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Shawna Presley Vercher: “Be flexible in your approach.”

To be fair, there are days that I feel like hiding in my pajamas too. I don’t believe that people are lazy. I think people are afraid. Some of us are afraid of failure. Some of us are afraid we are not good enough. And some of us are afraid that things WILL succeed and […]

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To be fair, there are days that I feel like hiding in my pajamas too. I don’t believe that people are lazy. I think people are afraid. Some of us are afraid of failure. Some of us are afraid we are not good enough. And some of us are afraid that things WILL succeed and we won’t be able to handle it because it will change us or our lives. For me, I keep pushing because my greatest fear is letting people down. I have those other fears, but the fear of not doing enough to help people in pain, or not being a good enough role model for my daughter is just much greater.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawna Presley Vercher.

Shawna is an award-winning political media strategist and social justice advocate. She is a widely-acclaimed speaker, recognized for powerfully advancing the conversation on a number of humanitarian issues. Her Top 25 book, “A Fearless Voice: How a National Scandal Made Me an Advocate for Building a Better America”, has been renowned as an honest and heartbreaking look at our unjust institutions and how we can work together as Americans to improve them.

Shawna entered the national spotlight as the founder of a leading media and crisis management company. She has worked for notable figures and brands such as Fortune 100 companies, award-winning celebrities, and campaigns for President, Governor, and Congress.

Shawna has successfully generated awareness and consensus to pass Federal and state legislation. Her passion is mobilizing people to create positive change, and she is the Executive Producer of Reine Media, a social justice production company.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up in a small refinery town in Texas and my dad was a former mechanic who studied to get a job with benefits at the refinery, while my mom was a former EMT who studied to become a medical instructor and part of the Federal Emergency response team. It was definitely a diverse town full of hard-working people, many of them working poor, and now I enjoy seeing the “kids” (my generation) doing amazing things to make the town proud and show the sacrifices of their parents pay off.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“A Tale of Two Cities” was profoundly impactful to me as a kid. Looking back, I think it felt relevant then because of the richness of the characters and the way that something as huge as the French Revolution felt so personal, like when Dickens talks about the clank of the keys being triggered for a man who was imprisoned. Now maybe it has even more meaning when you consider the topics of wealth disparity and people standing up together against injustice just like we are witnessing today.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Right now, I constantly remind myself about the proverb, “People only throw rocks at the trees that bear fruit.” We are a social justice media company and that work is rewarding, but can be difficult. We face the most adversity when we do our jobs well. Change is difficult, painful, and scary to most people and it’s hard to speak the truth when you know that some people do not want to hear it. But we owe it to the voices we are representing to be as loud as possible and try to make a difference, even when it makes people a bit uncomfortable or the topic is unpleasant.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

We were getting ready to film our reality series about advocacy when the Pandemic hit and our first episode is about the cannabis community. Then we couldn’t travel and we are not going to put our crew and the communities at risk until we know things are safe. Instead of halting the project, we made a HUGE adjustment and decided to launch two entire channels: Blue Reine to connect people to their candidates and engage them in democracy from their homes, and Green Reine to bring the stories about issues in the cannabis space to people who might not otherwise get an opportunity to hear them. Everything is written, filmed, edited, and amplified from the homes of our growing team all over the country. The candidates, celebrities, businesses, and community leaders are taping from their own homes. In less than two months we’ve already reached over 3 million people with our messages and it’s been amazing to be a part of it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

To be fair, there are days that I feel like hiding in my pajamas too. I don’t believe that people are lazy. I think people are afraid. Some of us are afraid of failure. Some of us are afraid we are not good enough. And some of us are afraid that things WILL succeed and we won’t be able to handle it because it will change us or our lives. For me, I keep pushing because my greatest fear is letting people down. I have those other fears, but the fear of not doing enough to help people in pain, or not being a good enough role model for my daughter is just much greater.

In those moments when I need a push, I center myself by a reminder that I WILL fail. And that’s awesome, because it means I’m learning and I’m trying. As long as I do that consistently and openly, the rest will work itself out.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of my proudest moments was when I was tasked with telling the story of a juvenile justice nonprofit in Louisiana. We had to plead the case to legislators and the public that these kids deserved the opportunity — and the funding — to transform their lives. Dozens of people from different organizations worked for weeks on end while we created short films, conducted press interviews, and introduced the community to some of the young lives at stake and, when it was all said and done, our funding bill was one of the few that was unanimously approved that year. People coming together over the shared values of empathy and hope is the best we can strive for.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

Absolutely and thank you for asking that. I would love for people to participate in these channels. Send us stories we should be telling or organizations we should be amplifying. Support the work as a donor or business sponsor. And also engage in your OWN activism centered around something you are passionate about. The entire point of all of this is for us to share not just stories, but techniques, experience, and encouragement for people to get involved in their own communities. Tell us about what awesome stuff is happening because it will fuel someone else someday.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be flexible in how you approach a problem, but uncompromising in your values. That is such a hard balance until you have clarity of who you are and how you’re going to show up in this world. I work in politics in activism so I see far too many people who look away from a problem because they would be forced to make an adjustment of their own behavior or be less rigid in their way of doing things. We cannot grow like that. On the other hand, we’re all watching what happens when people in charge are no longer leaders with principles or convictions. It ruins the trust and credibility of everyone. I used to worry about being argumentative or being labeled as “difficult”. Now I realize that I owe it to others to be unwavering in my support of them, but also to listen as people on the other side of an issue are sharing their own pain with me that may have prevented a change before now.
  2. Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. I have diverse interests, I’m passionate about many causes, and I enjoy being busy. That can cause me to over-commit and burn out. Because we care about people, we hate saying no when they ask us for something. Right now as a production company we have literally thousands of stories we feel like we should be telling in our television and magazine content. Choosing our editorial calendar is usually an emotional meeting for us because we do not want to let anyone down or turn away from the many important stories there are to tell. We realized that if we say yes to trying to cover every subject that it is taking away from being able to do any topic justice. Internally we’ve gotten into the habit of putting great ideas into a “parking lot” and acknowledging that we are humans with only twenty-four hours in our days so some projects we will just have to get to later or pass on them altogether.
  3. There is no map for true leadership; only a compass. I used to beat myself up for not having all of the answers because, looking around, it seemed like people more experienced or financially successful certainly had it all figured out. Set aside the idea that any of us ever has things fully figured out, because the second you feel like you do, the world or your industry or your business changes. It was even more eye-opening for me when I realized that my job is to NOT have things figured out. If the path in front of me is mapped out and I’m just following it, then I’m not a pioneer. Leadership in any field where you want to be a change agent means being certain in your overall strategic direction and values while refusing to get complacent in how you will deliver on them. It means perpetually being uncomfortable because the alternative — comfort, repetition, and predictability — means that you aren’t trying hard enough.
  4. Ignore the guide posts and signs at your own peril. I wrote an entire book (“A Fearless Voice”) about the journey I took to learn this extremely difficult lesson. I had a media company and one of my clients became a stalker. I fought so hard to hang on to that company and to keep conducting business as usual, but iIf I’m being honest, the signs were all there that I was not where I was supposed to be — and that was before the craziness of feeling like my life was on the line. The thing about living through a nightmare is that it forces you to reprioritize your life. Being trapped in a situation where I needed the justice system and it was failing me was my “aha moment” that I was fighting to hold onto something that I didn’t want and that was not fulfilling. My work in media is now centered around social justice and making a positive impact and I could not love that work more.
  5. Stop waiting for permission or approval to do things. I was reminded of that piece of advice recently when we announced the launch of Green Reine, our cannabis channel. I’m a social justice warrior and our team at Reine Media is gifted at storytelling for that cause. We are not cannabis industry experts, so for a while we almost felt like we needed the blessing from industry leaders to move forward. We wanted to make sure everyone was happy and solicited tons of feedback before we launched. The result was a kitchen with WAY too many cooks in it. Getting feedback or hearing ideas is great…to a point. If you have an idea and solicit too much feedback it will do nothing but create self-doubt and a watered-down version of your creative spark in an effort to please everyone. Pick your sounding boards, hear them out, and then sort through to see what is helpful and what may not really apply to the direction you are choosing to go. And then GO! Move unapologetically and then set up regularly scheduled touch points with metrics to evaluate if you are doing well. You cannot be a game-changer if you are going to wait for everyone else to weigh in and get comfortable with exactly how you should be playing the game.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious during this tumultuous time? Can you explain?

This is a particularly important question right now because stress is at an all-time high, and our “normal” coping mechanisms are not enough. The first thing I would offer is a quick “carefrontation” to all of us who are thinking that the reason we aren’t sleeping well, we’re eating too much, or we are moody is because of something we are doing wrong. No. It feels like an apocalypse out there and this is a LOT to take in. You cannot organize this out of existence, you cannot summon the fortitude to just smile past a hundred thousand pandemic deaths, and you should not tune out the pain of what’s happening to oppressed communities. You’re going through significant pain and loss; stop beating yourself up on top of it.

Gratitude is particularly important to staying grounded. Things are just so many tough things we are dealing with, but what can you find to center you and remind yourself that you WILL be okay? You may not know exactly how or when things will get better, but are you healthy? Do you have a roof over your head? Are your loved ones safe? Do you have enough food? These are not simple blessings any longer so take a moment and realize that everything else can fall into place as long as the answers to most of those questions are a ‘yes’.

Also, take a look outside of yourself and your four walls and try and do some good. You can read to kids online, make donations to an organization doing good, find a senior home that will accept Zoom “visitors”, volunteer for a campaign from your desk, or start a blog that amplifies stories you feel passionate about. If you can find even a small way to give something of yourself to others, it will not only help raise those endorphins you need from being quarantined, but it will be another way to make all of this time more valuable.

The next bit of advice that has kept me calm during this time is being mindful of what I put inside my head. There is a tremendous amount of pain happening, plus toxicity partly stemming from the pain that this uncertainty is contributing to. It’s important to stay informed, but taking in too much negativity, anger, or despair is going to weigh on you. I give myself allotted times to read the news and social media unless I’m working on something or news is breaking that I need to see and then try to cleanse my emotional palette with something fun or relaxing. For me it’s classic movies, but for you it could be your favorite comedy series or home improvement show. Treat your content intake like a diet and do not consume too much harmful junk.

The last one is a big one, but it is critical for times when I am overwhelmed. Take time with someone you trust and play the “And Then What Happens” game with them. Take your darkest fear right now — aside from the health of you and your loved ones (which is always sacred ground) — and voice it to them. Is it losing your job? Is it running out of supplies? Then have that person constructively walk you through the scenario where you articulate your fear one piece at a time by prompting you with “and then what happens?” I’ve found that one of two things emerge from this exercise. Either my fear was misplaced and I realized that I was focusing a lot of energy on something that really wasn’t that bad, or it is a serious situation and now I have a tentative plan in place to deal with it. Both options provide me some relief and talking it out also serves as a release.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Based on what has been happening around the globe, I don’t feel like young people need much more inspiration to get involved. Where I feel that young people need our support is with meaningful guidance and hope. Regardless of someone’s age, if they are new to activism, we want them to stay involved and optimistic. That means helping them to avoid pitfalls and mistakes that we have already made — and projects like this one where knowledge is shared is part of that gentle mentoring. To newly energized youth and the young at heart, I would encourage you to stay committed to your values and connected to the human side of your cause, while constantly searching for new and adapted methods to achieve your goals.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is a perfect question for where I am at right now. My team and I are in the process of launching a series of shows, books, and online content that teaches people about movement building and how to get things done. It’s our goal that everyone from local community organizers to large corporations looking to make a critical shift during this time be able to understand and leverage the power of movement building to bring positive change. It’s our “movement within a movement” and we are tremendously excited to bring information that was previously only available to the largest political campaigns to everyone who is working so hard out there.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

This is a tough question because connecting with people is such a fuel for me and picking just one is not easy! If I had to choose, I would love to sit with director and filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Her work as a storyteller for change has been phenomenal to watch and I admire her fearless and unapologetic voice. She has chosen to amplify social justice in much of her work, yet she is bringing that work to the mainstream. A conversation with her would be both inspiring and educational. Also, I am passionate about movement building and would love to discuss what is happening in activism right now from her perspective.

How can our readers follow you online?

To connect with me on the most personal level, Twitter is where I am my most active politically and socially (@shawnavercher). However, the Reine Media channels are where most of the action is going to be happening for us over the next several months and we would love to get people involved so engage on that Twitter (@ReineMediaProd) or on Instagram (@ReineMedia) or follow our YouTube channel.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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