Fouche’na Everlyne “Che” Sheppard
From the moment she was born, Fouche’na ‘Che’ Sheppard was regarded as a special child. West African tradition asserts that the seventh child is particularly significant and should be named accordingly. This belief was adhered to by the Gullah people and so, Fouche’na Sheppard, a native Gullah, as the seventh child in her family, was named after her grandmother. Her naming was particularly prophetic because her grandmother’s stories and oral traditions became the focus of Sheppard’s life work. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, the young Sheppard had difficulty reading and comprehending. Her self-esteem was low. She also spoke Gullah, which she never viewed as unusual until she was informed by her elementary school teacher that such language was different from English. In 1985, she discovered that she had dyslexia, an ailment which impairs one’s ability to read and comprehend. Throughout her bouts with depression and self-doubt, her grandmother sustained her. “She taught me to use my voice, to communicate through song and dance, and to have faith no matter what.” Sheppard used her grandmother’s wisdom to move beyond her ailment. Her grandmother’s native Gullah stories, which were imbedded in her memory, because very important. She turned a learning disorder, her dyslexia, and Gullah, a beautiful language, into advantages, by becoming a creative and nationally recognized storyteller. Her stories are imbued with Gullah tradition. They have a purpose and are spiced with movement and dance, rhythm and emotion, and “call and response”, which cannot be separated from West African or coastal sea island African-American culture. Using her grandmother’s teaching and stories to develop a framework for her storytelling, Sheppard explains that “the Gullah stories are not religious, but within their secular context they teach morals and ethics.” Even though the stories are entertaining, “there is a message in every story. It may be to be responsible for your actions, to be true to yourself, and/or to be aware.” Sheppard’s contributions extend beyond her work as a storyteller. She is also a leader in the fight against alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence in Charleston. As Service Coordinator of Bayside Manor Gardens and Community Center, she diligently worked to get the city of Charleston and members of the private sector to change Bayside Manor Apartment Complex from the crime infested neighborhood that it became over the years to a community of pride and a safe environment for all of its residents, especially the senior citizens and youth. Her work as a storyteller has received national acclaim. She has stood out in the crowd as a distinguished poet, professional actor live and on camera; an inspirational speaker, and coordinator of art events at festivals. Among her affiliations are the Avery Institute of African-American History and Culture, The Poetry Society of South Carolina, Back Porch Storytellers, SC Arts Commission Artist Roster, MOJA Arts Festival (Retired Chairperson), League of Women Voters (Retired director), Greater Charleston Empowerment Corporation (director), IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistant and a mentor/tutor at local elementary schools. Sheppard is employed by First Federal Savings and Loan Association in Branch Administration and is a recent graduate of a technical banking program. She has received an AB degree in Management and an A.A.S. Degree in Human Services, both from Trident Technical College. She is currently a non-traditional student at the College of Charleston. Fouchena (also professionally referred to as Fouche) received the Post and Courier’s ‘Golden Pen’ award for the month of August 2005.