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Conversations with the Inspiring Shelby Kretz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelby Kretz.

Shelby, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Urban Schooling at UCLA. It’s a social justice-focused education program. I did my undergraduate at Ohio State in Psychology and co-founded a non-profit organization called 1girl in 2013. 1girl provides leadership programming for middle school girls. After getting 1girl off the ground, I spent some time working in schools before coming back for my doctorate. So, now as a Ph.D. student in Education as well as over the past few years, I spend a lot of time around students, parents, and teachers. I was constantly hearing from parents that they didn’t know how to speak to their young kids about social justice issues that had been on the news lately – so they just weren’t talking to them about it.

This was concerning for me. How are we going to raise a generation of kind, compassionate kids who care about humanity if we aren’t talking to them about the basic issues that they are seeing in the media? If they aren’t learning about issues of social justice from their parents or teachers, that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning about it. They’re learning from the news, from social media, and from their friends, and they may or may not be getting accurate information. I want us to be a generation of people who care about raising kind kids. But parents and teachers are busy, and most aren’t experts on issues of social justice. In addition, it can be really hard to fathom how to speak to a five or six-year-old about difficult topics like immigration, racism, or LGBTQ+ issues. And I knew this had to be an ongoing conversation – parents or teachers had to be committed to addressing many issues over time and tackling hard, sometimes controversial topics.

So, I realized pretty quickly that I might be able to help parents and teachers out by providing that content and those resources on an ongoing basis. That’s where the idea for Little Justice Leaders came from. I developed Little Justice Leaders as a subscription box that elementary school parents and teachers can subscribe to receive monthly. I created it as a subscription box because I knew there were a lot of topics to cover, and I strongly believe that it needs to be an ongoing conversation. Each month, they get a box of curated resources that address a certain topic, complete with a set of curriculum cards outlining how to address the issue with young kids. Each box also includes a children’s book, a hands-on activity, and a piece of art that allows them to learn more about the topic.

Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way? Any advice for other women, particularly young women who are just starting their journey?
This has definitely not been a smooth road. Starting a business while working on a Ph.D. is not an easy task, and I really didn’t know much about subscription boxes when I first started. I put up a website and wrote that we would be sending our first boxes in August. To my surprise, some people actually bought it! So that’s when I realized I was going to have to actually create a box. I had no idea how to do that, but I just started researching online and finding materials to include. The ongoing nature of the work has been more time-intensive than I originally realized. Every single month, I have to come up with new ideas and new content, and I have to stay ahead. At one point, I had too many boxes to even pack them myself in my apartment, so I started having to ship the materials to my parent’s house. Now, they do all of the packaging and shipping for me (I know I’m very lucky), which allows me to focus on curating the content for the boxes, doing marketing work for the company, and of course, writing my dissertation.

And of course, there are a lot of people who don’t support what I’m doing. I get nasty comments and messages from folks regularly. I have had to learn to brush these off. I am doing what I believe is right and needed in society. The boxes do not teach specific political beliefs – instead, we encourage kids to be compassionate, generous, and kind. I want them to develop critical thinking skills so they can come to their own beliefs and conclusions about controversial topics. What we do teach them is to value differences and to be kind to those who are different from them.

My advice for women is to be open to new ideas and experiences. Try things! Go for it! You never know what is going to happen. When I was starting out, I knew very little about subscription boxes, but I had confidence in my knowledge of education and social justice. So, I decided to go for it. I started small and for free by just creating an Instagram account to see if anybody would be interested in the idea – and they were! The rest I just figured out along the way. It was the exact same way with my nonprofit, 1girl. We had never started a nonprofit organization before – we just went for it! We made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot along the way. Now, 1girl is serving hundreds of girls each year.

You don’t have to set up your career in a traditional way or follow a path that it seems like everyone else is taking, and you also don’t have to know what you want to do right away! I did not even realize I had an interest in the field of education until I had already graduated from college. Now, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Education. So, my life has not turned out the way I thought it would when I was an undergrad, but that is okay! Stay open to unexpected opportunities, new ideas, and chances to test out different areas where you might have an interest. And remember that you don’t have to follow the traditional path. I love the field of education, but I also did not see myself working as a K-12 teacher. I did spend a lot of time working in K-12 schools (and still do!), including some time spent in teaching roles, but ultimately I found a different area of education to focus on that better utilized my strengths and interests. Be curious and open to new ways of doing things in your field, and be willing to try lots of different things.

We’d love to learn more about your work. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I launched Little Justice Leaders last year, and I sent out the first month of boxes in August. Each box focuses on a different social justice issue and includes everything an elementary school parent or teacher needs to teach their kids about that topic. Next year, we’ll be launching a box for middle school parents and teachers as well!

As a brand, I am most proud of our commitment to giving back through our work. Each month, we donate a portion of all sales to a non-profit organization that is focused on the topic that we are covering that month. I hire teachers and other experts to create lesson plans and other useful resources for the boxes, and I always seek to hire those who are most impacted and closest to the issues we are teaching about. I hope the boxes center and uplift the voices of marginalized communities through that content. In addition, next month we will be unveiling our new, sustainable packaging for the boxes. Finally, I work to make sure the information is available and accessible to all who want it. On my website, it clearly states that if someone can’t afford a subscription, they can reach out to me, and I will work with them to make sure they are still able to get the content. I am constantly trying to find more and better ways we can put our money where our mouth is and give back through this work.

I’m also really proud of the impact we are making with the boxes themselves. I have heard so many stories from parents and teachers about their experiences with the boxes. One teacher reached out to me and told me that she recently came out publicly as LGBTQ. She said, “If I had this as a kid? I would have felt accepted for being me and I think my life would’ve turned out differently.” These kinds of stories are the reason I do this work.

In my Ph.D. work, I am specialized in working with formerly incarcerated youth. Specifically, I do research on the transition from incarceration back into education (what I refer to as the prison-to-school pipeline). I work with young people who are involved with the justice system but want to return to school. The goal of my research is to identify ways that counties, schools, and justice systems can better support youth throughout this transition. A devastating amount of human potential is lost because our recidivism rates are so high for juveniles. With the right support for transitioning youth, I believe we can bring these rates down, help young people get back in school if they want to, and support them on a path to a meaningful and fulfilling life.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
There are still, unfortunately, a number of barriers to female leadership. A huge barrier is simply biased. Though a lot of people like to think society has changed significantly (and it has), there is still a lot of prejudice against women in positions of leadership. And it is often harder for them to get into those positions in the first place. Women have to prove themselves over and over again and often aren’t taken as seriously. I have seen this first hand in my life. I really believe we need more women in leadership and women in entrepreneurship to help overcome this stigma.

And, we have to think about intersectionality as well. White women tend to have a much easier time getting into leadership than women of color. Women with disabilities, women who identify as LGBTQ+, those who don’t speak English as a first language, and others with marginalized identities face significantly more barriers. Women who hold some privilege (and men!) must step up to support women who are most marginalized and unsupported in leadership.

Pricing:

  • Teacher monthly box – $34.99
  • Parent/family monthly box – $34.99
  • Digital monthly box – $14.99
  • Sibling pack monthly box – $44.99

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Shelby Kretz, Lizzy Russinko, Amanda Tooley

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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