It was not the best childhood, she recalled. It was anything but stable.
Throughout her young life, Sharonda Grandberry was subjected to hardship, uncertainty and an unstable, if not, chaotic upbringing.
One wouldn’t have guessed that among her many achievements, today she would list being a proud mother, a wife, an Army veteran, government contract specialist and the 2019 Face of Queen Size Magazine, an award-winning monthly print and digital publication dedicated to servicing the full-figured industry.
Still, she says, her role as an industry model comes second to her employment as a contract specialist with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, where she gained employment in 2015.
It’s a far cry from the childhood Sharonda remembers growing up in Dothan, Alabama, a modest-sized city nestled near the Georgia and Florida state borders.
“My father battled issues he dared not discuss and committed suicide when I was five years old,” she said. “And my mother was bipolar. That was really tough. A lot of physical things happened to me that were not supposed to happen to a child. I had to overcome physical, emotional and sexual abuse.”
Despite the challenges, Sharonda survived, drawing from an inner strength she found somewhere along the way -- hard work, grit and a steadfast determination.
This inner strength laid the foundation for future success, first following a stint in the Army as a light wheeled-vehicle mechanic, then college and ultimately, as a federal employee and model.
A path of accomplishment even she looks back at with amazement.
“During high school, I made honors in all my classes,” she said. “I pushed harder than anyone so that I could graduate in the top ten in my class.”
A likely candidate for college, these achievements weren’t enough.
“Without sufficient resources and that familial backing,” she said, “college had to wait and I joined the Army because of everything that was going on. I didn’t have the funding or support. I wasn’t even living with my mom. I had to push through all of that.”
Following graduation, Sharonda left little time for celebration and headed off to basic training only five days later.
“I became a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic,” she said. “I just wanted to prove that I could do this too. I like challenges. I like to fix things, put things together, figure out puzzles; so for me, being a mechanic made sense.”
Her male counterparts weren’t too sure what to expect when they first saw her enter the motor pool.
She still laughs, recalling an incident when she dropped a wrench into the drip pan while changing the oil.
“The guys chuckled,” she said. “They didn’t expect me to dip my hand into the drip pan to retrieve the wrench. After all, my finger nails were well manicured and painted and, of course, I was a girl.”
Yet without hesitation, Sharonda rolled up her sleeves and scooped out the wrench.
“I just wanted to show them that I could do this too,” she said.
Things changed and Sharonda became pregnant with twins and soon found working in and around tools and vehicle engines awkward and restricting.
“I could no longer haul the heavy tool boxes around,” she said. “So, I stayed in the career field, but drifted into the logistics side.”
After their third child, she and her husband questioned whether a life of dual military careers was right for their young family; and eight years into her career, they decided. He would stay and continue serving as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist, while she would join the workforce and perhaps pursue undergraduate studies in management and logistics.
Following several military tours stateside and abroad, they were assigned to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. There, Sharonda gained employment as a logistics specialist with the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command. Then, in 2015, she branched off into contracting and joined the Huntsville Center under the contract specialist internship program.
“It was here, while sitting at my cubicle that I started writing down my goals,” she said. “At the time, my goals had focused on providing for my family and making sure I got an education. I never took the time to explore what I really wanted to do with my life.”
That would soon change.
“While surfing through Facebook, I came across a contest called, Full Figure Face of the Month,” Sharonda said. “I was scared, but I entered the contest anyway. I thought, who knows, I just might win.”
The rest is history, she said, “I won. I was so excited that I contacted the CEO of the contest, Dionne Reeves-Grubbs, almost immediately.”
Reeves-Grubbs hosts Plus Empowerment Week each year and donates all the week’s proceeds to the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Division for Crisis Services of North Alabama.
“This year, Full Figured Fierce, celebrated seven years of Plus Empowerment with an expose, panel discussions, styling sessions, a fashion show and things to highlight full-figured women,” Sharonda said. “I auditioned for the show and I’ll never forget my first practice session in heels. I was shaking. I still had that military walk. They had to get that out of me.
“Now, it’s like I was naturally gifted to do it,” she said. “I’ve since modeled in Atlanta, Cuba, North Carolina, New York, Florida and Jamaica.”
Sharonda’s modeling career was launched. Still, she maintains focus on the Huntsville Center’s mission where she continues to impress the leadership.
Known for her professionalism, hard work and dedication, she has garnered numerous on-the-spot awards for her cost-saving efforts, including a nomination for the 2018 Contract Specialist of the Year.
Recently, she was noted as saving the government nearly $5 million in acquisition funds through a strategic negotiation process with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 88th Readiness Division.
Today, Sharonda eyes a future through rose-tinted glasses in between fashion shoots, her children, hosting a podcast via Queen Size Magazine and motivational speaking engagements, including personal appearances, “extra” parts on several television series, getting crowned Miss Alabama Black Expo 2017 and various QS magazine appearances.
“We’re all born with a gift, a talent, something that calls you to do more,” she said. “That’s why I like to encourage women, and moms especially, to disregard what has happened to their bodies or how they think they look. Just try – that’s all I did. I gave it a try. I didn’t care how I looked. You have to build up your skin so thick – put your blinders on and mentally focus on the target. If your dream is realistic, it’s attainable. Go for it.”