“To impact 1 million people in communities across America to remove the stigma and shame associated with mental wellness. “
Message From the Founder of the Bernice Foundation
My passion behind the Bernice Foundation is to use my voice, as a woman, by standing up and speaking up for equality. I have been thru 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 couldn’t carry the torch to the finish line. I carry the torch for every person who has suffered and is suffering from dis-ease, mental illness, pain, inequality, heartbreak, and the cruelty of the world’s injustices. I carry the torch for love. This is my story of 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. The depression was overwhelming, and she was too embarrassed and ashamed to get the help she needed. It just wasn’t done, in African American households. 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 world acknowledging depression just was not done.
My mother was from a small town, Lake City, Florida. 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 and 50’s, she had to stand up for herself and for what she wanted. She had to us 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 for 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 irradicate social inequality, economic equality, and change. She taught me to never back down, to NEVER give up on what is right. My mother was my hero.
My Brothers 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 thought gave him every material thing he desired, but it was not enough. The mental stress and pressure to remain silent about his inner suffering and his mothers, was 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 go to work in the cotton fields, picking cotton. During the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, in the Jim Crow South, this wasn’t 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 then went on to graduate from the Tuskegee University. After college, my father proudly enlisted in the Navy. While enlisted as a soldier, he experienced the worst racism and brutality of his life. Daily racial slurs and sometimes beatings. Throughout every day, he was called a “nigger, monkey, and coon” and more. He was treated as and called a slave. Even though he was college educated, more educated then 90% of the white men who mistreat him. One day, he was brutally beaten with a steel pole by his white shipmates, enlisted soldiers, his back was broken. No one was disciplined, reprimanded, or dishonorably discharged as a result. There wasn’t even an investigation. He was honorably discharged and denied disability. He continues to suffer from back pain and trauma to this day.
Forever scarred, depressed, and suffering from PTSD. He met, courted, and married the love of his life, Bernice. Determined to provide for his family, and uplift his race, my dad became an entrepreneur. He opened Shaw Construction Company. Through commitment, hard work, a fierce work ethic, perseverance, and faith, he became one of the one of first African American men in Washington, D.C. to make one million dollars in revenue. My father’s desire to help people who suffered from the unfairness of social inequality, and who were from similar socio-economic backgrounds, led him to create a mentoring program, and a scholarship program. He would mentor young adults who were from economically distressed communities, and help them realize their true potential. He helped them realize that they could have anything in life they desired, help to empower them with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the racism and bias that they would encounter in this world. He also taught them that to do better you must learn to give back. To be of service to others, just as he had been of service to them. Many students were provided the opportunity to finish college. This was another legacy that I was 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, is my best friend. People ask me where I get my work ethic, courage, strength, faith, love for life and people. I tell them, inherited it from my “personal hero” and warrior, my father Mr. Jerro Shaw.
How I Dealt with Depression & Cancer
My mother’s death and my brother’s death had affected me in more ways than I had known. At the time, I didn’t have a safe place to share my feelings. A place where I wouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. They were both dealing with mental wellness issues, and I wanted to protect them. My mother didn’t have 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 keep on keeping on because that’s what we’ve always done. It has become a generational cycle and a national problem.
I survived stage 4 breast cancer, twice. While at the hospital, getting chemotherapy, I knew I had to find a better way. I knew I had to begin to live my life fully or prepare to die. I knew that if I didn’t pour love, purpose, and passion into my spirit and life, I would never be healed. That’s when I began telling my story. Right there in the hospital room with other men and women I began coaching them, lifting them up. 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. I let go of people and things that I felt were toxic. I began to live my life fully in the glow of love. That love that I gave came back to 1,000 times to heal me, and with that healing I began to heal others around the worldD
A Champion for Social Inequality, Sex-Trafficking, Mental Health, Veteran Mental Health & More
Now, today that’s what I want to do-save lives. The goal of the foundation, the URAWARRIOR app, and my coaching business is to help people before they mentally spiral out of control. 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 have to suffer in silence and alone. We want to stop this unhealthy way of living. We want people to know there are resources available and people who care. We want to remove the stigma and the shame of mental wellness. We want to break the cycle.
The shame and stigma that soldiers often feel because of what they have experienced can be overwhelming. Children, women, and men who are Human trafficking bear a burden that can overwhelm them with shame, fear, guilt, emotional and mental unrest, and more.
Most never get a chance to release the pent-up emotions and depressing thoughts. To be able to give back to those who have given so much is a passion of every staff member and board member of the Bernice Foundation. Military soldiers are our nations heroes and sheroes. We believe they should be treated as such.
Children, women, and men who are Human trafficking bear a burden that can overwhelm them with shame, fear, guilt, emotional and mental unrest and more. “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 plans to be at the forefront of research, education, and assistance to victims of human trafficking. Because so many people turn a blind eye, or just do not know the signs to look for this crime often happens right in our own neighborhood.
People from lower social economic levels often are left out, and feel as though they don’t belong. And women face many struggles, traumas and hurdles in business, healthcare, political 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 goes unchecked. Our goal is to level the playing field and create economic and educational opportunities to assist marginalized people, so that they can begin to play a bigger part in society
My Passion & Purpose
I am a champion for women’s rights, inequality, education, mental wellbeing, veterans, and an end to human trafficking. I believe women must be treated fairly and be given the same benefits as men. My mother believed, the gap is widening and her passion was to stop it. To make sure woman’s equality was not overlooked, and women would not continue to be marginalized.
Now, today that’s what I want to do-save lives. I want to help people before they spiral out of control with their mental well-being. I want to help people who are dealing with life-altering issues and need the support, education, and inspiration to push through. The Bernice Foundation will be a place where you will get access to education, inspiration, motivation, and support so you won’t suffer in silence and feel alone. We want to stop the unhealthy way of living. We want to remove the stigma and the shame of mental wellness. We want to break the cycle.
The same passion I have for social inequality, I carry for women in technology. The tech field has .2 percent of African American men and white women account for 14.1%, African American & Hispanic women make up 4%. Fewer than 1% of startup founders who receive venture funding are Black. The Tech field is dominated by Caucasian men. I want to change that by providing opportunities for entry. That’s why my STEM program is very important. It will introduce more minorities to Tech and provide opportunities to start a business, get educated, introduce them to trailblazers in the industry, so they can become part of the tech revolution.
I’ve witnessed the exclusion of minorities in economic growth and security. U.S. government sanctioned redlining in real estate from the 1900 to 1980s, and more recently with the licensing for medical cannabis, in venture capital, stock market and other legacy building opportunities. Minorities are given a small percentage of the pie, a handout really, while the majority gets 99.5% of pie. It’s time for real change. I will have a seat at the table. 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 wellbeing, one person at a time.”