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Conversations with the Inspiring Dhaujee Kelly

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dhaujee Kelly.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am an educator born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A product of public schools and strategic programming, I am aware of the need for educational equality and access. School wasn’t particularly difficult for me, as I understood it as a way out of the trials of my family life. In high school, several traumatic events began to shift my thinking about what I wanted to do with my future. My younger brother, 9 at the time was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, less than a year later, my grandmother who struggled with addiction was hit by a car and incapacitated for a year, the following year, my father stood trial for his involvement in a gang-related murder.

I knew that I wanted to work in a healing or helping capacity. From pediatrician to a counselor, to education, my future choices shifted through a lens of helping.

My decade-long career in education began in rural India, where I built and led an academic curriculum and a cultural arts program. There, I truly understood that education doesn’t have to ‘look’ archaic and institutional. It can be a tool for innovation, creativity, and ultimately community engagement. After this trip, I continued educational projects At Bowdoin College, where I led independent research that studied the effects of mentorship for at-risk youth, interned with Harlem Children’s Zone and worked at various Maine education and mental health facilities.

I landed in Los Angeles after applying to an education nonprofit and telling them to ‘Place me where they needed the most help.’ I had never visited the West Coast and had no family or friends when I moved here. I worked for the organization for 2 years before exploring other options.

I have continued my education with a Nonprofit Management certification and CEUs in the special needs sector. Since I’ve started an education consulting business. In this capacity, I help districts, programs, and organizations based in Los Angeles and Baltimore develop curriculum, train teachers, and find innovative ways to make learning accessible to all youth.

In 2016, I started All-In Urban Summer Academy to defeat the summer slide in Los Angeles communities. Our dynamic summer program works with youth affected by homelessness by offering targeted academics and various auxiliary courses to boost youth as scholars and as conscious citizens.

My capacity as an educator has extended beyond school walls, where I teach wellness and yoga through corporate and residential establishments. In this space, I am able to provide wellness courses and events to employees and residents looking to learn more about ways to have mental, physical, and spiritual shifts in their lives.

It truly brings me joy to be able to make learning of all types accessible. The most exciting thing about being an educator is that I always have a chance to learn. Learning from my students, my peers, and these unique experiences that I get to offer to people of all ages and backgrounds. I love that I am able to bring people from various industries and communities together to showcase their skills or offer their unique talents to children and adults who appreciate it.

If that’s what education looks like, then, I’m All-In!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Finding a path that I love in education has been a particularly difficult road for me.

As a creative, I felt that I had to stifle or hide the way that approaches things because of the bureaucracy of the educational institution. My experiences as a musician, working in theater, dance, and generally creating things offer a different approach to education that is not always received. Things as simple as my age and my hairstyle created hurdles in the workplace environment and seriously I was taken as an educator.

Being an entrepreneur in such formatted institutions is difficult. Especially as a woman, especially as a young woman of color. After working with LAUSD for 2 years, I decided to leave to find ways to work in education independently. I worked as a consultant, tutor, behavior specialist, education event coordinator… everything so that I can truly understand what I liked in the sector.

My advice is to explore all the possibilities so that your decision to take a risk is well informed. Also, don’t let people put you in a box. Many people like to label me as ‘a teacher’ and think that the work I do revolves around being in a classroom and developing lesson plans. However, I have not let others’ labels of me define the capacity of my work. If you get that early on, it eases the strains.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek advice. If you’re getting started, understand that there is more to learn. Seek out the professionals, mentors, etc. that are engaged with what you’re doing. And once you get advice, ACT on it! Advice that goes unused is practically a waste of time and money.

What should we know about All-In Urban Summer Academy? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I love that being an educator means I get to learn.

My education specialty is working with those who have behavioral or developmental disabilities. Having my foundation in this sector has truly taught me how to work with people through various differences. It has taught me the importance of making learning accessible across physical, social, political, and economic lines.

I’m known for creating programs, curriculum, events etc from this lens. There is a space for everyone to learn something new each day. There is a place for communities to gather for a common good and a life of service. There are spaces to grow their mind, body, and spirit.

I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to hold true to my personal values in the work that I do. While the road has not been paved smoothly, I am able to work from a space of integrity and share that same standard with everyone I work with.

I am proud that my business success started purely from referrals. Parents, schools, yogis, residents, employees all share the work that I do and the effort that goes into my practices. It is often really hard to find your ‘customer’ so I am grateful that business has flourished based on people sharing the work I have done.

I think that one quality that sets me apart from the rest is that I am not afraid of ‘no’. To me, the word lets me know I have to find an alternative resource, not that my dream can’t be achieved. You have to learn to master the no as well as you master the yes.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
My mom, Gma, and godmother were awesome points of reference for what it takes to be a strong, resilient woman of color. These ladies laid at home foundation of what it meant to be tenacious despite personal situations. Our relationships are all very different, but I am always grateful for the perspective they offered when raising me.

My mentor, Sarah Hemminger, really shaped my understanding of what it meant to develop a program that takes care of children inside and out. I remember her working as a Hopkins med school student at 12 am helping 15 Baltimore youth fill out college applications. Her dedication to my success and to the success of my peers never goes unnoticed.

I am also very inspired by Solange Knowles. She has always remained true to herself and never lets anyone typecast or diminish her artistry. She pours into young. Developing artists and engages all audiences. Watching her develop as an artist and dabble in fields/genres of entertainment that disagree with a public opinion is so inspiring.

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Image Credit:

Ashley Osbourne, Corrina Gramma, Malon Murphy

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