Shakeira Wesley is the fearless leader of We Eat 4 Life, an organization that brings awareness and knowledge to the powers of eating healthy for families affected by Sickle Cell Anemia. Shakeira and her husband Tyreke had their first child, Tyson, in December of 2013. About a week after Tyson was born, he was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease SS. In May of 2015, they had their daughter, Jordyn, and she was also diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease SS.
We sat with Shakeira to discuss what inspired her to start We Eat 4 Life, what helps her reset when times get hard, and how her upbringing inspires her to keep going.
When did your entrepreneur journey start?
I grew up with a single mom and it was just me, my mom, and my sister. My mom worked a full time job even when she went back to school. For me, it was like “get a good job, that pays well, and stick to it,” but when I went to college, my eyes opened to the reality that black people could be business owners.
I was forced into entrepreneurship when I had to quit working and stay at home with my kids. When my son Tyson was born, the plan was to stay at home for 1-2 years and get my masters but when we found out he had sickle cell, we decided not to put him in childcare and wait until he was of school age. I got pregnant with my daughter not too long after and found out she also had sickle cell so I became a stay at home mom of two and worked to make sure they would remain as healthy as possible.
We had a pretty strict diet focused on no processed or fried foods but when Tyson had a really bad pain crisis that started our journey to being vegan. A few friends kept telling me to write and talk about what I was doing. When the kids nurse practitioner said I was doing something different, I started We Eat 4 Life.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
We Eat 4 Life is one of my biggest accomplishments because I didn’t think I’d ever be a big advocate for anything outside of me and my family. I was so comfortable with my own life and what I was doing in my family. The messages and questions I get from other moms inspire and encourage me. I didn’t think I would be able to touch so many people around the world. I just had a conversation with someone in Nigeria and it felt so good to see that people are seeing me around the world. I’ve always had a passion for kids, but being able to help them and connect to other moms has been amazing.
What has been your biggest challenge?
In business, my biggest challenge has been knowing that I can charge for what I would do for free. I have done so many interviews, podcasts, speeches, and even spoke with Emory hospital’s sickle cell patients. It’s taken me a while to realize I have experience, I know what I’m talking about, and I know what I’m doing.
In life, my biggest challenge is sickle cell. It’s the hardest thing. It’s harder for me because it’s my kids. I wished so many times it could just be me and not them. Watching them sick and in so much pain while trying to stay positive is the hardest thing. They are so amazing and joyful all the time and I want them to see that. I don’t ever want them to see me be negative. They find joy and I have to find it too.
How have hard times made you who you are?
Hard times have given me new confidence in myself. I’ve always been confident in certain areas but I’m most proud of my ability to adapt to tough situations, overcome them, and think outside the box. I am proud of myself. I had doctors pushing back and I would tell them no. It made me trust myself more and it informs how I raise my kids.
I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve been able to overcome it. If you’d have told me how my life would be in the beginning, I would have thought it would have broken me. But it hasn’t. I’m still doing it.
Do you have a personal mantra?
My husband preached a sermon a few years ago about taking our pain and giving it to God and letting God use that pain to heal other people – I keep that close.
Also, I had a really good friend named Brandon who passed away of brain cancer. He introduced me to my husband Tyreke and officiated our wedding ceremony. Before he passed, we were at his house one night, and he said “I know God can heal me and even if he doesn’t, he’s still a good God.” Watching him be so grateful for the life he had in combination with Tyreke’s sermon reminds me that life is hard but if we allow God to be there with us and comfort us, we can get through it better. Those are the things I reflect on and keep with me all the time.
Lastly, I try to laugh and not worry about the next thing and stay present in the moment. I reflect on Proverbs 31:25 – “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”
What advice would you give someone starting a new business?
I would say make sure it’s something you are immensely passionate about and if it is something like a non profit or a business that deals with the pain of others, find something in some type of way so that you don’t get burnt out. It’s hard to be a parent of children with a chronic illness and then turn that into your job and now it’s your life. It can be all consuming but you have to find something that is not related whatsoever so that you can stay grounded and still feel good.
What are you doing when you’re not working? What are your favorite things to do? The things that calm you. Replenish you.
I love to do my nails! I love to read, specifically black fantasy. I love to play with my kids and my husband. We have a lot of fun together – whether it’s cards or movie nights. Quality family time means a lot to me whether it’s my mom and my sister or my friends; they give me life and are everything to me. Being able to get time with them is so helpful. I also go hiking every month. I love going outside.
What are your motivations?
My family – my kids and my mother. My mom sacrificed so much for me and my sister and I want to give her everything I possibly can. I don’t want her to have to work forever. I want to be able to give her everything she gave me.
Also, just sickle cell patients in general. People I don’t even know, I want to fight for them. We are so overlooked and dismissed and such an afterthought in this country; other diseases get so much more funding than we do. I’m doing it for them and I will fight for them forever.
What does it mean for you and others to spend with black businesses?
It means everything. I will cut you off if I feel like your brand is not for black people. I think if you try hard enough you can find almost anything you want with a black owned company. Some of the furniture in my house is black owned. My skin care products are black owned. Some of my nail polish too. If you look, you can find it. You might not be able to afford it all but you can find it. I just found carpet powder from a black owned company. To me it means everything because one of our biggest downfalls is the fact that we spend so much but we don’t spend with us and our dollars are circulating in other communities. This hurts us just as much as some of the systemic things. We can overcome some of those things if we could just shop with us.