“I grew up attending a small country church in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky where we had to walk up the holler to use the latrine,” says Sabrena. “You’d have to lift of the lid to make sure there weren’t spiders, snakes and bees. My Papaw helped build the first inside bathroom in 1994.”
She also points to the corner and says in her church, she remembers her papaw would be in the corner pickin’ a banjo, and she’d go up front to sing. She remembers the fire and brimstone preacher, too, bellowing from the pulpit. “I was afraid of Jesus when I was little, but later I chose him.”
Faith resonates from Sabrena, 41, dean of Shorter University’s College of Arts & Sciences. She’s been affiliated with three institutions of higher learning in the region. She left Kennesaw State to become an associate professor at Berry where her husband was director of undergraduate business programs. And after a three-year interim to stay home with her three children, she was contacted by Shorter and rejoined academia five years ago.
She’s the first in her family to attend college. “I went all the way to earn a PhD despite being told I would never be able to attend college.”
Because of her humble beginnings, Sabrena’s gratitude for her education is apparent. “The Lord created knowledge and I believe he takes great delight in our exploring and discovering knowledge and then putting that knowledge to use for his glory.”
Her love of knowledge was a gift from her late grandmother Laveda, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse much like the one on Berry’s mountain campus. “She raised me to be who I am,” says Sabrena. “She taught me that with God and an education, you can build a better life.”
Her life has included dreams. One was to be an astronaut ... but her fear of heights thwarted that. Another fear persists too, the bees from the holler in Kentucky. That became apparent during her photo shoot as she deftly darted in and out of the photo frame as wasps in the church and a bee outside the church buzzed too close for comfort.
But she found comfort as she clutched two items dear to her — her Bible and her grandmother’s school bell that she was given when she earned her doctorate.
Laveda would be so proud.