Meet Kelsey Riley, social justice advocate, mentor and alum of Donda’s House

Kelsey Riley - Photo Courtesy of Kelsey Riley
Kelsey Riley – Photo Courtesy of Kelsey Riley

Black youth are represented in a large majority of news headlines as negative and volatile. We know this to be an exaggeration and a result of not being able to control the narrative that is spread around the world. The cause of much of this volatility is due to the current racial and political climate that exists in this country. Black youth are being disproportionally killed by police. Unemployment rates are high and many of these youth seem to have no hope.

There is a contingent of youth who understand the power that they have and excercise this power to shed light on the injustices in our world. We spoke with one of these youth. A Donda’s House alum, Kelsey Riley is dynamic and energetic. She uses her voice and experience to make an impact on our youth and also tell their story.

Tell us who you are.
My name is Kelsey Riley. I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, IL. I am an event planner, social media enthusiast, cultural critic, social justice advocate, world traveler, mentor and more. I am a proud first-generation college graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, a Historically Black University. I am also a proud alum of Donda’s House [“Got Bars” and Second City Improv program’, where I recently served as executive assistant and social media manager.

What is it about what you do that makes you unique?
What makes me unique is that I am constantly finding a way to do what I love and serve others with my skills and talents, as well.

How did you get started in your profession?
I have been engaged in community service and nonprofit work for a long time in a volunteer capacity because I have always enjoyed mentoring youth. I have fortunately benefitted from several nonprofit initiatives and academic enrichment programs and wanted to give back to many youth like me who need access to resources and caring people in their life. Event planning and social media are skills that naturally evolved out of my involvement with events while I attended Xavier, notably serving as homecoming vice chair in my senior year. For many, event planning can be overwhelming, but I enjoy it a lot. I have embraced social media and blogging for years and many of my friends and colleagues enjoy reading what I think about current events and keeping them in tune to different things going on.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of what you do?
The most challenging aspect of the projects and organizations that I involve myself in, is juggling it all. Time management, scheduling, and committing to self-care is so important to me. I am constantly improving my techniques and always looking for new ways that creative entrepreneurial women like myself are able to manage the various commitments on our plate.

Photo Courtesy of Kelsey Riley

Who are the biggest personal and professional influences in your life?
This list could easily be very long but I will have to say (in no particular order): God, my father Maurice and his partner Kat, Michelle Obama, Che “Rhymefest” Smith and Mrs. Donnie Smith of Donda’s House, Myleik Teele (CEO of Curlbox), Alex Elle (writer and poet), Nadia Lopez (principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy), Jamilah Lemieux (senior editor at EBONY Magazine), and Ms. Pearl Algere-Lonian (assistant vice president of Academic Affairs at my alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana), to name a few.

Tell us about the last book you read. Why did you choose it?
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai; I had heard a lot about her story in the news and was eager to learn more about her story. It is incredibly inspiring and touching to read.

What encouraging words do you have for our readers.
It is important to live your life humbly, fearlessly, and without regret. You cannot get time back. Push yourself to find opportunities to learn and be in circles with people who can help expand your skillset, network, and resources. Continue to challenge yourself, do not get comfortable. It is also important to value your self-care and your peace.

Twitter – @fenix_rising_

Read Kelsey’s contributions for Blavity at

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