Story by Tom McLaughlin
Photo by Mary Anderson
Shardé Taylor believes she’s been put here for a reason.
The graduating Rutgers University–Camden senior has made it her personal mission to ensure that others see the good in themselves and how they alone are in control of their futures.
“I am trying to influence people to think positively about themselves and their situations, and what they can do about the challenges that they face,” says the senior social work major.
For the past two years, the Camden resident has worked with children of all grade levels at the LEAP Academy University Charter School who are dealing with social, emotional, academic, and/or behavioral issues. She designs curricula and activities, and leads weekly group meetings, in order to help the students develop communication and coping skills.
Taylor is also the founding member of My Sister’s Keeper, a support group for female students enrolled in the EOF program at Rutgers–Camden. The group, which started as a “sister bond” and support network, she says, has evolved into a creative space for students to share deep-seated personal issues that may be hindering their respective paths to success.
“We talk a lot about self-love,” says Taylor, who also works two days a week assisting patients with insurance requirements at Cooper University Hospital in Camden. “For things to change, you first need to acknowledge what is hurting you or holding you back.”
By the way, Taylor adds, she’s not one to take any excuses.
After all, she is living proof that it’s one’s attitude in the face of adversities that ultimately determine the outcomes.
Throughout her childhood, Taylor recalls, she and her sister, Barbara Clary, endured a “chaotic and inconsistent” upbringing without a stable home environment. Their mother had battled substance abuse problems, forcing them to live in challenging – and often abusive – situations with relatives and foster families in Camden.
It was a “living nightmare,” she says, which drew her interest in studying psychology as a way to better understand others, primarily her own family members.
“I wanted to learn how the human brain worked; I wanted to know if there was something normal from the way that I was being brought up,” she says.
In 2011, Taylor was attending Camden County College when she was introduced to the Camden City Police Department’s Pilot Program, which enabled recruits to become officers without a college degree.
She recalls that she had first learned about the program when she sought a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend, who was being investigated for abusing her. The assisting officers made quite an impression on Taylor, who felt like they had genuinely cared for her wellbeing, even after the case was closed.
“They still contacted me, donated clothes and took me shopping, and helped me with school stuff,” says Taylor. “When I realized that there were people out there who genuinely did care about others, that made me want to enter law enforcement.”
In 2012, Taylor attended police academy and worked as a special law enforcement officer for the City of Camden. When the department was dissolved a year later, she attended police academy once again to become a county officer.
Prior to graduating, however, Taylor felt that her personal mission to help others would be better served if she was able to reach them well before they encountered law enforcement. She wanted to be a part of early interventions.
“I thought that I could put myself in the position to really help people when they needed it most,” she says.
Arriving at Rutgers-Camden in fall 2016, Taylor quickly saw that social work was a perfect fit for her career goals.
“I learned that social work is a way to advocate for those in underrepresented communities and create ways to enhance their way of life,” she says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Taylor settled into a routine that, in addition to studying and working full time for the nonprofit Bancroft, included raising her four-year-old daughter, Leeah Davis. It seemed that her toughest days were behind her, but she would suddenly face a new set of challenges.
In June 2018, Taylor and her family lost their home and everything they owned in a house fire. As she proved time and time again, however, she wasn’t going to dwell on her misfortune. The fire happened on a Thursday, she recalls, but she and her family were staying in a hotel by the next day, she and her daughter were back in school by Monday, and they were living in a permanent residence by the end of July.
It was a personal reminder of how strong she really was.
“I knew of my strengths, but I saw how I could use them,” says Taylor. “If something happens, I am a person who takes action. I am not going to dwell too long on why or how it happened. I take it as, ‘It happened and what am I going to do next?’”
Upon graduating, Taylor hopes to spread her message of hope and resilience to others. Her first plan of action is to create a nonprofit literacy program for adults, explaining that education is a “counterpart to growth and understanding.”
Above all, Taylor wants to send the message that people are more than products of their environment and, when people believe in themselves, anything is possible.
“For a long time, I didn’t know what it meant to believe in myself,” she says. “But once I started to activate those feelings and that state of mind, I realized that there is nothing that can be done to me which I can’t overcome.”