The University of Olivet graduate and TV media personality Genise Shelton ’99 exemplifies what it means to Be More and Do Good. Growing up on the southside of Chicago, she faced her share of adversity. But she wasn’t going to let that stop her from becoming more than she ever dreamed of being or from becoming someone who could do good.
Instead of running from adversity, she faced it head on with courage, drive and tenacity and turned it into opportunity.
Today, Genise is an accomplished media and fitness personality, author, realtor and business owner. She’s also a loving and devoted wife and mother of six. Most would say that’s a complete life.
But not Genise. As someone with a conscience, and as someone who remembers the difficulties of her own youth, she has set out to be a voice for those who have no voice.
Modern day slavery and child sex trafficking exists – right in our own communities, including Atlanta, Georgia, where Genise and her family make their home. The victims of sex trafficking are invisible. But Genise isn’t. She’s committed to bringing to light the overwhelming number of missing persons of color in and around the Atlanta region and to prevent the sexual exploitation of youth through her foundation, Our Children’s Keeper.
Genise will share her extraordinary journey and how she became the voice of exploited and missing Atlanta youth when she takes part in the The University of Olivet Alumnae Panel at Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future on March 2.
TURNING ADVERSITY INTO OPPORTUNITY
Genise remembers fondly growing up in Beverly, Illinois, enjoying a close circle of friends, with whom she shared her dreams. Her grandmother played a pivotal role in her life, serving as an extraordinary role model. Still, Genise experienced gangs and violence firsthand, the man she knew as her father suffered from drug addiction, and her mother and siblings struggled with poor health.
The oldest of five, Genise kept her focus on the future. She used courage, drive and tenacity to graduate from high school in three years at just 16-years-old. Next up, was college, a first for someone in her family.
Accompanied by her grandmother, Genise headed north to rural Olivet for a college visit. Unsure of what to expect from such a small school, she immediately felt welcome at The University of Olivet. Her grandmother took note of the small, yet beautiful and safe campus – she knew it was a place where her granddaughter would be looked after.
“I was interested in attending a few larger universities around the country, but my grandma put a quick end to that. She said I was not going to go far away, I needed to stay close to home,” Genise explained. “The opportunities available at The University of Olivet helped me realize that it was the best place for me. No one ever told me no – my professors and supporters always said go for it when I shared my goals or dreams with them.”
Genise was offered an academic scholarship, and soon she was majoring in communication with minors in business administration and theater. She took advantage of the many social opportunities available to students, including the Black Student Union, Gospel Choir, Student Government Association and WOCR, as well as the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Recognizing the need for an organization dedicated to women of color, Genise was a founding member of Nu Gamma Xi. Today, the sorority continues to thrive and promotes unity, sisterhood and high academic standards among women of all races with similar interests. Genise credits the founding of Nu Gamma Xi as her first major achievement as a social change leader, and that set the pace for her future.
Midway through her college journey, Genise experienced the devastating loss of her grandmother. Although grieving, Genise chose to honor her grandmother by giving it her all to obtain the family’s first bachelor’s degree. And she did so in just three years. Her professors supported this goal, including Lowell Waldsworth, who Genise remembers fondly for inviting students into his living room for class and the personal relationships he built with his students.
“Joanne and Art Williams also had a big impact on me while I was a student,” Genise said. “Althea Porter, Ph.D., and Terry Lindsay, Ph.D., who worked in student success and multicultural affairs were also people who exemplified strong leadership and were great mentors to me, but it was my grandma who gave me a strong foundation and was my rock. She showed me the value of hard work and provided a great environment to be raised in. She helped me break stereotypes and curses and become the first person in my family to earn a college degree. I still try to make her proud in everything I do.”
A ROLE MODEL HERSELF
After graduation, Genise connected with family members in Georgia before briefly moving to Los Angeles and launching her modeling career. Later, she returned to Georgia and has since settled in Atlanta and built a family with her husband, Dr. Courtney Shelton.
Not only does Genise have a successful career in real estate, but she also owns Flawless Bikini and Apparel Collection and Infiniti International Hair Boutique, aiming to provide products that help women feel beautiful and confident. Further taking on the charge to support women and people of color, Genise published a book, “Married to Fitness,” that chronicles her fitness journey, with a mission to educate, encourage and empower others to make health and wellness a priority.
In addition, Genise was featured on the season four cast of Bravo’s “Married to Medicine,” a reality television series giving an inside look at Atlanta women practicing in the medical field or married to a medical professional.
OUR CHILDREN’S KEEPER
But it’s her latest venture that is closest to her heart. In 2017, Genise launched Our Children’s Keeper, to help end modern day slavery of child sex trafficking and recover abducted and missing children in Atlanta and surrounding areas. The organization’s mission is to prevent the sexual exploitation of youth and help victims find confidence, strength and stability beyond the limitations of their current lifestyle. The foundation fosters dialogue, awareness, and resolutions, and often contributes to expenses parents of exploited children are burdened with, such as attorney and even burial fees.
Genise’s own life experiences drew her to advocate for exploited children. In addition to her own family difficulties while growing up, she witnessed the impact of abuse and neglect on the children her grandmother lovingly nurtured as a foster parent for more than 20 years. Genise was also immensely affected when a close friend, who endured years of spousal abuse, was murdered.
“As a child, I shared many of the same risk factors that these abducted and trafficked children do,” Genise explained. “That’s helped me develop an emotional understanding of what these children need to be rehabilitated. I’ve had the privilege to serve as a mentor to many young women and men who have been in these unfortunate situations, and it’s one of the most rewarding roles in the world. Currently, I’m helping one female victim of human trafficking apply to college, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
Imagine being the one to tell a parent that their child has been recovered. And imagine playing a role in that very child enrolling in college. Thanks to her drive to be more and do good, Genise is doing just that.
CULTIVATING WOMEN LEADERS
Looking forward to Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future, Genise is excited to return to The University of Olivet and reconnect with the community that helped her identify her own potential. “The University of Olivet was the place that really prepared me with the courage it takes to accomplish your goals,” Genise said. “The faculty and staff and family-like relationships they build with students paired with their can-do attitude helped create my own take-charge attitude after experiencing all the positive benefits. I’m excited to be able to pass that on to my kids and other young men and women I mentor.”
Attend CWL on March 2 to learn more about Genise, and register by February 12 to guarantee your spot and receive a free marketing tool. For more information about The University of Olivet, contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.