me or motivate me. I woke up each morning with a smile on my face and love in my heart and I let go of people that were toxic. I began to live my life fully and with that love that I gave, I began to heal others around the world.

A Champion for Mental Health, Veterans’ Mental Health, Elimination of Sex-Trafficking & Social Equality

The mission of the Bernice foundation is to help and support men, women, college students, and the youth to not suffer in silence. Our initiative with the Bernice Foundation is to launch the URAWARRIOR app so the community can find a safe space to heal and grow. I created the Bernice Foundation because of my desire to help people who are dealing with life-altering issues and need the support, education, and inspiration to push through. The Bernice Foundation is a place to get access to personal development resources, education, inspiration, motivation, and support so people do not feel alone. The Bernice Foundation will work to remove the stigma and the shame of mental illness and break the cycle.

The shame and stigma that military personnel often feel because of what they have experienced can be overwhelming. Most of them never get a chance to release their pent-up emotions. Our team, staff and board members are very passionate in giving back to military men and women who are our heroes and sheroes. 

Children, women, and men who are victims of human trafficking, bear the burden of shame, fear, guilt, and emotional and mental trauma. “According to a recent released report by the State Department, the top three nations of origin for victims of human trafficking in 2018 were the United States, Mexico and the Philippines.” “America’s dirty little secret is the United States is the number one consumer of paid sex worldwide” – The Elizabethian Star Online Edition. According to the United Nations, 2020 report, “Victims are targeted when they are vulnerable and the COVID-19 economic recession will result in more people at risk of trafficking” The Bernice Foundation will be at the forefront of research, education, and assistance to victims of human trafficking. 

People from lower social economic levels are often left out of society and do not have the resources and education to thrive. Particularly women, face many struggles, traumas, and hurdles in business, healthcare, politics, and societal arenas that have gone unchanged for years. Stress, trauma, depression, low self-esteem, poor health, low income and more lead to various types of mental distress that often go unchecked. Our goal is to level the playing field and create economic and educational opportunities to assist marginalized people so they can begin to play a bigger part in society. 

My Passion & Purpose

I am a champion for women’s rights, equality, education, mental wellbeing, veterans, and an end to human trafficking. I believe women must be treated fairly and given the same benefits as men.

The same passion I have for social equality, I carry for women in technology. Fewer than 1% of startup founders who receive venture funding are Black. The tech field is dominated by Caucasian men. I want to change by providing opportunities for entry into the tech field. That is why my science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program is very important. It will introduce more minorities into the tech field and provide opportunities to start businesses, get education, and introduce them to trailblazers in the industry.

Minorities are given a small percentage of the pie, a handout really, while the majority gets 99.5% of pie. It is time for real change. I will have a seat at the table. Together, we are change makers, disruptors, and collaborators. We are here to make a positive difference.

We are the Bernice Foundation.

“Removing the stigma and the shame around mental heatlh, one person at a time.”