Sitting in a small office just above San Diego's skid row is Sean Sheppard (www.TheGoodSheppard.TV) founder and CEO of Embrace, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes thousands of college students to serve less fortunate members of civilian and veteran communities. They perform a variety of public services; from serving the homeless to restoring the homes of disabled veteran homeowners (www.Embrace1.org) The organization has received over 10 community service awards from elected officials in the State of California and the City of San Diego.
Sheppard is recognized as being one of the most promising and upcoming black leaders in the Southern California community. He also gained national media attention for taking in Debbie Clark, better known as Storm from the hit show American Gladiators, as well as her son, who had become homeless. The story that had received national coverage also got the attention of Sherri Shepherd, co-host of ABC's 'The View', So much so that when she got married in August, 2011, she asked for donations to be made to Embrace in lieu of wedding gifts. She also invited Sheppard and his mother to the Chicago, Illinois wedding.
Sheppard grew up in a culturally diverse environment, attending Catholic grade school (St. Augustine's in Kendall Park, NJ) Catholic high school (Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, NJ) and Catholic college ( Georgetown University in Washington DC). He spent each summer of his childhood at a Jewish summer day camp at Mill Road in North Brunswick, NJ.
He was MVP of his high school football team in his senior year. Voted 1 of 7 outstanding seniors at Georgetown University (CAS 90') for creating Georgetown's first black yearbook, Young, Gifted and Black. As an assistant strength and conditioning coach, he earned a Men's Basketball Big East Championship ring while coaching at Boston College (1996-1997). As the director of strength and conditioning, he earned a Men's Basketball Final Four ring while coaching at The Ohio State University (1998-1999), and earned a Men's Basketball Big Ten Championship ring while coaching at Ohio State University (1999-2000). His career has allowed him to work directly with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield during a consulting stint with the San Diego Padres (2006-2008). He was under the direct supervision of two-time Heisman Trophy winner and then associate athletic director, Archie Griffin, whom Sheppard refers to as his professional mentor and 'big brother'.
Sitting across from Sean Sheppard, he explains that he needed to come out of the closet, but not the closet you may be thinking of. I am speaking of the closet that so many people find themselves in, but are unwilling, scared or too humiliated to talk about it.
This interview not only touches upon the sexual abuse that Sean Sheppard endured as a child which is also inflicted on many of America's innocent children. This article will discuss what this courageous man decided to do about it.
Why do you feel college students need to become active in society and helping the needy?
Kids that start skiing as juveniles usually wind up being incredible skiers by the time they're 20. Same line of thinking when it comes to philanthropy, except in this case, not only does starting early set the stage to become a serial philanthropist, there's a great chance that they'll wind up producing a family of philanthropists if and when they wind up getting married. Good habits are emulated too.
When did you start Embrace and why?
Conceptually in 2000. We became incorporated in the state of California in 2003. Sports have been at the center of my life for most of my life, and from a social standpoint, I noticed that sports bring people together from various ethnicities, religions, cultures and sexual orientations - which is the blue print for a healthy, well-rounded, well-informed life. The problem arises when the game ends and people tend to go back to their segregated section of town and forget what a great time they had in a diverse setting. During the game the guy rooting with you wasn't the Latino, gay Mormon, he was your best bud for 3 hours. I wanted to capture that social phenomenon and replicate it as often as I could. I quickly discovered that serving the community attracted the same diverse participants as sporting events do.With Embrace, we can serve the community every day, year round, and in doing so, give diverse groups of people the opportunity to get to know and befriend others that look nothing like them. It's incredible to be a part of.
What was the inspiring moment to start Embrace?
There was no one moment. Embrace is a mirror image of who I am as a person. I guess when I saw that the only thing that brought me pure joy was helping people, I decided to do that as often as possible - and people began wanting to help me.
Tell us what do you want to achieve with Embrace?
I want Embrace student organizations on campuses around the country and around the world. I want college students to realize just how much power and influence they have on society and come together to utilize that power and influence in a manner that creates a world rooted philanthropy. God has given each of us something valuable to share - it's worthless if you keep whatever that something is to yourself
I know your father served in Vietnam and your parents later divorced , where did you grow up ?
Life started for me living in Brooklyn, NY at the 300 block of Lafayette Avenue. At the age of 4, we moved to South Brunswick, NJ where I grew up on Chipper Drive. I attended Notre Dame High School, a Catholic school, in Lawrenceville, NJ and attended Georgetown University in Washington DC
When you revealed to me that you were sexually abused as a child , I felt this was very brave because African-American men are viewed as being very tough. Are you worried that this could have a negative effect on you as heterosexual man?
Not at all. I'm the sum of many experiences, some good, some not so good. I was a victim of sexual abuse but that hasn't turned me into a lifelong victim.
Do you think the abuse drove you to drug or alcohol abuse? From what I personally understand some people turn to substance abuse and blackout drinking.
I believe being in a college atmosphere "drove" me to drinking, not sexual abuse. Out of all the times I've drank in my life, I blacked out once when I was 22 or so. Smoking pot, well, there could be some connection there. Looking back, I remember being sad or bothered by something during the period of time that I smoked. Smoking was definitely a coping strategy for me, in fact, toward the end of my smoking days, I smoked alone. When I drank, 100% of the time it was with other people to be social. When something was consciously or unconsciously bothering me, I didn't turn to cocktails, I feel like I turned to the bong.
You mentioned two people sexually abused you , who were they , family relation, clergy , family friend , teacher , neighbor ? What age did it start with each? Please only share what you feel is safe to share.
I was age 7 and younger on both occasions. One was a close friend of the family (female) and the other was a male cousin. Both were older than me.
How did the abuse start , how did you stop the abuse?
The first time, I was asleep in the guest bed of the friend of the family's home. The female friend of the family came into the room, woke me up and molested me. It was brief. The second time was in a crowded house of family members who were gathered in the living room. A male cousin lured me into the kitchen and molested me as well. This too was a very brief experience. I never really saw either one of them again after that so that's how it stopped. I was fortunate that was the end of it.
Did you seek professional help or spiritual help to talk about the child molestation issue?
I never told anyone until later on in life. At the time it happened, my male cousin threatened to hurt me if I ever said a word. He was older and bigger than me so I never did. I never sought any professional help of any kind and still haven't. The healing I've sought and received has been from the Lord, the best healer I know.
Did you ever confront either of the people who sexually abused you? Did they atone in the courts for their actions?
I never confronted either. They were both under the age of 18 when they violated me so I always doubted nothing would have been done to them anyway.
What are the positives you wish to achieve from this interview?
I want people to know that they can achieve whatever they want to despite being a victim of sexual abuse. The incident(s) don't have to paralyze you for life. Just because you were victimized doesn't mean you have to remain a victim. If a regular guy like me can continue to function and achieve, anyone can. God can turn victims into victors. There's nothing otherworldly about me. You can achieve too.
I also want parents of sexually abused children to let go of the guilt. They should know that in many situations, there's nothing that can be done to prevent the abuse. You can't be with your children 24/7 and there's no ironclad way to know who could harm your child. Your most trusted family member or friend could be the perpetrator of sexual child abuse, they are at fault, not you! My mom was and has always been a great parent and protector. Same goes for my maternal grandparents who played critical roles in raising me. In my case, none of them could have prevented either occurrence from happening.
Part Two of this interview is with Sherri Shepherd of The View on ABC and Darkness To Light.