Financial Entrepreneur Shawnique Cotton

Shawnique CottonShawnique Cotton is pushing through health setbacks to make her first million dollars and help others with disabilities reach financial self-sufficiency. And she’s doing it in memory of her brother, Karsten.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

When Shawnique and Karsten Cotton were in their early 20s, they started a race to see who would make their first million.

From an early age, the two knew how to flip any item and make a profit — a strategy Shawnique, who is now 50, still uses today. But for her, the race to $1 million was put on hold. Not because she became a C7 quadriplegic after being shot in the back by a stranger at a Pittsburgh nightclub in 1991, but because, years later, she battled dizziness, extreme fatigue and sensitivity to light and sound.

“I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t hold a traditional job,” says Cotton. “I had a small convenience store back in the ’90s. I’d try to work it myself, but I’d get real sick and ended up having to hire people to run it for me.”

Shawnique Cotton
Then, in 2018, Cotton attended a presentation from a fellow quadriplegic who was the peer outreach coordinator for the Brain Injury Alliance. As he spoke, she realized she wasn’t dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome, but with a traumatic brain injury from hitting her head on the nightclub floor following the shooting. Armed with this new information, doctors gave her the tools to rejoin society.

“I just have to do things moderately. I plan everything out,” she says. “If someone sends me to a speaking engagement, I prepare three days in advance to make sure I’m well rested. I’ve changed my diet by eating less meat and working toward vegetarianism. My life has done a 180, and I’m grateful.”

Shawnique CottonHer road to recovery from her TBI led to a successful reign as Ms. Wheelchair Arizona 2019. Her platform was about leadership and financial self-sufficiency — a message she continues to spread as the president of United Spinal Association of Arizona, where she runs workshops on investing and financial literacy.

Cotton is flexing her entrepreneurial muscles again as she prepares to establish an alternative lending business for entrepreneurs. “Now I’m ready to start the race back up,” she says. She got a huge boost when she invested part of the $500,000 settlement she received from the nightclub in a long-term annuity.

Unfortunately, her brother can’t continue the race, as he died of bladder cancer in 2017. Watching the obstacles he faced reinforced for her the importance of financial self-sufficiency for those with disabilities. “When Karsten was sick, there were people who took control of his money and robbed him. I want to teach people how to spot situations like these among their caregivers, so they can remain financially independent and not get taken advantage of,” says Cotton. Because of what her brother went through, she is contemplating running for office to make it harder to commit caregiver fraud in Arizona.

In the meantime, she is determined to finish the race. “I’m striving for $1 million just for him,” she says. “But his situation taught me we need proper representation and advocacy for all people. Even with my health issues, I’ve never been one to sit around and mope in the corner. I’m a believer that most things are possible.”

Making it Happen

Cotton loves being a grandmother to baby Kai.
Cotton loves being a grandmother to baby Kai.

Cotton had a miscarriage after being shot, but became pregnant again three months later. She successfully raised two children as a single mother with an SCI, TBI and little support from disability agencies.

“I made it happen. I’ve never used adapted equipment. I didn’t have resources at the time, so I used a regular crib. I used a regular stove. I carried my baby around on my lap in a manual chair. Had I known about power chairs, I would’ve got one, but there weren’t any agencies helping me.

My rehab sucked. When I got homecare to help with the cleaning, they were lazy. It was 26 years before I accessed any services again. I cleaned my house, and when my baby would break through the gate, I used to have to crawl downstairs to retrieve him. I washed my walls with a long pole made from mops and rubber bands to make it extend. I cleaned my house every day. I wasn’t the best cook, and my kids ate a lot of prepared food, but they were grateful.

They said, ‘Mom, you can educate so many people because we see them complaining, and you’ve never complained.’ I just kept positive.”

One Piece of Legislation I’d Love To See:
Medicare for All, because my mom died after the insurance company wouldn’t cover her medication.

ShawniqueHealth-SummitCan’t Live Without:
I have a Quickie manual chair. It’s orange, it’s bright, and I love it because it truly fits who I am on the inside.

Favorite Piece of Adapted Technology:
The SmartDrive. I didn’t even know the SmartDrive existed until recently.

What Do You Get Out of Your Affiliation With United Spinal Association?
Hope, joy and happiness. They gave me a platform to do my workshops, and now I’m back.

** This post was originally published on

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