When Shelia Payton traveled to Senegal, this refined, intelligent (she wrote her first novel grade school), poised and purposeful businesswoman didn’t take a shoed walk on the grass. Well studied, unlike one of her well-meaning cohorts, she knew, when in Senegal, do as the Senegalese.
“What’s in Senegal, she asked rhetorically, “grass,” she answered. Grass is sacred. She believes the ability to switch and be “bi-cultural” is one of many assets. Though, those foreign customs, were not her own, she understands the reality of such rules, and added, “Unless you are independently wealthy, then you must compromise, in some way.
It’s realistic, on a human level.”
Her interest in communication and helping her community communicate eventually led her to purchase the Black Pages from a colleague and friend. Payton already had experience and credentials on her side. In her arsenal, she was in possession of a degree in Journalism from Syracuse University in Rochester, New York; 10 years experience as a Miller Brewing Company public relations executive, and vast experience and connections in business, economic development, politics, community service, board memberships, and most importantly, marketing and public relations as the owner of her own marketing firm.
“I tend to look for win-win solutions, where there are no looses, that way that everyone gets their needs met everyone gets something out of it,” Shelia reported.
She is serious about this. To demonstrate that, she has not raised her rates in 11years to ensure that it is affordable, for everyone – in and out of recession times.
“My parents gave me many gifts, but one was the gift to analyze – the other was that I could do anything I wanted to do. I am a bit like John Kennedy in that way. “Being part of the Integration Generation, (she was 6 yrs old when the Brown decision came down) we were conscious that we had to be very good, not just average. Because if we messed up, no one would get a chance, after us.”Don’t limit yourself by what is happening now. She embodies this philosophy, especially when she was called on to serve as a commissioner on a 2.1 Million dollar Deep Tunnel project with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District (MMSD). Directly, she said, she did not have much experience with the complexities of the industry, but without self-imposed limits, she rose to the challenge.
“I had to get smart very fast,” Payton laughed. Overseeing the effort allowed for the increase of qualified minorities to be hired, therefore keeping more small businesses viable.
She works part time for Cong. Gwen Moore—doing outreach to the small business, faith communities, and African American professionals. This opportunity and the others’ she’s been afforded are not at all a result of luck or chance. She explained.
“As I see it, opportunities come to those who earn a reputation for doing their best work. I was put here. I have been in preparation for this place in my life all along, but I just did not know it, when I was trying to determine a major in college. I just knew I wanted to write and make a difference. Journalism did that for me.”
Like many, she is semi-retired. She’d hoped the Black Pages would have been a bit more lucrative for her, still, she holds fast to a forward moving vision. Like an Owl, she watches and scans. Her Graduate School Alma Matta shared her vision. Today, she runs a business development program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at 55 years old. Payton has also been a featured guest on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio, discussing Project Milwaukee and race relations.
And she is in no ways tired. These days, she is active as a Senior Steward at her church, St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopalian (AME); the Leader’s Forum, Wisconsin Black Media Association/NABJ and co-founder/principal funder of the Payton-Price Family fund housed at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Shelia Payton is returning closer to her first grade school love, creative writing. Her proverbial, literary “teeth were cut” teaching creative writing at the Inner City Arts Council. This was during the time when Walnut Street was the heart of business, cultural and social renaissance for blacks in Milwaukee.
“I have lived in a few places, like Miami for instance. They didn’t even have ready reference in the library then. But Milwaukee, there is a lot of potential here, which can also be a heavy burden,” she reflected.
Three writing projects Shelia wants you to know about:
- A play based on events in African American history in connection with Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
- An essay book aimed at high school students that shares thoughts on living your best life.
- An opera based on events in African American history, inspired by a German opera, based on historic moments.