SHINING BRIGHT

Her Life


SHEILA KENNEDY BRYANT of New York, passed away peacefully at her family home in St. Albans on Monday, December 18, 2023, after a heroic battle with colon cancer. She was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 30, 1964, to Janie Sykes-Kennedy and the late Dr. James Scott Kennedy. During her last days, she was surrounded by a sea of love from family and friends. As she took her last breath, she was holding her mother’s hand. She died as she lived – fearlessly, with heart and grace.

Global Citizen

Nicknamed “sunshine,” Sheila was a citizen of the world and spread light wherever she went. Her love of travel started as a young child growing up in countries where her parents worked. They were pioneers in cross-cultural communications and using the arts in leadership development. 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 the Prime Minister 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 freedom.

Fearless Nomad

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 and was offered a job at the upcoming Portman Shanghai Centre. Unfortunately, the 1986 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 visiting her favorites multiple times. Her most recent trip was in 2010, when her mother and family were invited by the President of Senegal to attend the Third World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar.

Entrepreneur

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. 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 www.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.

Athlete & Performer

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. She had her first film parts in the late 1970’s 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 preformed alongside her family in the 1991 musical Evolution/Revolution produced by her sister at the Harvard Business School.

Humanitarian

Sheila was committed to public service and progressive social causes. 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. 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 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 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.

Caregiver & Advocate

In 2012, Sheila moved to Palm Coast, Florida and served as the family companion and caregiver for her aunt, Dr. Lillie Sykes White. She fought tirelessly alongside her mother and sister to free her aunt from a predatory guardianship. In 2016, Sheila joined her sister in co-founding the social initiative, ElderDignity.org, which advocates for elder rights and guardianship reform in the U.S. Sheila’s latest passion was the non-profit, Inner Dignity, which she was in the process of co-founding with three generations of Kennedys – 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 and inter-generational dialogue. It is inspired by her parents’ cross-cultural communications work around the world and the Inner Dignity program her mother founded in the 1960’s.

A Bright Light

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. To honor her, we will be organizing a service in New York at the end of January 2024 and a memorial celebration in California around her 60th birthday in May 2024. Details will be shared for those who wish to join us in commemorating her legacy. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Inner Dignity.

View more images in the Gallery. Share your memories of Sheila in the Comments.

GIFT LISTS AVAILABLE AT

SAVE THE DATE

Sunday, July 23, 2019