November 2015
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: A Door to the World

  Shakeba DuBose, left, was a former 4-H member with Denise Shirley, county Extension coordinator for Tuscaloosa County.

A lifetime of success, defined by superhuman determination, is a result of an Alabama girl’s experience in 4-H.

A couple of years ago, attorney Shakeba DuBose, while working to establish her own law firm, was presented with the added challenge of setting up her own company website.

Not to worry; she learned the rudiments of web design and set it up herself.

Challenges, even daunting ones, have never been a problem for DuBose. She possesses what, in the view of many friends and family, amounts to a superhuman capacity for overcoming difficulties, nettlesome and calamitous alike.

She acquired her remarkable coping skills the hard way, in the small, rural west Alabama hamlet of Bellamy – no traffic light to be seen – located a good 15 miles from the big city of Livingston, a small university town and regional hub, and 20 miles from Demopolis, the largest town in neighboring Marengo County. If her remote location wasn’t bad enough, there was the added challenge of attending the area’s underfunded public high school, effectively segregated and, in material terms, not far removed from Alabama’s troubled segregationist past.

But she had two remarkable advantages working for her: not only that dogged, superhuman determination but also support from friends and family who cared for her future.

One of these supporters, the one she still remembers today as her lifetime mentor, was Denise Shirley, Extension coordinator for Tuscaloosa County with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, whom DuBose describes as the first person outside of her family who took an active interest in her success.

"Shakeba looked for every opportunity. This was a few years before the Internet, when mail was still our primary way of communicating with 4-H’ers, but she would carefully pour over every one of those 4-H letters and flyers, looking for every opportunity to participate and to excel," Shirley recalled.

Starting as a fifth grader, DuBose used these opportunities to build a bridge to her future – and what a future it would be. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management from the University of Alabama; a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Health Services Administration from Arizona State University; and, finally, a law degree from the prestigious Maurer School of Law at Indiana University.

Dubose, who is still in her 30s, has served as general counsel for a healthcare company, an adjunct college faculty member and an assistant attorney general for the State of Ohio. She now heads her own law firm, The DuBose Law Firm and TDLF Healthcare Compliance Consulting Group, located in Columbus, Ohio, and specializing in healthcare law.

Curiously, though, it wasn’t public speaking, the usual choice of 4-H activities for an aspiring attorney, that transformed DuBose. While she competed in her share of public speaking competitions, dairy demonstrations were her thing – her passion and her specialty. In fact, she became so caught up in these demonstrations that they became known as "Shakeba’s dairy demos" among her friends.

It not only became an all-consuming passion but one that instilled her with an appreciation for self-mastery; however, perhaps most important of all, with the sense of achievement that comes from being recognized as the go-to person within a discipline or field.

"I had to have the first-place ribbon every year, because that was my area of expertise," she laughingly recalled. "And I carried that passion into my professional career. I wanted to be the go-to person in dairy as a young 4-H’er, just as today, I strive to be the go-to person in healthcare."

But Shirley and 4-H opened up another door as well: a view to the big world beyond Bellamy.

"4-H took me to so many places and, without it exposing me to these new places and people, I don’t know where I’d be."

One of her most cherished memories is her 4-H trip to Washington to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic march.

Those 4-H trips opened new vistas to people and ideas.

"The school I attended had only about 500 students, mostly black children with a handful of white kids," she said. "Then I’m exposed to a world of people of many different backgrounds who weren’t like me and who had very different ideas – those were wonderful experiences that I wish every child could be afforded."

These experiences helped ignite another deeply held passion that sets DuBose apart from many others: an all-consuming zest for life and for new experiences – to borrow David Thoreau’s timeless phrase, a deep yearning "to live deep and to suck all the marrow out of life."

She’s determined to treat herself to one big adventure a year for the rest of her life. So far, that’s included skydiving on a whim in Las Vegas; snorkeling in the Red Sea off the coast of Egypt; taking cooking lessons in Barcelona, Budapest and Venice; as part of a trust exercise, climbing a 30-foot cliff in Arizona’s Sonora Desert; and, recently, shark snorkeling in Cancun.

Measured by what DuBose achieved in her life, it is little wonder that Shirley considers her the most determined 4-H’er who ever passed through her door.

"She really was the most persistent child I ever knew as a 4-H agent," Shirley stated. "She never gave up and she also showed a willingness to step out where other kids didn’t."

Jim Langcuster is a writer on contract for Extension Communications.