Renisha McBride: CAUTION!! Black Girl Approaching!!


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.

CAUTION Black Girl

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.  black girls are aliens

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% .

budget cut

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!



Me?!? A Howard Alum Giving Props to Hampton University?!?

howard pic 2

Ohio State vs. Michigan; Alabama vs. LSU;  Grambling  vs. Southern University…..Colleges and universities are well known for their rivalries.  If you’ve ever heard the question “Who’s the REAL HU?” it’s referring to the rivalry between Hampton University and my alum, Howard University.  Of course, as a proud Howard alum I confidently claim, like the rest of the world should for that matter, that Howard University is the REAL HU, and not Hampton University!  Howard alum are very helpful and quick to let you know that Hampton University only reached “university status” in 1984 after formerly being known as Hampton Institute. So, how could they ever be considered the real HU?  Although,the rivalry between Howard and Hampton is largely friendly, out of fun, love, camaraderie,  and respect for a fellow historically black college and university….it’s usually pretty difficult to  find a Howardite, such as myself that will have a boatload of positive things to say about Hampton University.  But, in this piece Hampton alumni everywhere need to bask in this rare instance where I’m going to give respects to one of our ancestors who is associated with founding Hampton University.  And, why am I giving her props you may ask?  I can’t think of a greater example in demonstrating the FAITH necessary to support the education and mentoring others in dire circumstances, than the one set by Mary Smith Peake.

I just learned about Mary’s story in the Henry Louis Gates PBS special, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.”  Mary Smith Peak, (1823-1862), was an American teacher and humanitarian, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves in the fall of 1861 under what became known as the Emancipation Oak tree in present-day Hampton, Virginia.  Mary was also associated with the founding of Hampton University in 1868.

Mary Smith Peake, educator and co-founder of Hampton University

Mary Smith Peake, educator and co-founder of Hampton University

In the show, Gates and fellow researchers discussed how Mary was so passionate about teaching slaves to read.  She believed that liberating the mind was as important as freeing the body.  So, she taught slaves in secret, breaking the law, and conducted the lessons beneath the branches of this oak tree.  Her school grew quickly from a handful of students to 900.  The slaves were just as determined as she was, and wouldn’t let anything stop them from getting the lessons.  

But, the question is why did Mary take such a risk? And, why did she take such a risk in 1861, the beginning of the civil war?  At the beginning of the civil war, no one even anticipated that a union victory in the war would lead to the end of slavery.  The war wasn’t even about ending slavery at that point, it was moreso about the economic and political battles between the North and South on cotton production and manufacturing.  So, it wasn’t like Mary was just holding on for four more years, with the assurance that teaching these slaves to read would be in preparation for the end of slavery if the North won in 1865.   No, she was doing this work in the absence of any real guarantees.  She was doing the work based on hope, and based on her FAITH.   Mary and others saw it as an opportunity to use their talents and skills to uplift the community.  She believed that she was preparing the slaves to become full citizens…one day.  She had FAITH that her work in teaching them to read would transform the slaves’ lives, but also go towards changing the fate of the nation.  If that isn’t a great example of FAITH, in absence of any reassurance or evidence, then I don’t know what is.  faith quote

I’ve often said that being an entrepreneur helps build your FAITH muscles like nothing else.  When it comes to being a social entrepreneur and leader of a non profit organization, I think that statement can be amplified times ten.  I’ve encountered so many challenges in running Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program in the last four years.  It was a huge risk to leave my career in corporate America to pursue my passion.  And, it was such a huge risk to put myself out there and start Polished Pebbles with no real funding, no assurance of the necessary support, or that it would even be successful for that matter.  And quite frankly, it hasn’t gotten any easier to continue to grow our efforts mentoring girls and encouraging our community to do the same.  School and government budget cuts make servicing our communities in the same capacity, or greater, extremely hard.  How do you continue to commit to our girls, their families, our schools, when it’s hard to see how you can continue to commit to paying staff to do the work, and when it seems that the budget to do so is non-existent!

Family and friends know that when I get frustrated with the challenges in growing my organization, I often jokingly ask myself….”Now, why did I leave my job and my salary again?”  But, when I calm down and put things in perspective, I have to say to myself how can I not continue to persevere to be successful with Polished Pebbles even in seemingly dire circumstances such as the times we’re facing now.  I know that it’s been FAITH that’s gotten us this far, and it’ll be that same FAITH that will continue to transform the lives of the girls and communities we serve, and change the fate of education in our nation today.  Yes, I do get scared often, but how can I seriously consider giving up if I consider the life-threatening FAITH that our ancestors like Mary Smith Peake demonstrated to free us!  Just like Mary and her counterparts,  I will continue to see my work with Polished Pebbles as an opportunity to use my talents and skills to uplift the community.  And, just like Mary I must continue to believe that the work I do prepares our girls to fully realize the possibility of happy, successful, and prosperous lives.  And, that is a cause that worthy of the risks. 



Want to donate to Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program?  Click here: Donate to Polished Pebbles

Want to get more tips and insight on mentoring urban youth and girls? Share and follow,  Want to join us with mentoring at Polished Pebbles?  Email us at info@polishedpebbles.

“Lady K In Waiting” Welcome To Kelly Fair The Mentor!

k in waiting

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.



Worried About What You Have To Offer?

2013 open houseA couple of weeks ago at our Polished Pebbles’ Open House for interested mentors and volunteers, over 50 women made the commitment to challenge themselves to declare at least one thing that they have to offer the Polished Pebbles girls, community, and organization. They participated in a 7-day social media challenge were they included things like:

Picture 13Quite often far too many of us feel ill equipped to tackle the issues in our community, but the reality is that we have everything that we need for healing and empowerment! So, join us and declare at least one thing today that you have to offer the Polished Pebbles community, or the girls or youth in your community!  Is it your commitment, positive attitude, marketing skills, fundraising skills? What do you have to offer? Please let us know below in the comments section.

If you’re interested in volunteering or mentoring with Polished Pebbles in Chicago, email us at Our next mentor/volunteer orientation will be September 28th from 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. at the Chicago Urban League (4510 S. Michigan Avenue) or visit the Polished Pebbles page for more information

Interested in mentoring in other communities across the country, please check out databases of other mentoring programs at National CARES Mentoring Movement

Mentor Moment: I Was Here

“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.

Slide1Chanta 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.