The beauty in pearls becomes evident through their radiant shine. Kelly Fair the founder of Polished Pebbles is bringing out the best in young girls and by doing this the world is livelier and more vibrant when all pearls are allowed to shine. Since its foundation over 7 years ago, Polished Pebbles Program has inspired and mentored over a thousand girls from neighborhoods in Chicago. The program has 30 operational sites across the city offering after school mentoring to the girls in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing authority, university of Chicago Charter Schools and Citizen Schools.
Herein is a one- on- one interview with Kelly Fair, the founder of Polished Pebbles.
Q: I love the name Polished Pebbles, please explain where the name came from?
A: I started Polished Pebbles 7 years ago shortly after deciding to leave my corporate job. I wanted to get more involved with community work and working with young people. Since I was a little girl I loved Essence magazines. I loved looking at the women in the magazines. To me they were beautiful and they seemed like family women, like my mom. I loved reading “In the Spirit” by then editor Susan Taylor. She started writing books and they got me through college. Not long after deciding to leave my corporate career, I attended one of her book signings for her latest book, “All About Love.” One of the chapters discussed the importance of relationships and there was a quote that stated “Like pebbles in the bag, we all polish one another” and I thought it would be excellent to use that as an inspiration for the program that I had been conceptualizing at that time.
Q: What made you choose to only work with girls?
A: Well first, I’m a girl. I know what the power of good communication skills can have for girls. It helps with conflict resolution, problem solving, and avoiding violence. It’s important to really do a good job in one area before moving out to other things. There are so many needs that girls have and so many are unaware, so there’s a lot of work to be done in this space.
Q: About how many girls do you serve each year?
A: This year we have 250 – 300 girls.
Q: What are some of the barriers you see for the girls you serve?
A: One issue is living in communities plagued by violence, trying to figure out how to survive in that. Many are dealing with sexual abuse and no one knows and it goes unreported. Imagine the trauma that causes. They live in communities that are economically under resourced. They say black kids do not want work; we need to create a culture of careers. And poverty, students are coming to school hungry. Also, 50 schools closed in the last couple years, mostly in black communities. What does that say about yourself as a child growing up in the city when you are walking pass multiple of abandoned schools in your own community? There are a variety of different things that are attacking our young people. That’s too much for any kid to deal with.
Q: Have the schools closings been a topic of discussion among your girls?
A: Not specifically about schools closing but we have a program called Power to the Pebble, where we work with girls to help them understand how finding their voice and constantly training their voice to speak up for issues in their schools and communities can be a career options for them. But also a necessity to impact change in their community. So that can be a topic that could come up. Some of the things kids do talk about is trust in large, of the city, of life. They discuss community and police relations.
Q: Please tell me more about Power to the Pebble
A: Power to the Pebble gives the girls more options and possibilities of where they can see themselves in the future. We introduced them to Alderman Leslie Hairston, she gave the girls a tour of her office in the South Shore Cultural Center and talked to them about what her career path was like and how they can achieve it as well. The main thing they kept saying was that they were amazed that she was so down to earth. They look at people like her as separate from them and not like them.
Also, girls from Harper high school got the chance to meet Dorothy Brown and she talked about her history in activism and how she found her voice in college. The girls now recognize that these are real women that are like them.
Q: Can you tell me about some of your programs success? Maybe there some positive stories you can share?
A: You know how sometimes a child might not stand out and you might not be sure of the impact you are having. One time one of the girls tweeted, “I’m going to my first job interview I hope I can remember everything Ms. Fair taught me.” She didn’t come all the time but she got what she needed and was able to apply it. That’s powerful. Seemingly small but we had an impact. We also just had our first generation of college pebbles mentees from our community program. Pretty much all have gone to college. They’ve also kept their word and are giving back to others.
One of our young ladies, Samica Davis, a Morgan Park high school student, took part in one of our job programs. She got an internship with one of our partners in business and she used those skills to land additional jobs. We helped her apply for the Black Girls Rock leadership camp. She was 1 of 65 selected globally.
Last but not least, we have girls who started out as mentees who are now on the other side and assisting us with new girls. It’s great to witness their growth.
Q: How can someone help to continue the vision of your organization?
A: We have open enrollment and orientation for Saturday volunteers. Those who are interested in participating in our Saturday program and work directly with the girls can send their email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, because we are a new organization we are always looking for those in various professional fields that can help grow and/or support our organization; that would be great. Another way to help is to become an ambassador and share resources and get the word out about what we do.
Q: Where are you located?
A: In various schools and our Second Saturdays program is housed at the University of Chicago.
Q: Is there room for more girls in you program?
A: Yes. For those interested in participating, please send request for more information to email@example.com. The same goes for school who are interested in partnering with us.
Q: One last questions, if you could give young girls some words of advice, what would it be?
A: Take the risk and try something new, something that’s within your heart. Pay attention to the people around you and see if you can find a good mentor, family member or teacher, someone who is available to support you and be there for you.
Through the visionary leadership of Kelly Fair, Polished Pebbles has managed to create a nurturing environment for the young girls (7-17 years). She has shown them the power of communication instead of fighting; the possibility of a brighter future by instilling confidence and linking them with successful black women from the community. As a result, tremendous progress has been realized and the girls are shining. They are more positive, have embraced the spirit of hard work and majority have enrolled in colleges and completed their studies.
Let’s join hands with Polished Pebbles to polish the girls and let them shine by making a donation through their website, polishedpebbles.com. The donate page allows you to make a donation starting at $25 to support the girl. But what can your donation of $25 do? With $25 donation, you can build a girl’s confidence by buying her a polished pebbles cardigan. With a $100 donation, you can make a big difference at defraying the costs of various supplies necessary for organizing after school meetings on site. $250 donation will facilitate transportation for the girls to attend job shadowing while $300 donation will fully support one girl to attend a 10 week Polished Pebbles session organized in the various sites. Your donation will go a long way in supporting the girl and make a positive difference in her life.