A passionate advocate for girls, Kelly Fair is a sought after speaker and panelist for mentoring issues and topics that affect young women.
In 2009, Fair began her acclaimed Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program, designed to empower girls ages 7-17 to grow into confident and effective communicators at home, school, and in their neighborhoods.
Since the group’s first meeting with just two girls present, Polished Pebbles has gone on to work with over 2,000 African-American and Latina girls and provided over 500 mentors to girls in more than 40 sites throughout Chicago, including University of Chicago charter schools, numerous Chicago Public Schools, and several Chicago Housing Authority communities.
Kelly and her Polished Pebbles are hosting the “Chicago Girls Takeover” fundraising reception on Saturday, October 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Renaissance Bronzeville, 4641 South King Drive.
The event is in celebration of “The International Day of the Girl,” an annual global event to raise awareness about mentoring and nurturing girls around the world. The official date for this observance is October 11.
N’DIGO recently spoke with Kelly to learn more about Polished Pebbles and her other endeavors.
N’DIGO: In your own words, who is Kelly Fair?
Kelly Fair: Kelly Fair is a girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was blessed to have been mentored by various powerful women to see her true potential and be prepared for a successful future career. It was through this mentoring that I realized that as long as I worked hard, had a great skills set, and had great faith in myself and God, I could do anything.
So today I mentor girls, young women, and young professionals because I can personally attest to the powerful impact of mentoring, and also because it is my awesome responsibility to give back to others and keep the cycle of mentoring going.
That’s why the Polished Pebbles motto “Together She Will SHINE” means so much to me not only as a symbol for our organization, but also as a mantra that reminds me of how I grew from a shy girl to become the confident woman that I am today.
Tell us about Polished Pebbles and the reasons you put the organization together.
Polished Pebbles focuses on helping girls become great communicators at home, school, and the future workplace. We mean “communicators” in every sense of the word. It means making sure girls know how to introduce themselves to someone new for the first time. We call that SHINING. SHINE is an acronym: S-smile, H-hello, I-introduce yourself, N-nod your head, and E-end the conversation.
Since we started, Polished Pebbles has grown to serve girls not only in Chicago, but also in Indiana, Texas, and there’s a college edition of the program at Duke University. All of our girls and young ladies look forward to the culminating event, which involves job shadows and career mentoring initiatives with national and global businesses, including Microsoft, Bloomingdale’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Hyatt, and Ascena Retail Companies.
What are some of your personal keys to successfully mentoring young women?
To remember not to judge her, because we’re all on a journey. Even as adults we all have different things that we’re working on, and working with. We must remember that young girls and teenagers are no different. So if we remember this, we’ll use more compassion and patience in our mentoring approach.
Remember, it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, no mentor should feel like she, or he, has to have all the answers mentoring girls. I’m always asking questions of my own mentors, my mother, my sisters, friends, and women in my network, when I’m challenged with different things that mentoring young girls presents me with.
So, being a good mentor involves realizing you don’t have all the answers. The people in your network can support you in being the best mentor you can be. Additionally, girls often are really impressed, and more willing to trust you, when they know you’re being transparent.
Sometimes it’s important to tell them you don’t have the answers, and you might need to ask someone else’s support as well. That goes a long way in making girls feel that you are a great mentor worthy of their trust.
Also, it’s always important for every mentor to realize that each girl, despite how different she may appear – they all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations, and need someone to support them along the way. Often a great mentor is that individual that can see past the differences and focus on helping her achieve all those things.
Who are some of the mentors that especially shaped your outlook or view on life?
I’ve had a wonderful experience being mentored by a variety of different women throughout my life, starting with my mother, Julie Fair, who is also an entrepreneur, Betty Clawson of Dudley’s Beauty College, and Carol Dudley of Howard University.
One of my most impactful mentors was the Reverend Dr. Linda Shepard. Linda taught me almost everything that I know about working with girls, women, and also in our communities.
She introduced me to organizations locally like Women Employed, helped me strategize career moves, understand the power of communicating with people from all types of backgrounds, and that women too often don’t ask for help when building powerful teams and allowing that help to contribute, which is a critical ingredient for success.
She was awesome. Linda had been an elected official, corporate executive, worked in Jimmy Carter’s White House, but you could often find her in a “hole in the wall” establishment in our neighborhood, stepping and eating a chicken dinner. I find that example she set in being a diverse and devastatingly competent communicator to be refreshingly powerful.
You’ve written a book called They’re All The Same Girl. What was the inspiration for that?
I wrote the book to essentially compile the lessons that we learned building the Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program over the last eight years. We saw this as a great opportunity to share with others the experiences and steps that we took to grow the program from two to 2,000 girls.
We’ve found that people are not just apathetically watching all the challenges youth are experiencing on television. Instead, people are actively looking for solutions to support youth and seek instructions and inspiration to do something impactful.
At Polished Pebbles, we are invested in making sure communities, and community members, take ownership in mentoring young people in their own schools and neighborhoods. All that they need to achieve this is the inspiration and “how-to” in order to get sustainable mentoring relationships and programs for youth started.
The book gives them that insight on how to achieve this. The title came from recognizing that no matter how many girls we served, and how different they may have seemed from the outset, regardless if they came from different schools, neighborhoods, different states, or young ladies studying at a prestigious university like Duke – all the girls have the same needs, the same aspirations, the same hopes, and they are all in need of the same type of mentoring support.
So instead of dividing girls and thinking so much about their differences, it’s important that mentors and mentoring programs focus on how they’re all the same girl capable of achieving the same high levels of success.
You participated in the 2017 Global Ambassadors Program. Give us some insight on that.
That is a flagship program of Vital Voices, which was founded by Hillary Clinton, and sponsored by the Bank of America. Twelve female entrepreneurs and leaders, like myself, from all around the world were chosen to participate in a week of collective and individual mentoring in Chicago.
We got matched up with proven women leaders and entrepreneurs from all over the globe to help us reach our top business and leadership potential. This was an awesome opportunity for me to be a native daughter of the South Side of Chicago and be mentored right alongside women from India, Australia, Turkey, and South Africa.
My mentor happened to be from Zurich, Switzerland. We reviewed business plans and talked about some of the challenges and opportunities for growth in our business. In this nurturing environment, we got to talk about who we are personally as women, how diverse women’s leadership styles can be, but we also celebrated the commonalities we share as strong women working hard to make changes in our own respective communities and parts of the world.
It was a great opportunity for me to see how strong my skill sets are not only in Chicago and the United States, but also how I collaborated really well with women leaders from around the world. I’m grateful that Vital Voices and the Bank of America see the value in investing in women like me.
It’s that same kind of passion and commitment that I have been investing in our girls knowing the positive changes that they’ll bring to our community and our world in the future.
What can attendees expect from the upcoming “Chicago Girls Takeover” fundraiser event?
Polished Pebbles will be leading Chicago in celebrating the 2017 United Nations International Day of the Girl, On October 7 with our #ChicagoGirlsTakeOver reception to support girls in our community. The funds raised will help our girls become future leaders and change makers.
The takeover is inspired by every time Polished Pebbles partners with local businesses to give girls opportunities to participate in career mentoring initiatives and job shadowing.
Essentially, Polished Pebbles mentees for eight years have been going out to some of the world’s greatest companies and taking over their employment mentors’ jobs, learning and working in different industries, including technology, retail, fashion, financing, and hospitality.
The event will honor an elite group of honorees, including entrepreneurs and community leaders, who all make a difference in our communities. The honorees include the Mayor of Gary, Indiana, Karen Freeman-Wilson; Indiana State Senator Eddie Melton; marketing and advertising veteran Ella Britton Gibson; and international hairstylist Chris Curse.
Attendees can expect to network with some of Chicago’s most engaged and enterprising community members, including our co-chairs, entrepreneur and philanthropist Dawn Millhouse and educator Shayne Evans, and of course our honorary chair, media maven Deborah Farmer.
Do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
One of my favorite quotes is from Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine. She said, “Like pebbles in a bag, we all polish one another.” That quote served as the inspiration for the name Polished Pebbles.
Also, some of the most powerful words of wisdom that I’ve seen, and rely upon daily being a female entrepreneur from Chicago, are from President Barack Obama. I saw a quote from him that says, “I’m from Chicago, I don’t break.”
This quote speaks to the type of grit and determination that it takes for women like myself to be successful in growing a grassroots organization and also growing a successful social enterprise. For me, the quote also highlights how well Chicago has served as a training ground for developing my leadership ability, business acumen, and ability to influence global leaders and change makers.
What’s next for Kelly Fair and Polished Pebbles?
People should expect Polished Pebbles in upcoming years to continue to create communications competencies for girls as young as elementary school to college students and young adults that ensure young women’s employability and impact in the future workplace.
Our vision is to continue to create training services and curriculums that will help young women shape the future workplace. I see myself continuing to grow as an advocate, author, speaker, and essentially a storyteller who continues to bring awareness and support to the issues impacting girls and women all over the world – but particularly girls growing up in under-resourced communities in the United States. These girls, and their needs, too often go overlooked.
(For more information or to financially support the organization, please visit www.polishedpebbles.com)