Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.


Be the Change You Want to See

Some folks talk about it.
Some folks bees about it.

Lots of times, "we as a people" talk about what we could be doing, but I ran across a young lady who is actually putting her elbows to the grindstone and investing in the next generation. Her name is Kelley Tompkins Calvin. She's a May 2010 graduate of Michigan Law and a resident of Washington, D.C. (when she isn't flying from coast-to-coast doing outreach for Teach for America.) Her non-profit is called Michelle in Training (MiT). A few days ago, we chatted about the program's First Lady-inspired name, the team of dynamic young women who run the show, and the group's theme song. Pull up a chair and have a listen.

So why the name, Michelle in Training? How'd you come up with it?
I named Michelle in Training after the First Lady, who we consider our Patron Saint. There have always been black women who personify elegance, grace, confidence, intelligence and style (Marion Anderson, Mae Jemison and Eleanor Holmes Norton come to mind) but none that have had the national and global reach that Mrs. O has accomplished. For the first time, black girls from all walks of life can attempt to dress, act, and behave like a lady without being called all of the names that we were called when we were girls (Oreo, anyone?). I wanted to name our organization after a woman that all of the girls would immediately identify with and would immediately understand what we were trying to teach them, and why.

So what's the super, duper, secret backstory on this group? Tell us about your inspiration.
Well I don't know how quirky this is... I have always been surrounded by MiT-like women and thought that every other girl was too. Then I taught in South Louisiana with Teach For America and understood for the first time that not every girl learns soft skills at home and that without those skills, you can be as smart as you want to be and not get ahead. After moving to DC it became more and more clear to me that we needed a program that could provide the missing pieces of our girls' education that would give them the soft skills that they need in addition to the academic skills if they ever want to take on the world and win.

What niche of mentoring is your group serving that other groups don't currently address? Like, what makes Michelle in Training unique say from Big Brothers, Big Sisters?)
MiT is a three-year program for each class of girls. We'll start with them as sophomores and take them through three years of training on everything from etiquette and style to health and wellness and even study skills and leadership. It will also be a selective group. 50 girls will be nominated by principals, counselors, teachers and community leaders and we will accept 25 of them. Lastly, this is a big commitment on the part of the girls. We [provide] the time, dedication and resources but they have to commit to three years of hard work and dedication. It is not easy to break the cycle of poverty, change habits, and reject peer pressure and we are asking to get as much of a commitment from them as we will be giving.

Okay. So I mostly blog about music and life. I find out that you can tell a lot about people by what music they listen to. So, here's the question I'm most interested in. If MIT had two theme songs, what would they be? And please, no "Eye of the Tiger." Lol. 
"Ebony Eyes," by Stevie Wonder, because every black woman is beautiful and can change the world and should remember that. Also "Diamonds," by Robin Thicke. Girls need to learn when they are young that easy lives to do not yield high rewards but that hard work and hard times make us who we want to be.

What is the age range of girls you want to serve? Where will they be from?
The girls will start as sophomores and stay with the program through their senior year. We are starting with one class in one high school in Washington D.C. but my dream is that this program would reach every girl who needs it in every school in the country, and the world.

Is there an application process? Recommendations required?
Yes! We will be asking for recommendations for school and community leaders and the girls (and parents, because this will take a commitment from them as well) will have to fill out an application to be accepted.

What is your goal in terms of the numbers of children you want to serve?

Twenty five girls the first year and then 25 girls in each class (or more or less depending on how we find we need to adjust to be most successful). For mentors, what professions do they span? Will they be across the country or largely based in DC Metro? Local mentors will be from the same city as the girls (so, for the first year, Washington D.C.) so that they can meet with them regularly, take them to events and so the girls can visit them in their classroom. However, we as the MiT board will also be building an advisory board of the smartest and most inspirational black women we can find around the country so that we, too, can continue to learn and grow in this process.

How will you fund this effort? What will funds go toward?
We are starting with a crowdfunding campaign that is going on right now on StartSomeGood. #25days25girls is raising money to publish our first curriculum,  to provide food, resources, and transportation costs to the girls, and to create a website.

What are the professions of people on your board?
I am a lawyer by training, but I work for Teach For America as what I like to call an explorer. I travel around the country working to launch new regions.
  • Ashaki is an attorney and former beauty queen, she is our brandHER chair and will be teaching the girls etiquette and personal branding.
  • Maci is a marketing strategist for The Root and founded Mwari Magazine. As our leadHER chair, Maci will be teaching leadership and community service.
  • Kiah is the founder of District DIY and is one of the hardest working girls I know. She is our showHER chair and will be leading the girls as they travel the city exploring all of the arts, entertainment and culture that is often missed even when it's right next door.
  • L'Rai is an engineer and a stylist, or rather, I should say a stylist and an engineer! She is our swagHER chair and will be teaching personal style and social media savvy.
Where is Michelle in Training based?
The home of the First Lady of course! Washington, D.C.

Sounds like a great initiative. Anything else you want to add?
We are always looking for feedback, suggestions and volunteers. If you would like to get involved with MiT, or have any great ideas, contact me at katcalvin@michelleintraining.com!

To learn more about Michelle in Training, visit their website at michelleintraining.com

Brava, Kelley. Thanks for sharing.
-M. Elle