Sherard “Shekeese” Duvall is a Colombian filmmaker and communications professional who earned his degree in Media Arts from UofSC.
Sherard “Chekes” Duval grew up in northern Columbia, surrounded by grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, all of whom lived in the Ridgewood neighborhood.
My grandmother’s side of the family and my grandfather’s side of the family were in the same neighborhood. Growing up, it was like being in an African village because I felt like I had hundreds of cousins. I was never alone. And when you’ve had this many cousins all the time, there was always something you could get into.”
Duvall says his mother “saw the writing on the wall” and tried to keep her son out of trouble by moving the family to the Broad River Department of Columbia, where he attended Columbia High School.
“This was a step that really saved my life, when I think about it again. No kid likes to leave at 12 and go to a different school, but my mom saw something happen,” he says. “My condition wasn’t much better once I got there, even though I was a really smart kid. I got stuck doing the wrong things.”
“When I graduated, I saw a lot of the kids I was with in middle school and early in high school. We were in the smart classes. But I wasn’t honored like they all were—National Honor Society, yellow ribbons, blue scarves. And they were going to college.” I remember sitting in the auditorium that day feeling awed and dealing with the reality of my situation.”
It was a year before he contacted his former advisor from Upward Bound, the TRIO program at UofSC for high school students that provides access to academic support services and university placement for first-generation students. Duvall was ready to go to college.
His first choice was Berklee College of Music, where he was accepted and received a partial scholarship, but when the bill came in full, he knew he couldn’t afford to attend. He returned to his advisor Upward Bound, and spoke of his interest in music and films.
He told me, ‘USC is just starting a media arts program. You can get a certificate in it. Do you want to try to register with USC? And I said, “Okay, let’s give it a try.” ”
In 1998, two years after graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of South Carolina and majored in media arts. After being away from school for two years, he was focused and ready to excel, jumping into his classes along with internships and jobs. He began making connections with movers and shakers in the worlds of film, television, radio, marketing and communications, and employers who embraced his work ethic, relationships, and technical skills.
Nearly 20 years after earning his bachelor’s degree, Duval continues to work as a video producer and communications specialist specializing in visual storytelling, film education, media strategy and diversity consulting, and has edited, directed, and produced projects for organizations such as VH1, The Discovery Channel, MTV and BET . He founded his own company, OTR Media Group, and is one of the co-founders of Family Hip Hop Day in Colombia: Love, Peace and Hip Hop.
And while he worked and traveled around the country, Colombia remains his main base. He returned to full course this fall, when he began teaching at the School of Visual Arts.
“So now I’m literally taking one of the same classes I sat in as a student 20 years ago,” he says. “The Thread was all the time a movie. And I still do it now. I am very fortunate to do what I wanted to do. There are not many of us, especially in that period of time, who are still working and thriving and succeeding in this field.”
He continues to appreciate the opportunities presented to him as a first-generation student in South Carolina.
“I was one of the TRIO kids at the University of Southern California, Opportunity Seekers Program. If it wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. Upward Bound and TRIO — they played a major role in making this happen.”