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September 4, 2023

In 2018, after spending 20 years raising her daughters as a stay-at-home mom, Shellie Baxter created Our Genetic Legacy (OGL), a nonprofit educational publishing house focusing on amplifying the voices and stories of people of color. Shellie used our TechHire program to provide paid work experiences for young female data analysts and drone pilots. Below, Shellie tells us how she turned her passion for story telling into a trailblazing organization.  

My journey to becoming a CEO was born out of two decades spent nurturing my daughters, who were soon heading to college. As my time as a stay-at-home mom was coming to an end, and I had to transition back into the workforce, I knew I did not want to try to create a resume that demonstrated how my years as a stay-at-home mom could transfer to being a valuable employee. If I was going back to work, it would be on my terms, doing something I was passionate about.

Shellie Fow

Having spent over 15 years researching my own family legacy using DNA, I knew first hand the struggles for people of color to decipher their results. They found that while DNA testing was promising to reveal historical insights, the results were not as easily found. Many would come to me after taking the tests with high hopes, only to find that uncovering their lineage was more complex than anticipated. I began to work with individuals, teaching them how to follow the DNA and not rely on the paper records that these companies would send them. This is when my vision for starting OGL came about.

I wanted to use the power of genomics and drones to recover the lost stories, achievements and contributions of of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities throughout American history, Starting in San Diego, which is a location not typically associated with having deep Black historical roots. There is more Black history in this region than people realize, like the fact that a formerly enslaved person by the name of Fred Coleman first discovered gold in Julian, right outside of San Diego, which may have been what attracted the attention of Nathan Harrison, San Diego’s first Black property owner.

My business has evolved since its inception. It was always important for me to share what I was learning with others, starting with my kids, and then expanding to the community and the workforce of the future, so they could map out their history and tell their stories. Our first cohort, a diverse group from ages 13 to 78, embarked on a journey of genetic discovery. As we continued to grow, I realized our impact could be even more significant if we focused on young adults. This realization led to the evolution of OGL into a workforce development initiative, particularly for young women.

A pivotal moment came when we embraced the power of lidar-enhanced drones. These technological marvels provided us with the means to explore historical sites and uncover hidden artifacts, enabling us to weave together narratives that had long been forgotten. We partnered with a local business that owned drones, allowing us to expand our reach and capabilities.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our journey has been the opportunity to empower young women as drone pilots and data analysts. We meticulously tracked flight hours and provided comprehensive training to ensure they became skilled professionals. Our target demographic was within the Promise Zone, an area that spans East Village and Barrio Logan east to Encanto characterized by having some of the highest concentrated poverty and unemployment rates in San Diego. where the average income was around $17,000. Through our program, these young women are gaining valuable skills and increasing their earning potential, with introductory drone pilots earning an average of $53 per hour, part-time.

Shellie Fow3

Yet, building this enterprise came with its struggles. As a solo founder with grand ambitions, I knew I needed guidance on building and managing a business, so I sought out mentors who could help me navigate these uncharted waters. Then, I was introduced to the TechHire program at the San Diego Workforce Partnership. Rosie Perez, the program specialist, helped me understand all that the program could offer, including providing paid work experiences for the young women enrolling in the program to subsidize their initial work hours and enable a smooth transition into ongoing employment. TechHire has been a game-changer for OGL, allowing us to empower aspiring professionals and scale our impact.

As the journey continues, I find myself amazed by our progress. We’re now expanding internationally, with projects in Ghana and the UK, where we’re mapping historic sites in the transatlantic slave trade. It’s a testament to the power of perseverance, the impact of collaboration and the importance of giving voice to the stories that have been silenced for too long.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, and want to share with others, it’s this: don’t let fear and not knowing how, stop you from dreaming big. Surround yourself with a supportive community that believes in your mission. We can achieve the extraordinary together, even if it means breaking new ground. There’s room for everyone, and when we come together, we create pathways for change that are greater than the sum of their parts. I’m excited to continue building, growing and bridging gaps while leaving behind an enduring legacy of empowerment and representation.

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