Shawn Blanchard was born on the Westside of Detroit with drugs in his system in an environment surrounded by drugs, sex, poverty, and negative peer pressure. He has seven brothers. Today, three are deceased, and two are incarcerated. In reading this, most would assume that with his upbringing there would be no hope for a better tomorrow. They would assume that his beginning would be the very end of his story, when in fact, his story had just begun.
Present day, Shawn is a Mentorship Specialist, Author, and Speaker who has dedicated his life to mentoring and providing youth with the necessary tools needed to reach success for over 15 years. He was recently honored and awarded the President Barack Obama's Volunteer Community Service Award in DC at the White House. Art Shrian and myNewYorkeye had a conversation with Shawn, and he's smart, funny and inspiring. Just what you would expect. Here are the excerpts:
Art Shrian: You started with unfortunate beginnings, but you not only came out of it, but turned it around. Who and what motivated you to be able to do that?
Shawn Blanchard: There are honestly a ton of factors that influenced me. Quite frankly, I believe that we all have unlimited factors that have the potential to influence us if we let them. Formal mentorship was a big part of my motivation starting with my Grandmother, a high school counselor, some brothers, and some of my sisters. Even if I didn’t want to emulate someone exactly there were factors that I appreciated or they served as a “really good bad example” and I knew exactly what I didn’t want to emulate. Beyond the individuals I watched television and would see A Different World, Will Smith’s charisma and fun intelligence in Fresh Prince, James Bond’s overall articulate yet masculine finesse, Eddie Murphy’s suave persona in Boomerang, and countless others that I would sew together to produce the kind of man package I wanted to embody.
AS: As people of color, we face injustice and lack of same opportunities everyday. How was your journey (any specific examples), and how did you overcome those obstacles?
SB: I think we should approach every situation with excellence in mind regardless of our circumstances. If you give me a seemingly impossible test, that simply means that your “impossible” is about to be my “possible”. Such situations give us the ability to strive beyond the norm. When I hear statistics or myths about my people I simply understand that there is general information out there that doesn’t apply to everyone. Society and media has a way of painting a tainted picture of people of color. I see these statistics broken all the time and in many instances the “statistics” are lies. People often talk about the amount of black men in prison when in actuality there are more black men in college then in prison. I recall being at the University of Michigan. I was told that I shouldn’t take math or economics courses because they would be difficult for me to pass given my background being from a high school in an underserved community. So, I made math and econ my major and even taught math at the University of Michigan during the summers. I take pleasure in obstacles. They tend to be opportunities.
AS: Now you're mentoring young folks, and giving back to the community through your book, seminars and other ways. How important is this to you? And how has it impacted you personally, in process of helping others?
SB: This is my life’s mission. I’m blessed because it takes some of us a lifetime to find our purpose in life. My main thought behind what I do is making sure that my presence and tools make the lives of others better. Otherwise, I would be working in vein. This has impacted my personality because it forced me to dig deep into myself, my experiences, and research to find solutions to some of life’s most difficult scenarios. It also gives me clarity of what is truly fulfilling. Making the life of another better is a real reward.
AS: You happen to be a fashion and men's style expert and successful entrepreneur as well. How important do you think dressing up and your appearance is to be successful in life?
SB: Attire plays a helpful role in our success. It shapes the minds of others through there first impressions. I’m a firm believer in knowing you have to teach people how to treat you. An easy first step is displaying the visual aspect of excellence through attire. It displays your energy level, attention to detail, gentleman knowledge, individuality, and overall intelligence. Secondly, we have to psychologically send ourselves personal messages. One’s attire can send a message of importance to self.
AS: Any particular tips on mens styling and what's going to be HOT this summer?
SB: This summer there are a couple looks that I foresee being winners. For the dressier look patterns on patterns, neckerchiefs, and shades of grey are setting the tone. For the more relaxed look; overly distressed jeans, baseball caps, and backpacks that are cool enough to take into a boardroom will set the stage.
AS: What's your favorite TV shows, and what's in your netflix/amazon queue right now?
SB: Great Question! My favorite television show is definitely POWER! It’s a real show that some see as entertainment, however, it is definitely a reality that many are not privy to. Lately I’ve been letting it loop in amazon while I get work done to make sure I’m caught up for the upcoming season. I just started Game of Thrones… I like it!
AS: Who would you like to play you, in your biopic? Why?
SB: Hmmm… I was just having this conversation on FB Live. There are a number of actors that would play the role well. I think Michael B. Jordan or Chadwick Boseman may be good choices. I think Michael B. Jordan would be really believable because it would be playing a merger between his role in Rocky, Fruitville Station, mixed with an intellectual, charismatic care giver which I haven’t seen him do yet. Seems like he’s naturally that kind of person anyway. Chad on the other hand has mastered the art of playing another character well which we saw in Jackie Robinson. This would be a totally new role for him that I’m sure he could execute well.
AS: What's your most favorite and least favorite thing about NYC?
SB: My most favorite aspect of NYC is the hard work among the rich cultured melting pot. Between various ethnicities, food, dance, and language, there is a universal thirst for hard work and acceptance of diversity. My least favorite aspects are the rats in the subway! Those things are like small dogs! LOL!