A speech pathologist and owner of The Speech and Voice Care center in Houston, Shulunda or Shulie as she warmly asked me to call her is teaching people in our community to speak their success, one word at a time.
Growing up in Louisiana, a state where it’s inhabitants spoke more than 3 languages with various dialects in between, Shulie was fascinated by the different voices and the people and cultures behind them. Family vacations to Texas, where locals sounded totally different from her deepened her interest. Shulie’s curiosity gave her an appreciation for linguistics early on, always placing emphasis on what she said and how she said it. Regrettably, her new way of speaking did not fare well with her classmates who often criticized her for “talking white.” Female students in particular would scoff at her and say “you think you’re better than us”.
The constant berating would make her more of an introvert and as time went on Shulie would dim her light as many of us often do to fit in. She later enrolled in the nursing program at Grambling State (an HBCU) because that was considered a “safe job.” While at Grambling she took a phonetics course which reignited her passion for linguistics, shortly after she changed her major and attended grad school at the University of Memphis.
In 2005 Shulie started her private practice in Houston. She opened The Speech and Voice Care Center, with her very own office location in 2010. “Most of my clients are not us” she says stating that the majority of her client base is in corporate America, working to reduce foreign or regional accents. Although her business was thriving, Shulie wanted to give back to people in the Black community. She started the Conversation Starter Movement in 2014 as a way to give people the tools to embrace, learn more and understand the importance of grammar and diction.
Shulie’s thoughts on Ebonics:
“I’m not against Ebonics. Ebonics stemmed from our roots, coming from different parts of Africa. Our ancestors had to learn to speak Pidgin English (a simplified way of speaking developed when two or more groups don’t have a language in common) that to me was amazing.” Rather she wants us to learn how to code switch – speak the language of your audience. Other cultures have long embraced code switching, Hispanics and Asians do so on a daily basis, “yet we continue to liken speaking proper to the light skin closer to the master concept.”
“Today we use Ebonics as an act of rebellion. So many things have been taken away from us as a people and Ebonics is an attempt to hold on to our culture and identify with our roots. The reality is if you only have access to one language or code it will shut you out and limit your opportunities.” Shulie says many companies will not hire a person based on how they speak during an interview, even if they have the qualifications.
What Can We Do?
Stop thinking of speaking correctly as being a sell out or making you seem less black. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to progress both socially and economically. “It’s not bad to want to be better, what’s bad is being broke.”
For more information about The Speech and Voice Care Center, the Conversation Starter Movement and helpful speech tips visit http://www.speakingyoursuccess.com.
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