Kelly Fair Opens the Door for Black and Latinx Candidates with Polished Pebbles Mentorship


( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Every Girl Is A CEO Program Launched Online

ENSPIRE Contributor: Gabrielle Maya 

Kelly Fair is a speaker on mentoring, communication, and girls’ development in the job world. Her mentorship program, Polished Pebbles (2009), teaches girls and young women how to develop social entrepreneurship, life skills, and leadership. According to a Cornell University study, mentorship programs boost minority representation at the management level by 10%. Kelly has changed the mentorship game by focusing on Black and Latinx communities through Polished Pebbles. 

Polished Pebbles resonates in Chicago and is recognized by Duke University, Social Enterprise Alliance, and DuSable Museum of African American History, to name a few. This ten-year program teaches young girls between the ages of seven and seventeen. Now young girls and women can get a head start on these adult practices for building a bright future. Kelly Fair’s honesty and expertise, including her creation of Polished Pebbles, have been featured in Ebony Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, The Chicago Sun-Times, and Chicago Woman Magazine. Here is what Kelly Fair had to say about the benefits of Polished Pebbles, what hands-on experience the young women will gain, how this mentorship shaped her career, and more.

Kelly Fair

What benefits does this mentorship give to all diverse communities?  

Polished Pebbles works to address and close the gender leadership, gender pay, and what we call the “hope” gap for girls and young women of color in the Black and Latina communities we serve. Girls of color are especially vulnerable to childhood trauma, sexual violence, and sex trafficking that divert them from school into the juvenile justice system, sex industries, and sexual trafficking. These risks pose barriers to a girl’s future success in the workplace and higher education. The recent social isolation and academic barriers caused by the pandemic have only exacerbated many of these issues. 

During the “She-cession” that has hit working mothers so hard the last two years, the work-study income of the teenage girls in the Polished Pebbles Every Girl Is A CEO Summer Work-study Program has become a necessary contribution to their household income, and girls and their mothers need opportunities and support to create their own micro-enterprises to stabilize their finances. The Polished Pebbles Mommy & Me Entrepreneurship Program is the first step of this journey to economic stability and career success for mothers and their middle-school-aged daughters as they learn how to develop their own business plans during our summer program and compete for seed money to support them in launching their own small business.  These programs are in high demand.  In the summer of 2022, we had funding for 80 paid, 6-week internships, and more than 400 girls applied. Similarly, we had over 100 girls and their moms apply for only 20 available spots in our Mommy & Me Entrepreneurship Program this past summer. 

 What are the five essentials that these girls and young women will gain from the Polished Pebbles mentorship?

Polished Pebbles’ primary focus is making sure tween and teen girls are great communicators at home, school, and the future workplace.  Core essentials girls gained include: 

  1. Improved overall communication skills which lead to girls being more confident when speaking up in class.
  2. Opportunities to practice newly learned skills so that girls join groups and teams in schools and communities and seek leadership positions. 
  3. Mentoring on establishing healthy relationships including conflict resolution with peers and communicating effectively and respectfully with adults.  
  4. Career exploration and preparation with industry leaders through job shadow experiences, CEO Pen Pal projects, paid internships, and entrepreneurship boot camps. 
  5. Girls use social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships with members of their greater community.

 Any examples of hands-on experience that the girls and young women receive?

– School-Based and Summer Work-Study Job Shadow with Companies: Every student in our school-based and summer mentorship programs participates in a job shadow experience, visiting a company and learning about different industries and careers they can explore in the future, including healthcare, technology, construction, hospitality, retail, non-profits, and more. This is an opportunity for girls to practice the communication, leadership, and professional development skills they’ve been learning through our 25-week mentoring program in a real-life professional setting. 

– Pink Hard Hat Symposium: Girls gain exposure to careers in trades, construction, and manufacturing alongside leading companies and trades organizations, participating in hands-on workshops with tradeswomen in carpentry, electricity, welding, and other trades.

– Student Leadership Opportunities with The Obama Foundation: Mentees have participated in roundtable discussions with former First Lady Michelle Obama and even had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the Obama Foundation’s “Get Her There” campaign launch in New York City with Mrs. Michelle Obama, CNN, and leadership from girls organizations from around the world. 

– Every Girl Is A CEO Summer Work-Study Paid Internship: Teen girls from the Chicagoland areas lacking in teen employment opportunities participate in a six-week work-study and mentorship program that provides them with a stipend as well as career exposure with industry professionals in different fields.  Mentees and alumni then earn the opportunity to participate in external internships with companies like Trice Construction Company and the SOPHY Hotel. These internships have led to full-time jobs for recent high school graduates and college alumni at companies like the SOPHY, and promotions to different departments within the hospitality industry. 

– Mommy & Me Business Plan Program: Girls and their moms meet monthly on Saturdays to receive mentorship from Polished Pebbles’ business coach, learn how to develop a business plan, and receive a stipend and seed money to help launch their own small business.  Some businesses are very active and continue to receive coaching from Polished Pebbles’ partners like DYLAN LEX, an L.A. based jewelry and fashion company. DYLAN LEX executives have coached one of our youngest mentees and CEOs, 11-year old Melan, throughout the development of her beauty company, Beauty Glam Nails.

How has Polished Pebbles shaped your career? 

Leading Polished Pebbles for almost 15 years has been my personal contribution to this generation of girls and young women, and a way of honoring the women who have mentored me and shared their blueprint of success. It brings me a great sense of joy to connect with program alumni who I worked with as middle school girls, and who are eager to come back as successful working professionals and volunteers and lead initiatives for the girls we work with today. Obviously, the impact we’ve had on almost 10,000 girls is gratifying and some of my life’s proudest moments. I really consider myself a M.O.M., mentor on many levels, and my latest passion is replacing myself and helping to nurture support and provide mentorship to the next generation of mentors or youth program executives. I get just as excited watching my team members like Daisha Chaney, who started with Polished Pebbles as an intern and is now an experienced Program Facilitator and Coordinator, take off and establish strong mentoring relationships with girls, become a respected and cherished partner by school administration, and also see her starting to learn how to tell her story to the larger community and world through media.

Kelly Fair has been to panels locally, nationally, and internationally. In May of 2022, she had a virtual master class to teach step by step on strategies for leadership success with commentary. 

Kelly Fair holding Every Girl is a CEO

 When is the next Kelly Fair virtual Master Class?
At this time, Kelly has become heavily invested in starting to document and make note of key learnings and observations from her work with girls and young women who need specific skills, training, and opportunities for leadership support in their careers reaching their personal/professional goals. As a girls’ advocate and a leading connector to corporations and entrepreneurs including companies like Amazon, Discover, Lettuce Entertain You, and The Olympia Companies, Kelly has been just as attentive to building relationships with corporations and future employers of the girls she serves to determine what girls need to prepare for and how companies can create inclusive and diverse workplaces and leadership opportunities for girls and young women of color and a welcoming workplace that will allow girls to bring the best of their talents. 

Are there future plans to expand this mentorship program beyond Chicago, IL? 
Over the past few years, Polished Pebbles has had the opportunity to impact girls globally through the Every Girl Is A CEO Program, launching the Every Girl Is A CEO Global Career Conference that takes place each October virtually, allowing us to reach girls around the globe. The conference features career panels that highlight female professionals and leaders across industries, from hospitality to health care to technology, allowing girls to network with their peers from around the globe as well as industry leaders. This past year, Polished Pebbles’ EGCEO Conference engaged 160 girls across the Chicagoland area and neighboring states, including 80 girls from Kenya, Jamaica, and South Africa. As our partners across the globe are eager to provide more networking opportunities to their young women, we are planning to include more virtual program opportunities for girls in Chicago to network with their peers globally. 

Additionally, school districts across the country have been purchasing the “Every Girl Is a CEO Career and Success Guide” (which inspired the EGCEO Conference) for their tween and teen girls who are exploring their future careers and setting goals. We’re excited that this spring we will also be doing pre-sales for the ”Every Girl Is a CEO Facilitator Guide” with 30 lessons that can be used in conjunction with the book to create your own ”Every Girl Is a CEO” career and success program in schools and communities nationally.

Kelly Fair is changing women’s future, from middle to high school. Now with her pilot program at Duke University, her Polished Pebbles can expand to other universities. Polished Pebbles also serves in Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina. Women deserve and need preparedness when it comes to confidence, future career, and leadership. To understand more about Polished Pebbles, please view the video below. To find out more information on the mentorship program (residents of Chicago!), go to the site. If you are interested in her book you can buy it online. 

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