Now more than ever women and girls are being encouraged to use their voices, and Kelly Finley is playing a large role in that encouragement for Charlotte’s youth. The 45-year-old wife and mother founded the Charlotte chapter of the non-profit Girls Rock when she realized her own daughter needed to find her voice. Kelly is pretty much the perfect person to run Girls Rock because she has also been a senior lecturer in women’s & gender studies at UNC Charlotte for 16 years. We’re excited to introduce you Kelly Finley, our newest FACE of Charlotte!
What is Girls Rock?
A nonprofit organization that teaches youth to stand up for themselves and each other. Our youth create, communicate and collaborate with a diverse group of peers (in rock camps or film camps), learning the power of their voice and vision. The girls learn to play an instrument, form a band and perform all in a week.
What changes do you see throughout that week in the girls?
Many of the girls are shy on the first day. They are quiet, unsure of themselves and not sure of where they fit in. By the second day, they start bonding with their band, and the room fills with smiles. By the end of the week, they are loud, proud and having a blast!
What made you start the Charlotte chapter?
My daughter’s kindergarten teacher told me that my daughter did not talk for the first three months of school. I was shocked and saddened because she was so full of life and confidence at home. A couple of years later when some boys in her class were picking on her, she cried to me but said that she didn’t feel confident enough to say something to them. I knew I had to do something. I had heard of Girls Rock camps and found one in Raleigh. After her week at that camp, she was transformed. I had tears in my eyes as she gave her concert with big sunglasses on her face and a confident smile, playing the electric guitar. I got a glimpse into the brave young woman she would become. After that, there was no doubt. I had to bring this program to the girls and families in Charlotte.
You are launching something new this year for grown women! Tell us about that.
We are launching our first Women Rock Retreat, a three-day creative weekend where women can rock their power, find their tribe and renew their spirit. This is a weekend adventure where women will form a band, write a song together, learn how to play an instrument and give a concert Sunday evening for their fans, family and friends. Just imagine a mom and school teacher taking a weekend for herself, hanging out with some inspiring women, relaxing by the lake all while finding her inner rock star. And just imagine how impressed and proud her family will be when she rocks the stage! And the cool thing is this is all for a good cause. It’s one of our annual fundraisers!
Why are your girlfriends so important to you?
It’s interesting because the way that friends impact our lives changes as you grow older. We used to hang out for fun, to share adventures and to explore our worlds. There’s still some of that, but now dear friends feel like harbors in the storm — loving, supportive people who share your joys and your sorrows. One of the most valuable aspects of friendships nowadays is sharing our vulnerabilities and our concerns and learning how they went through the same thing or feel the same way. Knowing that the people you love and cherish have gone through the same thing makes us strong and reassures us all will be okay.
How is it different being a “girl” today?
Some things about being a girl remain the same — all the new adventures and all the insecurities. What is different is this new world of social media and how girls never get a break. It used to be girls could have an awful day at school and then go home where she could escape into a TV show, dinner with her family and just hanging out in her room. Now, she has her phone or laptop. And all those insecurities and taunting follow her home. There is never a break from the messages that make her feel not good enough or the friends who are stressing her out. The good news is that nowadays there are online voices and digital spaces that can also be uplifting and inspiring. She just needs adults to help her to navigate her way to those spaces and people.
What is the most powerful thing you’ve seen come from being a part of Girls Rock?
We have been around for long enough now to see that the girls who came to our first summer camp grew into amazing teenagers and young woman. Seventy percent of our campers return year after year. We get to inspire them throughout their teen years with powerful lessons that teach them to stand up for themselves and each other. I was so proud, for example, when I ran into two of our long-time campers at a conference for LGBTQ youth, teachers and community organizations. They were there representing their school’s student gay/straight alliance. They were standing up as allies for their friends at school … and THAT was powerful!
What should we all take away from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
We have a camp mantra. We shout out, “Girls, what’s your instrument?” and they shout back “My voice!” These movements are proof of exactly that — the power of your voice. But more importantly, we teach our girls to work together, to listen and care for each other, and most importantly, to stand up for each other. I love that our girls get to witness the power of women standing up together and using their collective power for change. But it is also going to take ACTING upon these stories. What’s next? One important lesson is that media, music and film (the industry and the art) will not change until we have more diversity behind the cameras and microphones. Women make up only about 17% of people working behind the camera in Hollywood, and only about 2% of women producing the music we hear. If we want lasting change in those industries and in our culture, we have to change that. That’s something our camps also do. We teach them the skills to be the next generation of storytellers who shape a better world for all of us.
What is your theme song? Why?
Well, my ringtone is the Wonder Woman theme song (from the movie), so if I had to pick, which is hard, I guess that would be it. I love the strength, compassion, woman power and kick-butt attitude she embodies.
What is your best advice?
I believe in karma — you get what you give. I truly believe the key to happiness in life is helping other people. I’ve learned that if you put your energy and passion into helping others, it helps you, too. If you intentionally harm others, it also brings suffering to you. We can only control what we put into this world, so make it something that matters and is meaningful.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
If I have to pick three material things, it would be music, books and coffee.
Thank you, Kelly! And thank you to Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for the fab photos of Kelly.
Meet more amazing Charlotte women in our FACES archives. Click here!