Kemesha Kelly, social advocate

Sunday, December 13, 2015

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SHE’S a resilient, focused and passionate youth empowerment officer and social advocate who has beaten the odds to wear the many hats she does today.

Born and raised in Priory, St Ann, Kemesha Kelly, 26, told
All Woman that two of the first values instilled in her were education and self-confidence, as her mother didn’t attend secondary school and would often reiterate the importance of getting a sound education.

"Growing up, my mom always encouraged me to use my voice and read. Most of my inspiration comes from reading. She would buy the newspapers and tell me to read them like I was reading the news on TV, and that developed my voice and self-confidence," she said.

"My parents wanted the best for us and pushed us to do well."

Kelly said she and her older brother became involved in many activities in church and school in order to better hone their leadership skills. And so when she started St Hilda’s in 2001, it was no surprise that she was elected student council representative.

Kelly, who has a degree in international relations and social policy, was selected as Jamaica’s youth delegate to the United Nations 60th General Assembly in 2005 where she participated in the review of the World Plan of Action for Youth. Thereafter, she served in roles including as president of the National Secondary Students’ Council (NSSC) for 2005 to 2006 and 2007 to 2008; facilitator for Student Solutions Symposia — organised by the Education Transformation Team in 2008; member of the National Council on Education from 2007 to 2011; Prime Minister of Jamaica National Youth Parliament representative from 2009 to 2011; youth representative for the National Partnership for Jamaica Council since 2011; member of St Ann Inter-Agency Network for Transforming Social Services; and member of St Ann’s Bay Improvement and St Ann Jamaica 50 committees.

With her passion for social policy, human rights and culture, she also won the title of Miss Festival Queen in 2012, and is a member and trainer of the St Ann Festival Queen Committee; member of the Jamaica Festival Queen National Committee; board member of the Jamaica Association for Debating and Empowerment and the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network; and part of the All-In Youth and Adolescent Technical Working Group.

She has also presented in several international forums.

Also described by the British High Commission as one of Jamaica’s women of the future, Kelly said she is committed to making improvements in her country and building a better Jamaica

"At university it was difficult to maintain my GPA and I suffered from anxiety. My parents were struggling financially, the light would get disconnected, and there were neighbours who would sing QQ’s Poverty and taunt them, and I felt that burden and began working to earn my keep at university," she shared.

Additionally, Kelly said the challenges as a female leader were distinct, as when she ran for president of the NSSC, there were men and women from other schools who said they were not voting for any ‘panty government’. However, eventually she earned their respect.

"Those same people came back to say I raised the standard of the council, and it’s a typical experience many women have — where you’re good, but because men are in the position, they question if you’re good enough to lead with them," she said.

As an ambassador for gender equality, Kelly also called for authority figures to cease vicitmising and blaming women in domestic violence situations.

"In 2006, on the day of my Spanish oral examinations, I stood waiting on a bus and a taxi came down the road from our community and asked if I was going to Brown’s Town," she recalled of a personal experience with domestic violence.

"I said ‘yes’, and while driving I realised he wasn’t soliciting any other passengers. He drove into Peter’s Point and it’s the first time I was stunned into silence. He went into an alcove that was properly concealed, and proceeded to put his leg over me and fight me, while holding my neck. I had to fight for my dignity and life," she said.

"Women should never have to feel unsafe going from place to place. He did not get a chance to rape me, but the psychological effects linger. I remember getting to school the morning, crying, and later a police officer said, ‘Is what you do mek a you one dem a try rape?’ Why was I, the victim, being blamed?"

She added: "Gender-based violence is prevalent and many women will not share their experiences because they don’t want to be seen as victims. But we need to share to inspire women to get out of it. Women need to be pillars of strength for each other and there must be a culture change, that if you hear a woman crying, you call the police and end the ‘informa fi dead’ culture."

Kelly holds fast to the belief that with God all things are possible, and often encourages others that to get through the difficult times, it’s important to breathe, believe and balance their lives.

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