Empowering the Future – Ep.84

Celebrating Women’s History Month – Ep.83
March 1, 2023
Bold Moves – Ep.85
April 19, 2023

Founder & CEO of AAAMotivated Kehia McKinney discusses her organization’s approach to amplifying and empowering the voices of Black youths through mentorship and community engagement. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started. Kehia McKinney, founder and CEO of AAAMotivated, attitude plus action determines access. She will tell you that she’s a mom first. Kehia is a proven youth advocacy networker and mentor, spending the last two decades as a resident of Tracy, California, volunteering for and then employed by Tracy Unified School District.

Kehia has positively impacted the lives of many students, families, fellow educators, and her community at large. Serving as a Black student union advisor has driven her work around what must be done to support successful outcomes for this demographic of young people. This has led her to intentionally follow the calling of making Black student success her practitioner concentration. Delivering programs, mentorship and needed resources led by love. She will also tell you that she lives by the call of, do what you can when you can where you can. I am so excited to have Kehia McKinney with me this week. Kehia, AAAMotivated, Black student success week. How fun and exciting is this?

Kehia McKinney:  Overjoyed.

Melyssa Barrett:  I know it’s been a long time coming. You’ve been working on lots of things.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes, yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Tell us a little bit about AAAMotivated. Let’s start there.

Kehia McKinney:  AAAMotivated, I tell people it’s, today, as of today we’re talking about, is what I call platform turned enterprise. I just, for my own self, one of my guiding tenants is the formula. Attitude plus action determines access. It’s what I’m always like doing with my youth development. Anytime I’m mentoring youth, we could be at the basketball game, it’s going to be the same type of little interaction, but that’s just the core tenant. But when I take that formula and I just place it over anywhere, and that’s what I tell my young people, that same formula is going to work out. I don’t care what industry you go to, it doesn’t matter what relationship you’re going into, those ingredients… Then it goes deeper of course, but that’s what the AAA means.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay. Tell us again. Attitude plus action…

Kehia McKinney:  Yes, attitude. Start there. “Catch your attitude.” My mom used to tell us that. Attitude plus action-

Melyssa Barrett:  Equals access.

Kehia McKinney:  … determines access. All of those. I do youth leadership development, or if I’m just talking to somebody, that’s really what I’m getting at. If at the end of the day you don’t remember anything else that I said, use that, because you’re going to have to put other components into that. But that’s part of just my core philosophy, a core tenant I live on in life. Out of that just is, well, if I’m telling that to other people, I have to do it for myself.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  I start with myself, and I think that’s with anybody, because especially working with young people, they understand if you are not with the business, so you might as well come in as who you are. Stop trying to pretend some other things, be transparent with them. It’s that space inside of me so I can pour out love.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  It’s where I can pour out love.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Kehia McKinney:  That’s AAAMotivated. Yeah, I’m in that over overflow space right now.

Melyssa Barrett:  I know you are getting ready for Black Student Success Week.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Tell me, how did that come about? I think there’s a lot of people trying to make sure that students succeed, but you are specifically focused on Black students. So, why? I mean, I know why, but tell people why and what is that about?

Kehia McKinney:  Black Student Success Week is not something that I made up. I always want people to know that. We hope people go to the website. There’s links on there to take you back to where I heard about this. I heard about this last year from a colleague of mine, she’s wonderful. Dr. Emal Templeton. Turned me on to this construct of the California Community Colleges. Then, they have this whole coalition, and they had Black Student Success Week. I was on the line last year, it was over 700 people on the Zoom. It was exciting, but it did not matter how many letters you had behind your name or if you had no letters behind your name if you were there to impact Black student success. So, it’s a construct of the California community colleges. The meat and potatoes of it was more constructed towards that audience. The content was phenomenal. The people working inside up and down the state of California in particular. Just to be in a space of people that… When you find your tribe, oh yeah, they got it.

Of all the great resources they gave and the information they talked about that you could go do something. What they said to me, and I’ve talked to you about this before is that, the thing that I kept hearing every single day, and I’m sure it was said every single day because it just stays in my mind, they said, “What can you do and what will you do inside of your sphere of influence to impact successful outcomes of students?” They weren’t talking about later, they were talking about right now, what are you going to do? I was like, “Yeah.” Part of the discussion, when all of these people are on the virtual call, one is called the Black Hour, 12 o’clock every day, followed by the after party that’s at 1:30 Cal students as CA Black students on Instagram, and I have them linked on my website too.

I’m thankful for that construct, but see, my wheelhouse, just what I’ve been doing in the last, kind of my life, but more so in the last past decade plus, is having the opportunity to be of service and love on and be loved by high school students. A lot of them have matriculated just through life. But when you are loved inside of that space, it does something to you that, you can’t stop. You. At any rate, when I listened to it, I just kept bringing with me, what can I do inside of my sphere of influence? I said, “My wheelhouse is high school.” Though I don’t work with the high school any longer as an employee, I’m still invited into that space with the students. I said, “Why not? We do a high school edition.” See what we’re celebrating at the end of this month, with thanks to the California Community Colleges, just being at the head of that. It’s called Black Student Success Week 2003, high School edition. Theme: Diplomas, Degrees and LLCs.

Melyssa Barrett:  2023.

Kehia McKinney:  2023.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Well, I know you have a young Black think tank incorporated into it, along with a week long journey of events.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  I mean, you actually have your matriculated students coming back to give back to the students that are still in high school.

Kehia McKinney:  AAAMotivated does the whole thing, and just Kehia McKinney. I’m like, “Listen to kids.” That’s really how I want to say it, but I always end up telling, “I am empowering and amplifying the youth voice.” That comes in so many ways. That begins and ends the day, really for me and for the program. The Diplomas, Degrees and LLCs is actually about student success, but it is about building pipelines. It’s about continuing to learn. So yes, we have alumni that are coming back and they are facilitating and hosting our young Black think tanks. That is a time to share and connect just young people in the room. The adults know there’ll be some adults, but no, let the young people talk. We have some prompts and things like that. The beautiful thing is that, so there are two think tanks that happen on Tuesday and then Thursday evening.

The one on Tuesday will be live streamed because I want to just shout out fellowship partner Pastor James and his congregation. I want to say thank you to them for providing technical assistance, facilities just leaning in to say, “Yes, let’s do this work.” There are so many people I can’t even thank, but they know who they are, that are leaning in to make sure that we are transforming the narrative for Black students, and that we are putting everything we have as a community, as educators, as parents, as students, into our story, through all of it, all those intersections, to focus on maximum potential, because we can have everything. That’s what I’ve always told my young people. I want you to have everything.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely.

Kehia McKinney:  You got to back it up. I’m just so thankful for everybody leaning in on young people. Ooh, they’re out of sight.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, they are. Now, tell us a little bit more though about Student Success Week. You’ve got two think tanks, and the students coming in, but what else do you have? I mean, I know you’ve got lots of different events and activities going on that week.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  Give us a little flavor.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes. There’s a place for everybody, and that’s the thing because it’s about pipelines. Pipelines are intergenerational, that’s what’s so wonderful about this construct that we’ve done here. We have some resource networking that’s going to go on Sunday, but then the week really kicks off on Tuesday because we want you to plug into the California community colleges things. Then, here’s the great thing, other community colleges around everywhere, they’ve got events going on, so just Google that. I mean, whatever’s close to you. People all around are doing this and they’re pouring in with their brains and with doing the work. That whole pipeline and affirming goes on Tuesday when we have our first think tank. That is titled, What I Wish I knew. I can’t wait to hear what the young people have to say. We adults get to listen.

I love it. Also, partnered with, out of West High School’s Black Student Union has grown a Black parent collective. We are having our listening tour. We want to center the youth voice, and so that night is youth amplified and the adults are not talking again. But you get a chance to listen so that you can, as an adult, connect. Sometimes we got to check ourself. My kids help me check myself all the time, but I’m open. I’m not always open. But when you’re in that place, just to listen, have love so that we can do better together. That’s the idea. So, bringing in community on Wednesday. Then, our second think tank happens on Thursday. Some of the response come in already because I have the students filling out some information. It’s called, Graduation, Then What? The people that will be participating will be alumni that are 19 through 29, throughout all of these stages.

You might have students that have now matriculated and they might be working, they might be parents, they might be owning a business, I mean, just in different places in life. Young people can talk to young people different than older people can talk to young people. I get it. The brilliant minds, I can’t wait for that share to come out. Then, to culminate the week, you just don’t stop there, you go and you celebrate and have an eighth grade Black student recognition celebration happening on Saturday, April 29th. IT’s going to be held at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. It’s the Wentworth Educational Center. In the big auditorium area they have. I definitely am telling people, please go. When you check on the website, there’s an Eventbrite link, perhaps I can send that to you and put it where people can get it.

Melyssa Barrett: Of course.

Kehia McKinney:  There’s limited seating, so I want people to make sure they have a seat. Please nominate these students, because there are categories that, for me, touch my heart, right around recognition and transforming the narrative. This is our opportunity as community, parents, educators, if you work with eighth graders that are in a program you have, nominate them.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, regular people like me can nominate these kids for different categories of awards. Is that how it works?

Kehia McKinney:  Absolutely. Someone told me this. They were talking to me about the power of the pen, and the power of passing the mic. That’s me and my attempt to give the power of the pen to somebody to transform narratives. Use the pen, use the power of your attitude, use the power of getting busy about that work, and access to knocking down every door that you want to. When you get an opportunity to work with young people that you thought, sometimes you come in as adults and you think you have something written and you’re ready to go, right?

No, when you just stop and listen to these young people, you just carry them in your heart forever. I want my alumni to be exposed to a room full of resources that are about it that come and say, “Hey, you know what? I do this, or I’ve done this, and I heard that you like to do this, or you have an interest in that.” It doesn’t really matter to me what path you end up on, I just want you to go boldly that way. That’s what I tell young people. I want you to go boldly that way. If I could put a resource in your path, use it. If you don’t use it, I tell the kids, I say, “I won’t feel bad. I did my part.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Well, sometimes it takes a little while, so you never know.

Kehia McKinney:  It does, right? That’s what you got to know. Do your part where you can, when you can.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  This is my part.

Melyssa Barrett: Well, and I love the theme: Diplomas, Degrees and LLCs, because I’m telling you, there are a lot of young people that, they’re in school and already have an LLC, or a business that they’re doing. I mean, these young kids are absolutely amazing with what they are able to do at such a young age now. I mean, they’re amazing, so I think it’s phenomenal that you can amplify their voices right now at this tender age in high school so that they actually have the momentum they need in college, and the support and the resources. I mean, as you said, a room full of resources.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes. Yes, that is that connection we have to one another, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Kehia McKinney:  I believe in this. When I used to work at the school, people would tell you, I would come around the corner and I would kind of announce before I got to that person like, “Well, I’m going to take you to the expert,” because I really believed in people. If that was what you were doing, do that thing. That’s what my mom used to tell me. “Do that thing.” My dad used to say, “I don’t care. If you choose to be a street sweep, be the best street sweep.”

Melyssa Barrett:  You’re the best one you can be. Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  But can I introduce you to the dude that works at the waste management disposal? Can I get him in your resource network so you can know that’s viable?

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  Whatever pathway you choose, let’s just plug into these young people. Why would we not? I can’t. Just startling statistics are out there. I’m like, “No, we can’t change the narrative. Do the part you can where you can.” People that want to go along with it, I’m happy. If you don’t, I’m still happy because I got joy about it. I’m super excited for people to plug in.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Well, and it’s so exciting. I’m excited for you as you are bringing this to my specific area, ’cause I think there are a lot of times when these types of opportunities don’t exist to bring people together. One of my favorite African Proverbs, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is an opportunity for these young people to really get together. What is going to be amazing to me, is to see where all these young adults are in 10 or 15 years, and you have already created the cohort for this network that they are creating. It’s fantastic.

Kehia McKinney:  Well, what’s so beautiful is that you talked about earlier technology, and so the technology that they have already to stay linked together…

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh yes.

Kehia McKinney:  Okay, totally awesome. I’m about to call your grandma and try get your phone number. I’m just saying. I love that. Just all areas of their life, just to be authentic. That’s why I love being able to put them together because people got something to say.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and they’re growing so much that they’re learning and evolving, and what they think they know today, they’re going to learn so much more about themselves and how they communicate. I think it’s awesome that you are pouring into our students this way. I know it’s impactful.

Kehia McKinney:  I’m proud of it. Our BSU students at the school that… I went around to the school and I’m pitching it to them. I’m giving them a little, and they were like, “Oh yeah.” I saw a student at the school the other day and I was like, “Hey, dear,” ’cause I’m going to speak if I’m out. Even if people don’t speak to me, that’s all right, just keep on going. I asked her, I said ” [inaudible 00:22:21] Black student Success week?” She was like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Oh, well, how’d you hear about it?”

She said, “Oh, my sister did it. I was like, “Oh, great. You think you going to plug in?” She was like, “Yeah, maybe.” I was like, “Okay.” I’m looking later on and I was like, “Okay, good, she plugged in.” I encourage people just take a look at it. It may or may not be for you, that’s what I always tell people. You know what I mean? It may or may not be for you. If it’s not, that’s all right. If it is, come on in the room. The good stuff, leading out of love is here. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m grateful. I’m thankful to the educators that are plugging in.

Melyssa Barrett:  Shout out to the BSUs and the BSU advisors

Kehia McKinney:  To the BSU, come on. Come on, y’all. When you talk about your tribe, please come on to the celebration. It’s adults, come out to the celebration. On the website, the information for how to join the parent collective. If you come in person or if you come virtually, you’re welcome to come plug in. But it is about all of us, because we can only do so much. Everybody can only do so much. I’m first mom. I got to be mom. I got to do the mom stuff first. But what happens is when other kids start calling you mama A or whatever, that’s what they call me, it’s like to get into your heart so much. I think I told you before, I’m going to have breath in my body.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes, you did say that.

Kehia McKinney:  Yeah, I caught it. I caught it. There are so many people doing this work, you see what I’m saying, up and down the state of California in particular. I know in other places, like we were talking about before, if you even lead the conversation with the word Black, there’s just sometimes a staring off into outer space or already just a space of, “I don’t want to hear it.” But that is the thing that I told someone in a conversation the other day, I said, “I’m leading out of love. I would hope other people meet me at that space, but if they don’t, I can’t worry about that.”

I’ve chosen this as my practitioner concentration, so anybody that knows me or has the opportunity to know me, not think they know me, because yes, young people here in our area, they’ll quote me and they’ll say, “Black, white, yellow, polka dot or stripe. At the end of the day, kids win.” That’s where I start and stop with. If we’re not on that same type of vibe, then it’s just not an alignment. You know what I mean? That’s okay, because everybody has a peace. I respect your peace, and I’m going to go in peace. I am just so thankful to so many people that are just in this vein of saying, “You know what? We can change this narrative and affirm young people, give them a space, center their voice, and then put the resources behind them so that we don’t have to make it hard.” We don’t have to make it hard.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and I think it’s so interesting because we talk a lot about equity, and then when we bring things that are providing levels of equity, then it’s like people don’t want to hear it. It’s amazing to me, because when I think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we talk about infrastructure and things that need to be changed just to allow access. A lot of what you’re talking about is really, when you talk about bridging the gap, you are bringing the bridge. If we have schools around the country that aren’t supportive or other parents that aren’t supportive, I always wonder, why? Because it’s not a matter of scarcity, it’s a matter of opening access to everyone.

Kehia McKinney:  Yes, we’re on the same page. This is something I believe. At this point, I believe it. I think I know it, but I believe it. The word change, just the word is just across humanity, is scary for people. I guess, for me, I’ve just gotten to meet the dopest people. I mean, in life are the people I stand on their shoulders of right now, the people I’ve met recently. Just to get me just where I’m at right now, I just think about, I was on a call and then this gentleman said, I cannot remember for the life of me his name, but it was on a webinar with the [inaudible 00:27:32]. The gentleman said at the end of the tape, he said, “You know what the ancestors are calling you to do.” It was like, mic drop. Boom.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love it.

Kehia McKinney:  That sits with me.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I love, because there’s one thing that you say about who you’re serving. You’re literally developing young leaders. I’m going to read it, because it says you’re, “Developing young leaders who actualize and express themselves in crucial spaces to ensure access, equity, and inclusion so that the necessary steps are taken to bend the arc of time towards successful outcomes that create opportunities and eliminate the barriers for Black student success.” Powerful.

Kehia McKinney:  You like it?

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love it, because you’re talking about mean bending the arc of time towards successful outcomes. I mean, I love that, because we talk about creating opportunities and eliminating barriers, but we actually have to do something to bend it there. I mean, we won’t get there without it.

Kehia McKinney:  There are so many avenues, and so I got to go back to one thing that’s like an undercurrent of the week, but more inside of, from where you’re reading, you’ll see in there some kind of initiatives, like dual enrollment. I’m still even trying to get my mind all the way I can’t understand why it’s not happening that get there are some bigger brains than me that are at that table. Okay, I’m like, “Let’s pick up best practices.” But that’s an example of bending the arc of time. That is obtaining an associate’s degree at the same time, or even the day, a couple of weeks before you receive a diploma. How about concurrently, right? That’s been an arc of time. This resource networking in the sense of, let’s do some knowledge transfer, is continual learning as part of the metaphor, Diplomas, Degrees and LLCs. That’s bending the arc of time. It goes back to, because not everybody will have access to these rooms, you see? That’s why I’m like, “Anybody, hey, pick up the blueprint, let’s go.”

In whatever space you’re in, if it’s something K-5, figuring out if it’s whatever, if it’s this, take it and let’s go. Let’s start changing the narrative together. But the undercurrent of this Diploma, Degrees and LLCs, is this continual learning. A big part of that, is reading literacy. That, for me, is a component that you’ll see show up by early age, but then interventions, wherever our students are at. I was watching something with Lavar Burton and his daughter the other night, and I was all excited, Reading Rainbow. I’m singing the song, so I’m not going to sing the song because I do not sing. I’d have to look up the lyrics and watch it. You can hear it and you think about just getting an excitement of reading. We’ll have some undercurrent of that, but I mean, that’s a theme that is just about continual learning. There are some who have people in our family still at this point that cannot read that. That’s a limiting factor. That’s just what I believe.

You know what I mean? That is something that shows. Wherever interventions are needed, let’s get those now. Then, so hopefully next year we’ll see a bigger, won’t be an undercurrent, but it’ll be over. But in the meantime, everybody doing the work, keep doing the work. Figure out what interventions are needed, because our students are not performing at the levels that they can. Let’s take advantage of all the resources. That’s why I’m big into resource networking. Each one, teach 10. I would love the community to come out when we culminate on to celebrate these eighth graders, because soon they’ll be matriculated into high school. This would be their addition. But then it gives those students a safe place to land. It gives them a place already the access source, because not just the students, but their parents. When I say parents, I mean their community, whoever is at home.

Melyssa Barrett:  Grandmas, aunties.

Kehia McKinney:  Grandmas, aunties, uncles, cousins, foster.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Kehia McKinney:  All of these spaces to plug into. If you know an eighth grader, you can nominate that eighth grader. You see, you don’t have to be a teacher, because part of it, we look at data. I’m just saying, it’s not my data. Look at the California State dashboard or Department of Education. Not my data. You look at the overrepresentation. Our students are getting recognized in a overrepresentation of suspensions and expulsions in comparison to the numbers of enrollments. That’s not my data, but I’m like this, hey, that’s what it says, so lead with data, follow with heart. This is some of the heart. Then, there’s other work people and other spaces are doing. Together, let’s make it happen. If you know an eighth grader, you want to know what kind of categories are there?

Leadership, community engagement, fine arts and talent, cultural consciousness, student athletes, top academics. Then we want to also make sure that we recognize students, students with academic improvement. More of those categories are on the website. Click the document, nominate. We want to make sure you get your tickets to go see these students. If we’re going to write the narrative, if we want something to be different, we have to do something different. I’m like this, I show up for kids. That’s my tribe. We show up for kids. I thank you for allowing me to share this so that someone else can share it. We know what it’s like to be in school. If everybody could think back on a memory when they were in school.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh yeah, we can think back.

Kehia McKinney:  Right.

Melyssa Barrett:  No, that’s phenomenal. My dad used to always tell me, I mean, education is the great equalizer. He was born in the ’40s, and he’s no longer here, but the one thing that me and my sister got, if nothing else, is all about education. To me, education is the baseline. Then, when you’re talking about attitude plus action determines access, I mean, that’s a formula for success. I love it.

Kehia McKinney:  That’s it. Successful outcomes for students. That’s it.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. I love it. Well, Kehia, it is a pleasure. I love what you’re doing in the community. When we’re talking about social impact, we love talking to people who are making a difference in the world, impacting our people, our youth especially, so please keep up your great work and we will keep in contact with you.

Kehia McKinney:  I appreciate you. I bless you. I bless you, and. I thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  My pleasure. Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.