Season 4  Episode 9: Empowering Wellness: Voices Revolutionizing Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and today’s episode of You Are Not Your Trauma™ podcast spotlights transformative figures in mental health. This panel discussion features trailblazers who share personal and professional perspectives on improving mental wellness across diverse communities. Our guests today offer unique insights into their journeys, the challenges they’ve overcome, and the innovative strategies they employ to foster mental health awareness and healing.

Through her personal battles with depression and a near-fatal suicide attempt, Soodabeh discovered the pivotal role of spirituality, mindset, and forgiveness in healing from trauma. Join us as we explore how turning inward and embracing our inner strength can lead us out of the shadows of past experiences and into the empowering light of self-belief and love.

I was joined by a dynamic panel of women leading the charge in mental health advocacy and innovation.

  • Candice Hayes, who has turned her personal journey navigating her son’s mental health into a broader mission through The Hope Journal and her eco-friendly business, Candys Candles, to promote mental wellness.
  • Shakira Releford, an Associate Professor and behavior analyst, who uses her personal experiences with OCD and professional expertise to support neurodivergent youth through her nonprofit, Connecting Youth Achievement Center.
  • Shawnti Refuge, CEO of Shawnti Refuge Journals, harnesses the power of guided journaling to aid individuals in processing emotional baggage, drawing on her own mental health challenges to foster healing and self-care.
  • Dr. Carrie Young-McWilliams, an advocate for social justice and educational equity, brings her extensive experience in educational leadership to the forefront, promoting diversity and inclusivity in educational settings to enhance mental health outcomes.

Together, these women provide a wealth of insights and innovations, collectively transforming the landscape of mental health advocacy and support.

Candice Hayes has navigated the waters of life with grace and determination, a journey marked by 27 years of marriage to her husband, Jarius Hayes, and enriched by the joys and challenges of raising three children, including a son-in-law, and doting on three grandchildren. Her professional path boasts a 16-year journey as a janitorial service provider renowned for its eclectic clientele, ranging from sports legends in the NFL and NBA to prestigious entities like banks, retail giants, and even technological innovators such as Facebook at their Meta Data Center project in Huntsville, Alabama.

Fuelled by her love for cleaning and organization, Candice authored a handbook titled “We Cleaned Our Home Yesterday,” aimed at helping others cut down on their weekly cleaning tasks. The handbook, available for purchase on Amazon, is a testament to her expertise and passion for creating efficient, clean living spaces.

In a passionate commitment to environmental stewardship and mental well-being, Candice also birthed Candys Candles, a company dedicated to designing phthalate-free, eco-friendly, and vegan candles and wax melts, designed to infuse any atmosphere with calmness and peace.

However, it’s her personal journey as a mother, especially navigating the complex landscape of mental health with her youngest son, that has deeply shaped her purpose. This experience spotlighted the critical need for awareness, support, and compassion within the realm of mental wellness, inspiring her to conceive The Hope Journal, an initiative that extends beyond the written word to encompass candles, affirmation cards, and self-care apparel, all symbolizing hope and the importance of mental self-care.

Her affiliations with impactful organizations such as Nareb, where she serves on the executive board; the Off the Field NFL Wives Association; and the Black Chamber of Commerce have enriched her mission, connecting her with communities and individuals who share a vision for a more understanding and compassionate world.

Moreover, Candice forthcoming contribution to a Mental Health Anthology, “Voices of Wellness” alongside a group of nine other authors, set to be published this May, marks a significant milestone in her advocacy journey. Within this collaborative effort, she shares the challenges and triumphs of supporting a loved one’s mental health journey, offering insight and guidance to others navigating similar paths.


Shakira Releford is an Associate Professor in Social & Behavioral Sciences. Her expertise comes from 12 years of experience as a behavior analyst, mental health professional in recovery, trauma-informed specialist, and educator. Her personal experience living with OCD has motivated her to take control of her life and share her lived experience as an entrepreneur, facilitator, and trauma-informed yoga teacher to inspire others to reduce their anxiety and fulfill their purpose-driven life. Shakira founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Connecting Youth Achievement Center, to provide social-emotional and educational support to Black and Indigenous youth with neurodivergence in marginalized communities. Shakira uses positive intelligence and biblical teachings to help change people's lives. She works as a consultant for neurodivergent business owners and charitable organizations.

Dr. Carrie Young-McWilliams, a passionate advocate for social justice and educational equity from Mississippi and now based in Maryland. With a background deeply rooted in civil rights activism, Carrie brings extensive experience in educational leadership, having spearheaded transformative initiatives in low-performing high schools and led district-wide reform efforts. Her diverse career encompasses roles as a Dean of Students, curriculum author, classroom teacher, and presenter at esteemed national forums like the Aurora Symposium and the National Association of School Principals. Carrie holds degrees from prestigious institutions such as the University of Central Florida, Sacred Heart University, and the University of Sarasota, where her doctoral research focused on student mobility. As the CEO of Young-McWilliams Education Consulting Services, LLC, she continues her mission to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) in education, all while proudly representing Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.

Shawnti Refuge, CEO of Shawnti Refuge Journals, is a certified mental health coach, mental health advocate, keynote speaker, and author. She supports women in releasing, healing, and living their best lives through guided journaling. Shawnti believes in shedding emotional baggage by addressing its root causes and facilitating natural healing. Inspired by her own experiences and mental health challenges, she has created a series of self-care-guided journals. Shawnti's mission is to offer a safe space for healing through guided journaling.
Born in Beaumont, TX, Shawnti now resides in the Houston suburbs with her wife, Angela, and is a proud mother of three adult children. When she's not crafting journals, Shawnti enjoys reading, binge-watching TV shows, and cherishing moments with her family and friends. Currently, she's penning a book based on her personal wellness journey.
Shawnti Refuge Journals is dedicated to empowering individuals who recognize the vital role journaling plays in self-care. Advocating self-love, self-awareness, and self-care through guided journaling, she creates journals that enhance emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and financial well-being.

Explore the You Are Not Your Trauma™ app for exclusive content, guided meditations, and an opportunity to connect with a community. The app features a comprehensive guide to understanding and managing trauma traits, enhancing the insights shared in the episode. Don’t miss the opportunity to participate in the ‘Season 4 Episode 1 Poll: Navigate Your Healing’ to reflect on your journey and contribute to our collective understanding.

Get the You Are Not Your Trauma App Google Play | App Store

Stay tuned for the A.S.C.E.N.D. Summit ‘24, hosted by You Are Not Your Trauma Inc. Tickets are NOW Available HERE!

Get the FREE You Are Not Your Trauma™ Resource guide HERE to empower your healing process.

Click here to get the You Are Not Your Trauma™ App!

Get the FREE You Are Not Your Trauma™ Resource guide HERE to empower your healing process.

If you find this podcast helpful for you or someone you know, I invite you to share with others, subscribe to the show and follow You Are Not Your Trauma Podcast on Facebook, TikTok & Instagram.

Join the Give $5 to Change Lives Campaign and be part of a community dedicated to healing and growth. Your contribution supports the expansion of the You Are Not Your Trauma™ resources, helping us to reach and uplift more people on their journey to healing. Every donation, big or small, makes a profound difference. Visit to donate and learn more about how you can help.

  • Subscribe to You Are Not Your Trauma™ podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Audible or your favorite podcast platform.
  • WIN Exclusive You Are Not Your Trauma™ merch by leaving a rating and review on your favorite podcast, then visit to let us know you've entered by entering your info and the word ‘Feedback’ in the message section.
  • Visit\ to get details on upcoming episodes and guests.

Do you have a personal or professional experience with trauma that you’d like to share on the show? 

Send an email to [email protected].

Get a copy of Stop Stopping Your Success at

Interested in advertising your business on You Are Not Your Trauma podcast?  See the details here: