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2017 Women of Heritage: Sharia M. Benn

By  | 
Director of Underwriting Initiatives at Penn National Insurance
Actress & Co-founder, Sankofa African American Theatre Company
Sharia M. Benn is a Baltimore native and graduate of Towson University. She holds one of the
insurance industry’s most prestigious designations, the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter
(CPCU). Currently, Sharia is the Director of Underwriting Initiatives at Penn National Insurance.
In the community, Sharia serves on the Board of Directors for Open Stage of Harrisburg and the Cultural
Enrichment Fund. Sharia served as a founding board member for Bridge of Hope Harrisburg Area. She
is a volunteer with the YWCA’s Women Leadership Network and She is also part of the founding team
for Sankofa African American Theatre Company of Harrisburg, a regional professional theatre.
As an actor, Sharia shares her knowledge of the African-American experience as she combines acting
and historical studies to engage contemporary audiences. She has appeared in major roles in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ma Rainey; Fences, Rose; A Raisin in the Sun, Lena/Momma and To Kill A Mockingbird, Calpurnia. In 2012, Sharia won the BroadwayWorld.com’s Central PA’s Best Actress Award for her performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. She has been the recipient of Open Stage of Harrisburg’s Women Who Care award, the Tribute to Woman of Excellence by the Harrisburg YWCA of Harrisburg, the Earth Angel award from Rejoice, Inc., and the Adult Black Achiever Award by the Camp Curtain
YMCA of Harrisburg.
Throughout my life I’ve had to develop the ability to speak in many different voices. The first voice I learned as a child was my inside voice. It was a quiet, whispery, be-seen-but-not-heard-voice. Then there was that glorious moment, in my twenties, I discovered my middle-of-the-night-colic-calming mommy voice. In my 30s, I found my climb-the-corporate-ladder and projecting-stage-presence voices.
In my 40s, I used the “I’m here for you” voice so much that it made my soul weak and weary. But by 50, the one voice that I so desperately needed to be heard, respected and accepted seemed to get a serious case of laryngitis each time I attempted to give it space to speak. It was the true me voice, my Sharia-voice, which had been silenced by years of living in fear, rejection, oppression, depression and insecurity.
And now, in this early Fall season of my life, I’m just figuring out that my Sharia-voice wasn’t to be silenced by these experiences, rather it was to be louder, stronger and give birth to greater things (like Sanfoka African American theatre right here in Harrisburg). To find my true voice, I just needed to give myself permission to V.O.I.C.E (Volumize Opportunities Inside Challenging Experiences). What
a game-changer!

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