By Michael Feder
It wasn’t until she moved back to Texas in seventh grade that she truly experienced racism for the first time, she says. She went to school in a predominantly white neighborhood with predominantly white students. She didn’t fit in culturally with them. On the other hand, light skin and a Colorado accent left her feeling alienated from her Black peers.
It took some time to adjust, but by the time she reached high school, Rone had found her place on the track team. Her mother, while supportive, felt that Rone should be more well rounded in her pursuits.
“My mother was like, ‘You’re a tomboy!’” Rone says, laughing. At her mother’s behest, she enrolled in a John Robert Powers Modeling School. This experience helped Rone develop confidence socially. It taught her about authenticity, or in her words, “How do you show up with who you are at your best?”
During this time, she developed important skills that would help her advocate for herself and influence others, skills she uses every day in her current role. Her freshman year, she entered the Miss Flame Pageant, a Texas-based youth beauty pageant. She became the first Black person to place in the top four finalists of that pageant.
Soon after that, things took a detour for Rone. During her sophomore year of high school, she fell in love with the high school running back. Then she found out that she was pregnant.
“That. Was. My. Pivot. In. Life,” Rone says, underscoring the point. She grew up with a Christian background and felt a sense of “ridicule” from her family. The pressure may have been too much for someone else, but not for Rone. She took her pregnancy in stride, making it her mission to prove that “it did not matter how you start, but that it mattered how you finished.”
With a child on the way, there were plans and goals she needed to readdress[CH1] . Rone started on an accelerated path toward graduation and worked hard to achieve a high level of academic recognition. She graduated early and, after giving birth, she entered the Miss Flame Pageant again but didn’t win.
As it turns out, her pregnancy played a major role in this loss. When local parents realized she had been judged unfairly, they fought to have her candidacy reconsidered.
“Here I was exposed to advocacy,” she says of those parents. That, as it turned out, was another seed that would flourish later on in Rone’s passions and work.
The following years saw Rone working hard to support her family, which had grown to three children. She started out at Sonic when she was 16 and worked her way up to become a training coordinator, a role that gave Rone her first taste of corporate America.
She eventually found a role in information technology, a field she would continue to thrive in for 26 years. She worked at a variety of companies from JCPenney to Perot Systems and finally American Airlines.
In 2005, she pursued her first degree at University of Phoenix (UOPX): a Bachelor of Science in Management. At that point in her career, she felt she needed a degree to justify to her employer that she was an employee who was worth a competitive salary.
Though she looked at several universities at the time, Rone settled on UOPX because she could attend during evening hours. This gave her the flexibility to work around her day job.
At first, Rone didn’t take to the learning-team concept at UOPX, but she soon realized how important working with others would be in her future career.
“Once I shifted the way I looked at the program,” she says, “I became successful.” She leveraged the learning teams as a social circle, allowing her to network and build friendships, many of which she still has today.