Sheila Williams Umolu (1966-2018)
Sheila Williams Umolu served as SoulOfAmerica Senior Programming Director, a title that will never do justice to her monumental contributions to SoulOfAmerica. She gave her all to making the website a success, including: devising unique programming opportunities, helping develop growth strategies, brainstorming marketing campaigns, crafting powerful stories about her travels and gladly rolling up her sleeves to do tedious maintenance work that had to be done.
Sheila was such a warm-hearted and thoughtful person. Though family came first, Sheila’s travel exposure gave all of us a larger, more compelling view of our region, state, nation and the world. Since travel was a passion, SoulOfAmerica would become her canvas.
When my wife worked at PG&E, she introduced me to Sheila in 1999. We quickly discovered that shared passion for travel, how it enhanced lives and a desire to open more eyes to black heritage & cultural sites nationwide. Sheila quickly joined our team.
We were both dissatisfied at the paucity of media coverage for North American and Caribbean destinations important to African-Americans. Sheila was the quiet force instrumental to expansion from 20 travel guides to 135 guides today and outreach to millions of visitors along the way. Her responsibilities grew from Individual Contributor to Sr. VP of Programming, the #2 person at SoulOfAmerica.
Though we occasionally expressed different points of view, I could never argue with Sheila. Given her warm spirit, thorough research and honesty, I doubt that anyone could. BTW, she was right more than me. I proudly state that she was co-responsible for SoulOfAmerica winning 4 Best Black Travel Website awards and praise for our pioneering content from Arthur Frommer, the distinguished founder of Frommers travel guides.
The lists below detail her most impactful contributions to SoulOfAmerica and her achievements in other arenas. But bullet points can never capture Sheila’s genius.
I miss her dearly, and I thank her for being my “Right Hand Woman” at SoulOfAmerica. Please join the SoulOfAmerica family in honoring Sheila for her essential contributions in transforming the relationship between the travel industry and African Americans. Through her words, actions and passion, she ensured the industry understood that “Black Travel Matters.”
Founder & Executive Director
With her travel experience, tour guide expertise and leadership role in SoulOfAmerica, Sheila pushed us to introduce or improve innovative features on the first black travel website:
• 1st Black Cultural & Historical Site photo tours
• 1st Black Historical Sites listing
• 1st Top Black Museums listing
• 1st Nationwide Black Spas listing
• 1st Nationwide Black Inns listing
• 1st Black Cruises listing
• 1st Black Towns listing
• 1st Caribbean Travel channel
• 1st International Travel channel for African-Americans
In addition to helping SoulOfAmerica thrive, Sheila led a life of achievement and success:
• She obtained a BS in Industrial Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
• At Stanford, she served as President of the Society of Black Scientists & Engineers for which she received the prestigious Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service.
• She raised funds for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Earthjustice and Democratic National Committee.
• She helped the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) grow the alumni organization by thousands.
• She co-founded a NSBE program that shipped technical journals to African universities.
• She helped increase the diversity of the professional ranks at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)
• She traveled to the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, including a trip down the Nile River