I’m motivated to continue my work in mentoring, because I’m a successful byproduct of strong Chicago-based youth mentoring and job readiness initiatives. So, I know personally that mentoring works, which is why am excited every time a new company jumps on board to providing career-related mentoring to our girls. Join me and the Trust on May 12th to commit to making our region better. Continue reading
The first time I saw this picture on the news I had to do a double-take. This young lady looked so familiar. Every time I look at this picture I see the face of one of the girls that live on my block, the girls I pass waiting on the bus stop, or the girls in the halls of the schools I support here in Chicago. And, more than anything when I see this picture, I feel like I’m gazing into the eyes of the over 500 girls I’ve served through Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program. Renisha McBride may have been a teenager living in Detroit, but ultimately she could have been one of my girls, and perhaps one of the girls in your community too.
If you’re not familiar with the Renisha McBride story, she’s the 19-year-old young woman who was shot and killed while seeking help after a single car accident she had been in. The accident occurred in the Dearborn Heights neighborhood, a suburb of Detroit. When McBride stepped on 54-year-old Theodore Paul Wafer’s porch knocked on his door for assistance early on the morning of November 2, the man, in his home, wound up shooting her from a distance claiming it was an accident and he feared that she was trying to break in. Wafer has since been charged with murder in the second degree, manslaughter and possession of a firearm. Many have labeled this to have been an instance of racial profiling, and the prosecutor in the case made the following statement:
“We obviously do not feel that the evidence in this case reveals that the defendant acted in lawful self defense.There is no evidence of forced entry into the home. Our evidence shows she knocked on the locked screen door. The charging decision has nothing to do whatsoever with the race of the parties. Whether it becomes relevant later on, I don’t know.”
Autopsy reports of the 19-year-old show that McBride’s blood alcohol content was three times the legal driving limit for the state of Michigan and that she had marijuana in her system when she was driving. As for the shooting, many believe that it was motivated by race; that Wafer possibly saw a black woman standing on his porch late at night and assumed the worst. But her family and community just want to know why his initial reaction was to shoot first. Their attorney, Gerald Thurswell, spoke out for the family:
“If he had called 911 when he heard her outside his house, they would have been there within two minutes and she would be alive today. Maybe she would have been arrested for being intoxicated, but she would not be dead.”
The 19-year-old had just received a job at Ford after graduating from high school, and her family reportedly described her as an outgoing and friendly young woman.
I learned about Renisha’s story as I watched some of my favorite public affairs news shows and they were discussing the similarities between this case and the racial profiling in the shootings of other unarmed black teens such as the highly publicized Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell cases. But, they also talked about a prevalent “fear and loathing of black bodies” and it seems that black boys like Trayvon are vulnerable, but now after Renisha’s case it seems that black girls are just as vulnerable in our society. Many media outlets have been linking this case with the many prevalent and historical stereotypes about black women as being overly aggressive, less feminine and more masculine, being most useful as the sturdy women who have served as domestics for many years. These stereotypes that seem to affirm beliefs that black women can not be considered as possible victims of rape, or quite simply that black women in our society are in fact in less of need of help, or protection. One of the discussions even asserted that its stereotypes such as this that could lead someone to see a 5 foot and 4 inches, 19 yr. old teenage- girl like Renisha McBride as threatening enough to shoot. I found many of the points and conclusions in these arguments to be convincing, and have some validity. But, it all got me to thinking a little bit deeper about this situation regarding how black girls in America are viewed. As an African American woman, it may seem more obvious that I could understand the likelihood of Renisha being racially profiled in a predominately white suburb of Detroit. This seems to be a more likely story and unfortunately, all too familiar story. But, what’s more alarming is how I’ve observed how black girls are being negatively profiled by members of our OWN community.
After over 10 years experience in education and youth development, and over 4 years running Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program, I’ve gotten to know lots of wonderful young ladies and their families. When I’m out and about and I tell people about my career mentoring girls here in Chicago, I frequently get many “pats on the back” and receive sentiments of genuine sincere support and appreciation for my work. But, that expressed appreciation is many times also decorated with tones of disdain and disapproval about the current state of black girls. People are so quick to say to me things like “Good, THOSE girls need it”,or “THOSE girls are lost.” And, I often think to myself, when did the girls living in our communities stop being OUR girls and become THOSE girls? It’s almost as if were no longer talking about young black girls that live and are educated in our communities, and our cities, and essentially products of us as a people. No, it’s more like were talking about a race of aliens that have swooped down and invaded our neighborhoods with disrespectful and unmotivated approaches to their own lives and lives of others. And, we don’t know how these alien black girls got here, and why they act the way they do.
It just feels like far too many of us in the African American community have a real discomfort, and honestly a disconnect with our own girls. We’re so frustrated with what we’re seeing as the end product in their some times inappropriate dress, appearance, attitude, and seeming lack of aptitude. I mean, I get it, and understand the frustration. I’m on the front lines of it all through my daily work. But, what’s troubling to me is that we’re not willing as a community to do the hard work of being non-judgmental and understanding enough to be honest about the reasons why our girls do what they do. When you work day to day with youth as I have over the last ten years, you get a better sense of why the surface behaviors that we often associate with our girls exist. That young lady on the bus stop is loud, because it’s a defense mechanism she’s developed to defend her reputation and earn respect in her neighborhood. She’s quick with her tongue, and fast to get snappy with you because she can’t trust anyone. She doesn’t trust anyone, because in many instances the initial people who were supposed to love her, nurture her, and help her learn what true trust and love could look like, abandoned those responsibilities, and essentially she’s raising herself. And, when you’re living in a community with an under resourced schools and economic opportunities you’re already at a disadvantage at being less aware of opportunities that may be available to you. So, why dress any different? Why aspire and participate in activities that happen in a world seemingly so far far away from your day-to-day survival?
It just seems sometimes at times that it’s no love our her for our black girls. I reluctantly “get called out” and get drawn in social media debates about the state of black girls and black women. Often the tones are very accusatory, lack empathy, and don’t involve any real desire to identify the root causes for these challenges. And, I walk away saying, when did so many of us in our community feel like it was okay to fall in the stereotypes too, and think that our black girls don’t need to be protected, don’t need to helped, and just don’t need to be loved? But, if we won’t be sensitive enough to love them in even really tough times such as this, then who will? We may not have the man that pulled the trigger on Renisha McBride, but perhaps the self esteem and hope of a young black girl in our community dies every time we refuse to place judgement to the side, learn her story, and help her. And, how do we learn that story of that girl you ask? MENTOR!! Get involved with a mentoring organization and volunteer, or at the very least support their work in some way.
And, we need as much support as we can get. At Polished Pebbles, we’re working with our girls to learn how to overcome the challenges they face as black girls in our communities by developing effective communication skills, and the necessary confidence. We have been able to follow a network of girls, but with decreased funding due to a tough economy and frequent budget cuts to already under-resourced communities and educational systems, it is becoming tougher to do that. As you can see below, our operating budget has been slashed significantly by almost 70% .
We are doing our best to maintain those relationships and continue to serve almost the same amount of girls on a budget that is five times smaller than what we operated on last year. However, we need your help. In just four years Polished Pebbles has grown to serve over five-hundred girls, and we want to continue to be able to serve this amount and more!
Please donate to Polished Pebbles so we can continue to serve young girls and provide them with the skills to build positive and successful futures!
I thank you for loving our girls, and your continued support!
Examples of Women Working Together:
Which example will we choose to exhibit for our girls?
I’d like to share the story of two girls who both participated in Second Saturday’s Program of Polished Pebbles, the mentoring program I founded in Chicago. The Second Saturday’s program is monthly workshop that is free and open to girls throughout Chicagoland, but it also includes a network of girls who participate in Polished Pebbles’ after school programs through out the year, at different partnering schools and communities. Two girls from two different communities in Chicago, Altgeld Gardens and Dearborn Homes, met each other for the first time at the Second Saturdays Program, and struck up a friendship. Let’s say their names are “Tenisha” &” Mariah.” That friendship that started at monthly Polished Pebbles meetings turned into calling each other, sending text messages, and even working together at the same summer job.
As funding for education and youth initiatives seems to be frequently under fire in under-resourced communities, at the beginning of this school year, it looked as though our service to three of the communities of girls we worked with for two years would be cut. This meant that we would no longer be able to support the girls in the two communities that both “Tenisha” and “Mariah” resided in. Potentially losing the opportunity to work with these girls was devastating, because we didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship we had built with the girls of these communities. Additionally, many of our girls are facing so many challenges in their daily lives, including maintaining trust with people because they’ve been let down so often. We didn’t want Polished Pebbles to be yet another group of adults who let them down and broke their trust.
When the word got out to the women who volunteer and mentor with Polished Pebbles they put their heads and resources together. The were firm in ensuring we would be able to continue to work with these girls no matter the obstacles. Now, you must know this is a large and very eclectic group of women from different professions, backgrounds, neighborhoods, walks of life, veteran mentors, and women volunteering for the very first time. But, all differences were put aside when the best interest of our girls were involved. They raised the money to cover the costs for the girls to participate in the upcoming bowling trip, and the funds to bus them to our Second Saturday program throughout the school year.
Because of the support of these women working together, we are able to maintain our relationships with the three communities of girls . Because of these women working together, the girls didn’t have to again experience abandonment and a lack of love. The support of these women working together enables Polished Pebbles mentees to maintain their relationships with girls from different communities throughout Chicagoland that they’ve established in the Polished Pebbles Network. And, because of these powerful women working together, the friendship between our two girls from two different communities, “Tenisha” & “Mariah”, is solidified even further. Now, they can continue to SEE each other monthly and learn together at the Polished Pebbles Second Saturdays program-the place where they initially met.
As the Role Models and mentors in this group mentoring initiative, Polished Pebbles, or any mentoring program in any city for that matter, it is our duty to foster a culture of seamless relationships of WOMEN and GIRLS Working Together in unison and purpose. From this story you can tell we’re doing just that. But, the work isn’t done. We have to constantly work to make sure that we are modeling what strong working relationships, friendships, and networks of women should look like, and that starts with how we plan and prepare for the work we do with our girls! Demonstrating positive examples of teamwork is definitely a “Cornerstone of Effective Mentoring.” We can’t let the poor and misleading examples depicted in reality TV series be the only examples of how our girls see women, and women of color ,interact. It’s a lot of work, but I’m encouraged. What a wonderful journey we’re embarking upon. I couldn’t be more excited to journey with a greater group of women!
Got my bags packed!
Want to get more tips and insight on mentoring urban youth and girls? Share and follow, http://www.kellyfairthementor.wordpress.com. Want to join us with mentoring at Polished Pebbles? Email us at info@polishedpebbles.
For the last four years, with Polished Pebbles, I have been empowering girls throughout Chicagoland to find their voices by equipping them with effective communications skills, providing access to proper mentors, and exposure to powerful life experiences. It has been an awesome experience to reach over 500 girls with the assistance of numerous organizations, businesses, and hundreds of volunteers and supporters. But, perhaps what’s been most amazing for me is the opportunity I’ve had to grow right along with the girls, personally and professionally. I often share with the girls that a big of part of my drive in starting Polished Pebbles lies in the truth that I too was a shy girl, and it took me until I got to college to really unleash my leadership abilities, and build my confidence.
I had a personal mentor of mine who always impressed upon me that “we’re always teaching, and we’re always learning.” I’ve had lots of growing pains building Polished Pebbles, and finding my voice in this new venture has been a journey. But, I’ve come to realize now that we’ve learned a lot in creating Polished Pebbles and growing it from a single site group mentoring program with less than 20 mentors and only 2 girls at our first monthly meeting, to a program that has served 500 girls through 15 program sites serving University of Chicago Charter Schools, Chicago Public Schools, and the Chicago Housing Authority. I feel impelled and that it’s my responsibility to our communities to share some of what we’ve grown through during this Polished Pebbles experience; this will include strategies that we’ve learned, and knowledge gained from staff, volunteers, partners, and of course our girls.
Every Thursday, you can expect a weekly update to this blog, “Kelly Fair The Mentor” including:
- Encouragement and support in realizing the role each of us can play in impacting our youth
- Tips and strategies on strengthening mentoring efforts in your communities
- Insight from our rock-star staff, volunteers, and families, and of course our girls!
As I continue to grow and develop along with Polished Pebbles, I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
“I wanna leave my footprints on the sands of time
Know there was something that, meant something that I left behind
When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets
Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget. I was here…”
Sometimes I like to start my session playing the melodic Beyonce tune “I Was Here,” not because Bey knows how to get the party started, but to remind the girls that our legacies begin here and now in Polished Pebbles discovering, defining, and delivering our voices to the rest of the world.
When I tell people I work for a girls mentoring program they often think I’m some type of crusader equipped with nail polish, friendship bracelets, unlimited relationship advice, and a pink cape. That idea could not be further from the truth. I‘m actually just a south side girl with tons of flaws, and not nearly enough “right” answers, icebreakers, or time to achieve every objective. I’m sure if you ask any of my “pebbles,” colleagues, or interns they will all have something different to say because everyone has a different perspective as to what Polished Pebbles is all about.
To understand the Polished Pebbles organization you must first understand the name. The name Polished Pebbles is inspired by a quote from Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine’s last book, All About Love, were she talks about the strength of relationships propelling our personal growth. The quote is, “Like pebbles in a bag we all polish one another.” And polishing one another is truly what we do. When I say polish, I don’t mean adorning the girls with pencil skirts and pearls, but empowering them to be bold and fearless change agents. Changing what and how they communicate to the world first and taking what they have learned back to their classmates, families, and communities. School administrators and parents are some of the first to notice the changes in our students so developing and maintaining substantial relationships with school administrators and parents has been crucial to ensuring the success of our girls. Also, if we are going to be honest, I’m on a journey of self-discovery alongside the girls. Everyday that I work with the girls I’m teaching them to discover their voices, and I am undoubtedly fine-tuning my own voice and better understanding my strengths and weaknesses. Trust me, there is nothing like a 7th grader helping you take a self- assessment to understand what you are not good at.
I met Kelly a year ago and decided to join the Polished Pebbles team. I immediately knew I was joining a “different” type of team. While sitting in Kelly’s very pink office she began pouring into me the confidence to share my personal story with my students. The reality is that no one wants to be vulnerable, not even with a 7 year old. However, being an authentic leader required me to share my own insecurities, failures, and triumphs. Those hours with Kelly helped me to understand that asserting my personal power meant telling my story. Kelly and I have had more Iyanla moments that I can count and as a result, I was polished professionally and given opportunities to hone my grant writing and partnership development skills when others had not given me that opportunity. These experiences were not just my experiences but it is the Polished Pebbles experience. It wasn’t just about polishing the girls but about each and every one of us, students, staff, and volunteers included, leaving this experience better than when we came.
Chanta Williams graduated cum laude from Spelman College with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Chanta serves as a Workshop Facilitator and Development Associate for the Polished Pebbles Girl’s Mentoring Program. She honed many of her development talents serving as a Junior Associate Intern at Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates non-profit consulting firm. Serving as an independent educational consultant she has assisted designing successful one on one peer-mentoring program for the Chicago Scholars, designing and implementing curriculum for various Chicago area college access and youth programs.