The world never runs out of a need for a hero. An act of kindness, a selfless hand-holding to pull people through and guide them out of misery is sometimes all it takes for a mere mortal to be elevated to the role of a hero. Often, you don’t get to hear their stories. British Herald speaks to one such hero to hear and share her story.
Monti Becker Kelly has been mentoring and guiding women of colour for years. She was just a child when she decided to be a part of causes that would contribute to the upliftment of people of colour, and it was her parents that walked her through it.
“Both of my parents were very active in various civil rights causes. Through their involvement in inner-city youth programs in Cleveland, I began developing the strong values that I have today. Both were prominent educators and volunteers in the community. My mother founded the Jesse Owens Olympic Youth Development Program, working with inner-city youth, for which she was honoured at the White House. My family even wrote a book, which led to articles, and speaking opportunities at nonprofits and schools in Cleveland for us. It even became required reading in local schools. My parents were very strong civil rights activists who were focused on extending support to the black inner-city community and youth, so that’s what I grew up doing, both for jobs and volunteer work,” says Monti.
Monti who is currently the Senior Vice President of Customer Engagement and Strategy for 7.ai, a leading software and services company that uses artificial intelligence to significantly improve customer experiences, continued to work for the causes of her people even after her mothers passing. At just 22 years of age, Monti says she realized that she had the ability and drive to continue her mother’s work. “I continue her work to this day,” says Monti, who founded a scholarship fund in her mother’s name, as part of which the local community college provides financial backing to support educational goals for those in less fortunate, non-traditional situations in Cleveland, Ohio. “Thirty years later, I still run this scholarship and we have awarded several to deserving students each year.”
Her years of work recently got much-deserved attention which came as an interview for Oprah Winfrey’s Network (OWN). Speaking about which Monti says “ Being approached by the Oprah Winfrey Network was an honour and surprise. I know that this honour was a direct result of my joining the National Coalition of Black Women, which has a partnership with OWN. OWN is producing a new TV legal drama series called Delilah based in Charlotte, NC, where I live. This show highlights the authentic experiences and real-life journeys of black women. I was identified by NCBW and recognised by OWN as a true life “Delilah” in the Charlotte community. What was really surprising about this though, is that giving back to the community is how I grew up. I view that as a part of what I do every day, rather than something that’s going above and beyond.”
The Black Lives Matter ( BLM) movement was one of those rare historical moments when the world saw a different face of the USA. Monti was obviously part of it, she says “ Being involved in the BLM movement has been eye-opening, emotional, and impactful in terms of learning more about all the brutality and unfairness that continues in the United States and in the world. I’ve been actively involved over the last year, participating in marches in Charlotte. Black Lives Matter movement should be more than a movement, it should become a way of life for equality, justice and opportunity for all.”
Despite years of struggle, to the world outside, the US still has a long way to go when it comes to accepting people of colour and people from other races. Monti points out that black people in the US are gaining a stronger voice, and there is still a lot of work to do. “To me, it’s all about empowerment within black families, education and economics. Mentoring plays a strong role in that. Mentoring has always been very important to me, both learning from my own mentors and mentoring others, specifically black women.” Monti has served several board terms for Women Executives of Community Services for the WINGS Scholarship Program here in Charlotte over the last ten years. “I continue to mentor young women today to guide them through achieving their educational goals while balancing motherhood, work, unique challenges and obstacles. It is incumbent on the people in power, all races, ethnicities and genders, in both corporate America and education to seek out and recognize opportunities to mentor young people of colour in all fields. This will result in more people of colour rising to positions of power, and I believe this can have a tremendous impact in changing our society over time,” she elaborates.
Women were the worst affected during this pandemic. Those who had jobs lost it, those who were homemakers, were stuck at home, with no hopes of relief from household chores. Monti who is also the founder and executive sponsor/chairperson of 7.ai’s ‘Connect HER Women’s Leadership Organization’ says that she became aware of how much worse the pandemic was for some groups, and the additional opportunities to help those groups. “The pandemic has undoubtedly highlighted disparities that already existed, and brought out new ones. Many women were forced to leave the workforce, temporarily or permanently as a result of Covid which will have a lasting impact on the world, companies, diversity and income. We need to lift up our fellow women through these tough times and be prepared to reopen doors as we exit the worst of Covid and some normalcy returns. As I mentor, I would remind them that tough times don’t last. It’s hard to know what the future will bring, but we are starting to see jobs coming back, and out of every challenge is a new opportunity.”
When quizzed about the advice she would give her younger self Monti says “ If I had the chance to meet a young Monti, I think I would advise her to take more risks at a young age. I’ve learned to feel okay with failure, as opposed to playing it safe all the time. Taking risks always leads to new opportunities, and I’ve found it to be more rewarding than not,” she concludes.
“Being approached by the Oprah Winfrey Network was an honour and surprise. I know that this honor was a direct result of my joining the National Coalition of Black Women, which has a partnership with OWN“
“Black Lives Matter movement should be more than a movement, it should become a way of life for equality, justice and opportunity for all“
“Mentoring has always been very important to me, both learning from my own mentors and mentoring others, specifically black women. I continue to mentor young women today to guide them through achieving their educational goals while balancing motherhood, work, unique challenges and obstacles“