GP Summerville

Shandra Summerville is the cultural and linguistic competence coordinator at the Champaign County Mental Health and Developmental boards.

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Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, SHANDRA SUMMERVILLE, 44, the cultural and linguistic competence coordinator at the Champaign County Mental Health and Developmental boards, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Summerville has degrees from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, has completed graduate coursework in speech pathology and counseling, and is an alumna of two Georgetown University programs — one to address disparities in mental health and the other about increasing leadership in cultural diversity for working with persons living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Tell us about your family.

I am the only girl. My parents are Willie and Valerian Summerville. They birthed two sons, Derrick and William, and then my parents took on many other children that believe they came from my parents as well. I have one son, Adrian; he is a professional actor. I also have three nephews: Darius, Jaxson, Ezekiel and one niece, Makeda. I have one grand-niece and one-grand nephew. Amiyah and Sebastian. I have a very large extended family — my mother had 10 children in her family, and my father had four sisters. I have 58 first cousins.

How did you come to Champaign-Urbana?

I came from the womb. I was born and raised in Champaign-Urbana.

You have degrees in speech and drama. Do they have any role in what you are doing now?

When working with different cultural backgrounds, you always must be able to know the characters in every story and their purpose. You also must see how each part of every plot will develop.

Tell us about your work with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

I have been a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. for 21 years. In January 2020, we will be celebrating 100 years. I currently serve as first vice president for the Theta Lambda Zeta chapter and have held officer roles for at least 19 years of the time I’ve been a member of the sorority. Our organization was founded on principles of scholarship, service, sisterhood and finer womanhood. Annually, we celebrate women who have characteristics of a virtuous woman and award scholarships to high school seniors that share a story of resilience in their education journey. In addition, we provide service to various schools and community groups in the Champaign County area.

You’re passionate about addressing mental health challenges, racial disparities and educational achievement gaps. How did you develop this passion?

Working at Cunningham Children’s Home, and I worked with students at Prairie Elementary School (Dr. Preston Williams Elementary) when I was the learning resource center coordinator. I saw there was a disconnect with quality of care and access to education based on a young person’s behavior. As we built a relationship, I learned about different programs and cultural opportunities and would expose them to things they would not have normally had access to because of their behavior.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Willie Summerville, my dad, is one of my favorite musicians. He was versatile and had the ability to adjust to music styles because he could read music and play by ear. A lot of musicians do not have the ability to do both.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Dr. Maya Angelou, because she had a story of resilience and she utilized her experience to help others.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

When I was working for a not-for profit organization and there was slash in funding and I decided to remain at the organization because I made a commitment to the company for at least two years. Everyone in the organization left but me and the executive director. That is how I learned about the work that I am doing in my position.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

It depends on the situation. In most situations, I usually try and think before I act. I also work hard to view situations from a balcony view, so that I can gain perspective. It takes time and some people want you to react. I have learned when I react, there is always a follow-up conversation about what has happened.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).