Global Traveler.
Entrepreneur.
Humanitarian.

 

Born Sheila Jenine Kennedy, Sheila was a global traveler, entrepreneur, and humanitarian with a love of arts and media.  Nicknamed “Sunshine,” she had deep faith and spread light wherever she went.  With a magnetic smile and a kind heart, she was beautiful both inside and out.  

A citizen of the world, Sheila’s love of travel started as a young child growing up in countries where her parents worked.  They were pioneers in cross-cultural communications and learning through the arts.  In the late 1960’s, they lived in Ghana working at the University of Ghana.  They also produced for the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, and the First Pan African Cultural Festival in Algiers, Algeria in 1969.   In the 1970’s, they were invited by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam of Australia to live in Adelaide and introduce new concepts of people – African American and African — to that continent.  The “Black Kennedys,” as many called them, were the first African American family to live on the continent of Australia.  They were also asked to produce for the Papau, New Guinea Independence Arts Festival in 1973.  These formative years of traveling shaped Sheila’s respect for other cultures, open view of the world and strong desire for personal freedom. 

Through her parents’ unique work and status, Sheila interfaced with many notables – African chiefs, presidents, prime ministers, mayors, political activists, intellectuals, spiritual leaders, cultural elite and celebrities.  She was privileged to grow up around icons like Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali and Smokey Robinson, and have celebrities in her own family including film and TV stars Leon Isaac Kennedy and Jayne Kennedy Overton.  Her aunt, Adrienne Kennedy, is the Obie Award winning playwright who was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

James Kennedy, Sheila Kennedy, Michael Jackson and Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy in Australia, 1970s
Muhammad Ali and Sheila Kennedy at Ali's training camp in PA
Sheila Kennedy and Smokey Robinson

After initial work experiences in the U.S., Sheila was determined not to have a 9-to-5 desk job.  Instead, she created innovative ways to travel and live her dreams.  She found an exchange program and family in Germany which enabled her to live and study German.  Instead of going to law school, she became a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, working their international routes.  She was able to use her German and see the world.  She then studied Mandarin at Heibei University in the People’s Republic of China around the same time her mother became the exclusive global distributor for the journal, Building in China – the first publication of any kind to provide information on China’s building sector.  Sheila was offered a job at the upcoming Portman Shanghai Centre through her mentor, Jesse Hill, Jr., who knew real estate developer John C. Portman, Jr.   Unfortunately, the 1989 uprising in Tiananmen Square in Beijing caused her to return to the U.S. before starting the position.  She then studied at the University of Madrid in Spain and The United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya.  She traveled to more than 20 countries going back multiple times to her favorites.  Her most recent international trip was in 2010, when her mother was invited by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to speak at the Third World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar.  The entire family was hosted by the President.  Watch the video Return to Senegal

For six years, Sheila was President and Chief Executive Officer of Custom Digital Solutions (CDS) in New York, specializing in on-site corporate computer software training and consulting.  Major clients included Martha Stewart Living, Colgate Palmolive, Simon & Schuster and all of the Viacom companies – CBS, MTV, VH-1, Showtime, Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite, Comedy Central, Noggin, TV Land, BET, UPN, Viacom Interactive Ventures, the Movie Channel and Nickelodeon’s Digital Animation Studio.  Clients loved her positive spirit and consistently gave her stellar reviews.   Prior to starting her company, she was a highly-sought-after computer consultant for IBM’s training company, as well as other computer training and consulting companies.  With a lifelong passion for hair and beauty, she also was co-founder of Goodhair.com – one of the first Black hair sites on the Internet.  She held a Master’s Degree in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University, as well as a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business and other related credentials in her field.

During her early years, Sheila was a competitive athlete in swimming and gymnastics, a member of a dance troupe, and a performer.  She acted in various plays staged by her parents over the years, including Soul Gone Home, Oba Waja and Love Conquers All for the Now Africa Theatre Company in Nairobi.  The camera loved her and she knew how to strike a pose.  She had her first film parts in the late 1970s with The Justice System and Across Two Continents.  She was also in the 1986 film, Knights of the City, starring her cousin Leon Isaac Kennedy, and the 1991 Paul DaSilva Film, Crackdown: Big City Blues (re-released in 2018).  In addition, she performed alongside her family in the 1991 musical Evolution/Revolution produced by her sister Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy at the Harvard Business School.

Sheila was committed to public service.  She served as a mentor and tutor for the Beacon Schools in New York, taught adult literacy and often volunteered to feed the homeless.  During her married years in Los Angeles and Atlanta, she served as President of the John & Sheila Kennedy Bryant Family Foundation, co-chair of Operation HOPE’s Digital Empowerment Program, and participated in multiple World Economic Forum events across the globe, including the Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Annual Meeting of the New Champions in China and Global Dignity Day in various countries including Jordan.   She was also on the advisory boards of UCLA and the USC School of Social Work and was a supporting member of the National Council of Negro Women and other progressive social causes.  Education and public service have been a family tradition which goes back to her great grandmother, Mary Atkins, who graduated from Knoxville College in the mid-1800’s; her great uncle, Dr. James Atkins, was a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” advising on education; her uncle, Dr. Joseph C. Kennedy, was co-founder and International Director of Africare, and was Peace Corps director in Sierra Leone, deputy director for Africa and regional director for East Asia and the Pacific Region; and her aunt, Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam, was for 18 years a visionary builder and former Vice Chancellor of the United States International University Africa in Kenya.

In 2012, Sheila moved to Palm Coast, Florida and served as the family companion and caregiver for her aunt, Dr. Lillie Sykes White – former supervisor of instruction for the public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.  Sheila fought tirelessly alongside her mother and sister to free her aunt from a predatory guardianship which ultimately caused Lillie to be abducted, isolated and financially exploited.   In 2016, Sheila joined her sister in co-founding the social initiative, ElderDignity.org, which advocates for elder rights and guardianship reform.  Watch Sheila perform in the family’s arts for justice video, Let America Be America Again and speak about her aunt’s ordeal in Silent Torture.  Sheila’s latest passion was Inner Dignity, which she was in the process of co-founding with her mother, sister, and nephew.  The mission of the organization is to use arts and media to empower people of color, support their mental wellbeing, and promote cross-cultural understanding.  It is inspired by her parents’ work around the world and the Inner Dignity program her mother founded in the 1960’s.

Sheila was a remarkable soul who touched many with her warmth, kindness, and bright light.  We are still in disbelief that she was taken away so quickly.  In August 2023, Sheila was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had already metastasized and spread to multiple organs.  It was shocking.   A week later, she was in the hospital.  Throughout her battle, she faced each challenge with a courageous spirit.  Her unwavering optimism in the face of adversity was truly admirable.  May her spirit continue to inspire us to approach life with the same courage and resilience she exhibited.  Sheila is survived by her mother, Janie Sykes-Kennedy; brother, James Scott Kennedy, Jr.; sister, Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy; nephew, Daniel Marsh Kennedy; aunts Adrienne Kennedy and Claire Imogene Hunkin; and numerous loving cousins and long-time friends.  We are blessed to have had Sheila in our lives.  Her light will continue to shine bright through her positive impact on the world, the memories in our hearts, and the sunshine we radiate in her honor.  

View pictures of Sheila’s life in the gallery, receive updates, and share your comments, and contact the family directly.