HOUSTON – On January 6, 1978 two souls destined for success was birthed by Edna Griggs, a local well-known community leader throughout the Acres Homes’ community and Greater Houston area. Amidst sharing the same delightful smile, DNA, birthdays and upbringing in Acres Home; the humble, career-oriented duo has always shared another tie that has bound them together. Over the years, they have been yoked with a common aspiration of excellence. Recently, African-American News & Issues privileged me with the honor of conversing with two of the best kept secrets of the notorious “44”. While Shauna Jones (Houston) and Shaunte Walton (Los Angeles, CA), took varying paths in their youth, life had a way of grooming the pair into beautiful, accomplished working professionals. Read on to preview an overview of their stories’.
Shauna Jones was educated in the Aldine Independent School District, where she graduated from MacArthur Senior High School. Although she describes her childhood as challenging, due to being raised in a single-parent household; she maintains that her mother was an awesome force. She said, “We didn’t want for anything, because she did whatever she had to, to make sure that we had.” Jones declares that, her mother promoted education religiously and saw to it that she, her sister and their older brother Milton Jones; made good decisions and had a future.
During her teenage years, Jones experienced a spell of, “acting out”. She stated, “In my eyes, I felt like I wasn’t the smartest; because I had some outside sources telling me that I wasn’t going to amount to anything.” She continued, “I wasn’t as smart as my twin sister and it was challenging.” “So after a while, I started to believe that.” This notion led to a brief period in her life where she resorted to “troubled-teen behavior”: skipping school, fellowshipping with the wrong crowd, fighting and getting into trouble.
Upon reaching high school, Jones demonstrated the same pattern up until a certain point. She recalled an incident that helped snap her back to reality. While in high school, her life was threatened by some of her peers and this incident in part, served to change her life. Though she was not afraid, it made her realize that her current lifestyle was not one she wanted to dwell in. Meanwhile, in the background, she was encompassed with concerned teachers that encouraged her and the overshadowing of her mother’s unwavering motivation urging her on. Immediately, she started to take inventory of the things that mattered most to her and allowed them to manifest. As such, she began heeding to her mentors and her mother and engulfed herself in academic studies. She soon found that she was making scholarly achievements and making it look easy.
After graduating high school, she matriculated at Sam Houston State University. Initially, she partied her first semester away, which resulted in the loss of financial aid. However, determined to succeed, she requested an appeal and it was granted through a probationary period. Jones learned a valuable lesson and remained on the Dean’s List every year, thereafter. Consequently, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Education and Promotions from Sam Houston State University. She later studied Health Education at Texas Southern University, where she obtained a Master’s degree.
Once Jones completed her studies, she secured employment as a Health Educator for the City of Houston’s Health Department working in the Vaccines for Children Program. In her role there, she was responsible for: educating the community and recruiting health care professionals to enroll into the vaccines for children program and provide vaccines for children whose parents did not have adequate resources to purchase immunizations. Additionally, she taught physicians, nurses, parents and the general community about the importance of childhood immunizations, as well as the schedule for immunizations. She worked at the City of Houston for several years and enjoyed the service that she was able to contribute.
Afterwards, she began working at Texas Children Hospital, as a Health Educator as well. She served on the immunization project. The goal of that project was to educate the community about the necessity of childhood immunizations. In doing so, she created innovative initiatives for the hospital and the community. She also implemented a teen pregnancy program for schools. While serving in this capacity, she discovered a true passion for educating in the public sector, which eventually paved the way for her to transition into the field of academia.
Hence she began teaching at her alma mater, MacArthur Senior High School. She taught Health Science and had a Clinical Rotation Program and Pharmacy Technician Program. In this program students that successfully completed their studies received certification as pharmacy technicians and were equipped to work at local pharmacies, upon graduating high school. After instructing for nearly a decade, she decided to go into administration. Today, Jones is the Assistant Principal at MacArthur Senior High School. She is elated to serve in such an area, because she enjoys the experience of working with teenagers from the same community she was reared in. She believes that understanding her students provides her with the ability to relate to them in several aspects.
Jones admonishes those within her reach to, “Never give up on your dreams and hopes.” She says, “Even though we go through certain things in our lives; we have certain challenges and obstacles that might seem hard to get over, but just know, that it is just temporary.” “If you continue to push through, you will reach your goals… It’s just all about perseverance, determination, believing in yourself and knowing that God has a plan for you and you just have to follow that,” she added.
Growing up, Shaunte was focused on improvement and desiring to acquire all that life could afford her. She was aware of the struggles associated with being raised by a single-parent, but she never thought on it much; because she regards her mother as a, “protector”. Echoing the sentiments uttered by her twin she stated, “My mother did a really good job at protecting us from all of that; she really kind of told us that the sky is the limit.” She said, “She’d tell us whatever you want to do, you can do it, if you put your mind to it and go after it.”
Early on, Shaunte envisioned herself as a physician and made plans accordingly. After graduating from MacArthur Senior High School, she researched dozens of medical schools. Finally, she decided to enroll at Xavier – University of Louisiana. She was persuaded by Xavier’s reputation as the number one institution for placing African-Americans into medical school. Once she began her coursework, she studied an array of sciences and spent over 14 hours in class daily. She later decided instead of dedicating countless hours to studying, that she desired a career with more of a work-life balance atmosphere. In one of her Microbiology classes, she noted that she had a knack for studying and defining various molecules and pathogens. Therefore, she switched her major from Pre-Med to Microbiology.
Ultimately, Shaunte attained a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from Xavier – University of Louisiana. Afterwards, she sought to work in molecular diagnostics. With her love for Epidemiology coupled with the lab as experience; she cultivated a professional role, performing clinical testing and research and development for pharmaceutical companies. She vigorously researched avenues to identify drugs that would either: prevent people from contracting infectious diseases or, creating drugs that would assist with minimizing the effect of a disease on a person.
After operating in that field for a number of years, she transitioned into Epidemiology which enabled her to gain more clinical knowledge. Working in this field allowed her to have more experience with patients and she was able to see how they interact with others, as far as transmitting diseases to others. She determined that she had a natural gift in this particular area and set out to go as far as she could in the industry.
She honed her Epidemiology skills at Memorial Herman Hospital for a year. She then began to work at Methodist Hospital and Texas Children Hospital (for the Women’s Hospital). At this point, her studying and researching reputation had begun to precede her. Thus, she was presented with an opportunity to move into leadership at Memorial Herman Hospital. Her career had swiftly taken an upturn and she became the Regional Manager specializing in infectious diseases, for four hospitals in the system, simultaneously. Not long afterwards, two additional hospitals were added to her portfolio. During her tenure as Regional Manager, she was able to acquire a great deal of experience with different service lines and executive leaders that she was able to partner with. Three years later, she received an offer from University of California, Los Angeles as a System Wide Director. Today, she is operating in what she describes as her, “dream job”. Currently, Shaunte resides in Los Angeles, with her husband, Dobbie and their son, Miles. She also possesses a Master of Science degree in Health Systems, from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
She advises members of the Black community to, “Invest in yourself and don’t think of things that you think you can’t do; just strive for it because, you will never know what you can do unless you try.” She added, “When you see jobs come up and it gives you a description of things that you don’t necessarily feel that you have, apply for it anyway and let them tell you that you can’t do it.”
In addition to sharing effective roles as proven success stories from the Acres Homes’ community, both women hold their mother in high esteem. They revealed that through her strength, encouragement and motivation, she has assisted them in excelling to make great contributions to society. In addition to reverencing their mother as their greatest inspiration, they each recognized the other as, “best friend”.
By: Rebecca S. Jones