Inspired By Her Grandmother, Shanell Powell Wants To Help People Reach Their Destiny

Powell was helped through school by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

This Black History Month, we've got our eyes on the current class of leaders, who, standing on the shoulders of giants, move the conversation forward through hard work, determination, and ingenuity. From HBCU valedictorians to entrepreneurs leading the charge, here's to the next generation.

If you're going to run a business, you better have a purpose.

That's the attitude of Shanell Powell, a Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) recipient who is set to graduate from Bowie State University in December with a double major in business management and broadcast journalism. While she's in school, she also runs her own company called Destiny Inc. that aims to help everyone "realize their own personal destiny" through fashion, visual media and photography. 

"My love of entrepreneurship and the whole reason I really want to dive deep into it is because from a very young age I had the opportunity to witness my grandmother own and operate her own business," Powell told A Plus. "Whatever business that I start I want to make sure it's purpose-driven, [that] it's not just monetary profit."

Powell as a young girl.
Powell as a young girl. Shanell Powell

One of Powell's biggest goals is to change the way her peers see themselves through the media, in broadcast journalism, art, videos and music. 

"My biggest question is asking 'Why are you doing what you do?'" Powell said.

Born and raised in Upper Marlboro, South Carolina, Powell faced her share of obstacles. In middle school, her family home burned down and they lost everything they owned. A few years later, her cousin was diagnosed with cancer unexpectedly and died within three months of the diagnosis. That same year, when Powell was a freshman in college, her mother was rushed to the hospital because she couldn't breathe. Powell felt the fragility of the things around her but realized how much more important relationships were than material objects.

But before she got into college, Powell had a choice to make.

"I knew I'm not an athlete. I'm not a tech geek. I couldn't really go the vocational trade route but I always loved learning," Powell said. "I found college to be the other avenue to learn despite how much it would cost me, and in the midst of that I was able to find TMCF."

The scholarship, given out to promising students attending historically black colleges (HBCUs), launched her career path forward, and "from then on, it's just been upward," Powell said. She's now a student ambassador at Bowie State University, has been invited to the OFC Innovation and Hackathon and joined the Black Founders Exchange Program, among others. 

"My parents didn't go to college but they did instill in me the ability to want more for myself and to want to do better than they did," Powell said. "That's pretty much why I do what I do."

Powell, center, poses in some Bowie State University gear.
Powell, center, poses in some Bowie State University gear. Shanell Powell

The new president of TMCF, Dr. Harry Williams, told A Plus that he came from a similar background as many of the students granted scholarships through the charity. During his career in education, which including a tenure as president of Delaware State University, Williams saw how education could transform the lives of people like Powell. 

"I'm a first generation college student too," Williams said. "I saw the power of education and what education can do in terms of elevating you from your social status to a higher status. It was that light bulb moment for me when I was in college."

Williams emphasized the importance of TMCF and how it ties into Black History Month, saying it's a time to celebrate the institutions that, like Bowie State University, helped create a Black middle class. 

"That's what HBCUs have done in the history of this country," Dr. Williams said. "When they were founded, Blacks did not have the opportunity or rights to attend historically white institutions." 

In December, Powell is planning to graduate and hopes to line up an internship or job to take on shortly after. She said one of her favorite things about her education is being able to share it with others, like her family and friends. It's what drives her to keep pushing forward.

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