It is a rarity to encounter people who have faced numerous adversities yet never complain. They continue to hold their heads up high, dig in their heels and keep pushing for a better outcome.
It is even more of a rarity when that person is willing to sacrifice and give their all so that others can lead better lives. Yvette McShan is one of those people.
The 55 year-old mother is co-founder, along with her partner, Renee Harris, of Victorious Black Women. The organization aims to help women of color -- especially African-American women -- gain a positive second chance at life. Through workshops, one-on-one counseling and mentoring, Victorious Black Women supports participants in overcoming the stigma of incarceration, as well as substance abuse and mental health challenges -- with the larger hope of stripping the prejudice and shame that society generally casts on women in those circumstances.
McShan works tirelessly. Even though she finds the work to be stressful, "my passion for people drives me." Most recently, she reached out to ex-cons, the homeless and those with mental health challenges to empower them to vote. She also helped launch rallies for voter registration and the realignment of the criminal justice system in California. VBW is developing a new program geared toward helping women who have recently been released from prison gain life skills and enroll in college.
McShan has a passion and drive from what she does. The excitement and happiness in her voice when she talks about the women who have benefited from the program is so empowering. Since its inception in November 2011, Victorious Black Women has helped more than 135 people, including a woman who was once homeless and now owns a house.
There's another success story associated with VBW -- the woman who left home at 13, had a daughter at 14 and has been in an out of almost every prison in California as she battled her addition to heroin. She eventually went to college and started her own business. That woman is McShan.
Though she was born in San Francisco and raised in a middle-classed household, the dysfunction in the home led McShan to leave in her early teens. She spent her adult life in East Oakland's 65th Village, where she encountered drug kingpin Mickey Mo and became hooked on heroin.
"I have been in recovery since 1996," she says. "I just decided one day that I wanted to stop and I did."
Shortly after, McShan enrolled in Merritt College and received an associate degree in substance abuse counseling. She plans to return to school to earn a bachelor's degree but has put that on hold so that she can help others. "I'm not telling you this for a sob story," she explains.
"I just feel that if others see that I can make it, they can do it. It's real."
In reflecting on the importance of helping people stay on a healthy and positive path, McShan says, "I do this not because I think I can do it. I know I can do it."
Oakland Voices Correspondent Katherine Brown moved to Oakland when she was 6 years old.