Editor’s note: Shannon Baylor-Henderson is the Chief Content Officer of Content Commanders, a full-scale content strategy & storytelling company that helps people add more power, personality & perspective to their digital, print & social content. Hailing from the nation’s capital, Shannon leads Content Commanders from Elizabeth City, where she lives with her husband and children.
ELIZABETH CITY – To some outsiders, a rural business might be one that focuses on agriculture and small town living. However, one business located in rural Ahoskie, NC, provides a service that spans all communities, despite their size or location.
Bridge of Hope Life Transformational Services, owned and operated by Dr. Lakeisha Walker, LCMHC, CTRP, specializes in strategic leadership development and mental health. “My job and my work is based on strengthening servant leadership traits for my clients and my communities,” Dr. Walkers explains. “When I consult with business leaders, the mental health portion of my practice helps me to rebuild the leader–the actual person. Whereas my leadership counseling services allow me to help them be more effective in their role. The services both compliment and reflect each other.”
Dr. Walker is no stranger to rural communities. She was born and raised in Bertie County and started her higher education journey at Elizabeth City State University, where she received a B.S. in Accounting. “ My aunt attended ECSU, which sparked my interest to attend. And when I got there, I loved it. It was perfect for what I needed. I was never far away from home. The atmosphere was just what I needed. The teachers knew my name and knew to check on me. All of those relationships shaped my educational journey,” she recalls. Those positive experiences at a rural-based historically black college or university (HBCU) led to her further pursuing education and going on to receive an M.A. in Professional Counseling from Liberty University and a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership with a Concentration in Leadership Coaching from Regent University.
In October 2018, Dr. Walker opened her private practice, in Ahoskie, offering her counseling services to members of her community where she has since counseled leaders from retail store managers to pastors and small business owners to police departments and heads of households. “Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. Running a business and running a family has much of the same responsibility and accountability.”
While Bridge of Hope Life Transformational Services has made great progress since its opening, Dr. Walker is not a stranger to some of the disadvantages of being in a rural space. “Because Ahoskie is a rural area, there’s a mindset that something big or great can’t come from this area. And it’s embedded within our communities and definitely an external view of our rural communities. But we have to shape the mindset for higher expectations for this area.” She has navigated through challenges such as having to explain, in unwarranted detail, her pricing model as well as compete against providers from Charlotte and Raleigh for contracts in her own “backyard” — all because she is a rural-based business. She teaches, “It’s very important, for rural businesses, to know and ascertain their professional value and worth.”
Growing up in a rural community has shaped her perspectives of the importance of education. She explains how five people in her life, who she calls her “foundational five” influenced her educational path and ultimately her career choices. “My success and my degrees were just to prove that it can be done. My mother and father didn’t complete high school. Both of my maternal grandparents stopped at an eleventh-grade education. My uncle Willie had a third-grade education during the 1920’s when there were very limited opportunities for Blacks to learn. But all of them encouraged me to go to school, learn or as my Uncle Willie would command,“‘Get my lesson out’”. As a result of their impact on her life, especially her Uncle Willie, she started the Willie Raynor Education Fund to help kids go to college. “It’s not about where you’re born or where you’re raised,” she speaks. “ It’s about what you want to do with your life.”
Regardless of the challenges, Dr. Walker has persisted in building her business and creating safe spaces for leaders to uncover the things that are holding them back from doing better.
According to Dr. Walker, strong leadership counseling helps people to be more effective in their role. Oftentimes, people in leadership roles want to be polished professionals, but they have not connected and taken the time to deal with the person of who they are, including understanding their thought processes, how they collaborate, establishing good communication skills and realizing the importance of conflict resolution. She wants to show people how to connect the dots between their roles in their families and their work, “These are foundational beliefs that affect mental health and translate and transfer to how we lead and interact at work. When you participate in leadership and/or mental health counseling, your improved behaviors will impact your performance.”
Bridge of Hope Life Transformational Services offers a variety of training and counseling opportunities. However, two of the company’s training modules are currently gaining the most momentum and impact for the brand. The four-part U Matter module reinforces the importance of self-esteem and mindset development. “The Effective Leader Is…”, another four-part module emphasizes the everyday traits of a good leader. Dr. Walker built these programs from a combination of her experiences with her clients, her own journey, and her education. She wants her clients to know and to believe that “It’s never too late for a new beginning.”