Catching Up with Shontea Smith
By Cindy Quinlan
Keeping up with your WINGS scholar for 14 years is amazing when you grow together in friendship and learn from each other along the way. Shontea Smith and I were paired as mentee and mentor in 2006 when Shontea was a sophomore at UNC-Charlotte working on her Religious Studies undergraduate degree. Her story was so beautifully told in her WINGS' application, but she was so shy in her interview. Our WECS panel was observant and saw the opportunity to support this young single mother who was focused on making a difference through earning her degree and helping those who had not been given the chance the opportunity to get ahead.
Over my years mentoring Shontea, we grew together as moms. Our boys were two years apart at the ages of 3 years old, my son Collin, and 5 years old, Shontea's son Lamar. We enjoyed special time together including hanging out at the playground, the pool, or the Renaissance Festival. LaMar and Collin even went to church performing arts camp together. Shontea was a great single mom. I watched her work hard to figure out the education system to get her son into the best magnet school and even moved several times to make it work for her small family.
Shontea graduated with a BS in 2008, then we stayed in touch as she worked and continued her scholarly pursuit. I attended her master's degree graduation at UNC-Charlotte in 2012, when she earned a MS in Religious Studies, and helped her prepare for her first overseas trip to Italy where she attended a conference with a professor.
Over the years, we met annually at the WINGS luncheon and continued to talk two or three times a year. She graduated with a second master's degree, in Theological Studies from Duke University, and continued to work in church leadership with African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in the Triangle area. LaMar graduated from NC School of Science and Math in 2018 and is currently on a full-ride scholarship at Northwestern University studying Psychology.
Shontea continues working at St. Paul's AME in Chapel-Hill, preaching, teaching, and leading lay ministry. She told me she is moving towards her calling and getting her PhD so that she can earn what is required to be ordained. For the past two years, Shontea has been working for the non-profit United Voices of Elfland Cheeks running a community center to help marginalized people in northern Orange County.
Perhaps the most compelling part of her journey and her relationship to WINGS is a story she told me in 2008. Shontea explained to me in her shy and unassuming way that it was something I told her once on the phone back in the winter of 2007 that kept her from quitting school. What I said, she could not tell me, but it was the fact that I, WINGS and WE had so much faith in her that it kept her going.
I am proud to be a part of Shontea' s life even now. She and I are currently working to bring my organization, Youth4Abolition's anti-human trafficking program to her community center and her church. We talk about things important to each of us, and our viewpoints as similar as they are different, as we see our relationship still to this day continue to grow.
The above photo was from the WINGS 2008 Graduation brochure.