LaShaunda Jordan isn’t waiting for graduation before she launches her career and gives back to the community in the process.
Jordan, 32, of O’Fallon, is a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and co-founder of Paragon Dynasty Media, an independent video production company focused on projects that celebrate “everyday people.”
Their first major project is in final production, contracted with the Legacy Flight Academy, which teaches underrepresented children about the field of aviation following the examples of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces. “On a Journey to Leave a Legacy” tells the story of the children in the academy while incorporating the history of the Tuskegee Airmen on their 75th anniversary, and if successful, it may turn into a series for the Legacy Flight Academy, Jordan said.
It’s a subject close to Jordan’s heart, as she served in the U.S. Air Force for nearly three years, stationed in Germany, before leaving after becoming pregnant. She has been attending college as a nontraditional student since she left the Air Force in 2005, taking classes as she could afford them while finding time to raise three children with her husband, Mike.
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“Balancing being a mom, a wife and being active in my community,” are among the challenges of being a nontraditional student, Jordan said. “Just trying to balance my passion with my family and making sure they’re not neglected has been the greatest challenge.”
Nontraditional students must have communication and good relationships with their professors because of the inevitable conflicts in their schedules, Jordan said. Two of her children are asthmatic, which means sometimes health emergencies crop up unexpectedly.
Now Jordan is a senior, nearing completion on a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in African-American history.
In her time as a student, she helped create a student organization called Sankofa, which means “reaching back to move forward.” It’s a West African word that means “go back and get it,” about reaching back to history to move a community forward, she said.
Jordan and her fellow students wanted to go out beyond the university walls and bring their community to SIUE.
“We bring what we learn back to the university community and try to uplift the black students here on campus so that they have a voice,” Jordan said. “We use this club to educate them about black history, to get them more involved in the community and to recognize who our allies are.”
Sankofa recently went to visit a New Orleans plantation, which Jordan said initially gave her pause. But once there, she said it felt like there was presence at the plantation speaking to them.
“I mean, who wants to visit a plantation?” she said. “It was a very emotional trip ... But we were actually able to go into a slave cabin, where slaves actually lived and they slept on these beds, just to touch the walls and know that one of my ancestors was right here.”
Jordan said they learned a lot about the transatlantic slave trade by visiting the plantation and were deeply affected by the experience. The key, then, was to bring back that emotion and that passion to SIUE, Jordan said.
I always dreamed of helping my community and telling everyday people’s stories ... I feel like everyday people have stories to tell, and I want to preserve black history and African-American culture.
LaShaunda Jordan, senior at SIUE
And then came Paragon Dynasty Media, the video production company founded in March and already working on the Tuskegee Airmen project. At least six people are working on the project, almost all students getting a real-world introduction to independent video production.
To Jordan, it’s about preserving culture for future generations.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about since junior high, maybe early high school,” Jordan said. “I always dreamed of helping my community and telling everyday people’s stories ... I feel like everyday people have stories to tell, and I want to preserve black history and African-American culture.”
Each member of the team brought similar passion, but different talents to the table, Jordan said. They’re still working through some of the kinks — mostly paperwork involving business aspects — but Jordan has had support from her professors as well, including her mentor, history professor Jessica Harris.
Harris describes Jordan as “incredibly personable, brilliant and focused.”
“From the very beginning, she demonstrated a lot of passion about the history of African-Americans and a strong interest in community engagement,” Harris said. “From the first moment I met her, LaShaunda showed an interest in education, but also a way to use her education to help others.”
Jordan said Harris has connected Jordan with some resources at SIUE to assist them with Paragon Dynasty and is hopeful they will be able to get a screening for the Tuskegee Airmen documentary.
In the meantime, Sankofa continues by working with Hands Up United on projects like the literacy initiative Books-n-Breakfast, which lets Jordan combine her passion for community service with time with her children.
After graduation, Jordan hopes to continue her education at the master’s level, and eventually work in radio production while building up Paragon Dynasty Media. But until then, she continues to work on her various projects and plans to apply for commencement speaker.
“I think I have a powerful voice,” she said. “This platform will be wonderful to leave them a bit of advice beyond graduation.”
Meet LaShaunda Jordan
- Age: 32
- School: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
- Grade level: senior
- Town: O’Fallon
- Parents: LaWanda Clark and Randy Clark of Elgin
- Siblings: Latosha Clark and Quentin Clark
- Spouse: Mike Jordan
- Children: Jaeden, Mikaela and Destiney Jordan
- Clubs and activities: Sankofa, Paragon Dynasty Media, Hands Up United, Books-n-Breakfast
- Favorite Class: Intro to mass communications, intro to African-American history
- Employment: Previously a reporter for The Alestle, now working in video production for SIUE athletics and SIUE Radio
- Awards: Black Girls Rock Excellence Award, Rosie Githinji Diversity in Journalism Award
- Service: U.S. Air Force
- Pastimes: Former liturgical dancer and youth leader, photography
- Advice to others: “Get involved on the local level. Learn about the politics on the local level because that’s where I feel change is going to take place ... Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. It’s hard to approach a situation ... but you learn so much more when you step outside of your comfort zone.”