Monica Kelley Realizes Her Dream by Mentoring Others
By R.L. Witter
When a young Black girl from Queens attended Performing Arts High School, she was exposed to people and music of every type and stripe. She didn’t know it then, but it would inform her life, grounding her in diversity and refusing to be labeled or stereotyped. “I grew up in a very diverse community and I wanted to bring that to the screen,” she explained when discussing her new show Chasing the Dream. “Also, I am a pastor and I pastor a diverse church. So, I wanted this show to represent what my world looks like, and my world is made up of everything.”
Kelley is quick to say that her career as a writer and producer couldn’t have come to pass without mentors who aided her in getting into the entertainment business and kept her moving from one job to another until she knew what she wanted to do and how to do it. “I started at WWRL when I was 14 or 15 years old,” she recalled. “I was mentored by a woman named Linda Haynes; we’ve kept in touch through the years and she’s still mentoring me.” Kelley’s other mentors include Vy Higginsen, Spike Lee, and NBCUniversal Executive Jeff Bader among other recognizable names in entertainment.
Knowing the importance of mentorship in her own life and career, Kelley’s latest project, Chasing the Dream, is a natural fit. “Chasing the Dream is a reality docuseries where celebrity icons meet regular people who need a hand up, whether they’re in need financially, they’re disabled, or maybe in an at-risk situation,” she explained. “We offer them true mentorship and an opportunity they wouldn’t usually have. It documents people who are in the position to help giving that help, and the people on the receiving end utilizing that help to chase their dreams and better their lives. I just really want the mentees lives to be blessed.”
Mentors representing different genres of music and dance for the inaugural season include, Kirk Franklin, Fantasia, MC Lyte, Jermaine Dupri, Walker Hayes, Fat Joe, and more. “This is not a situation where it’s a competition and they’re going to get a record deal at the end of it because some people aren’t. They may figure out that the entertainment business isn’t for them,” Kelley explained. “But what they will get is real help and an understanding of what they thought they wanted to do.”
In addition to writing, producing, and creating TV shows as well as work in film, Kelley is also a pastor. She was raised Catholic and knew as a teen there was a calling on her life. After speaking with her priest, Father George, she realized she should attend college before making any lifelong decisions. “In college I began sneaking off to the Baptist church,” she chuckled. “I’d pretend I had been to the store to make breakfast for everyone, but I had been at church.” Years later while working at BET, her office was dubbed “the chapel” and would receive visitors day in and day out from all walks of life, every race, religion, and persuasion. It was then Kelley acknowledged her anointing and set the wheels in motion to serve her church and community as a pastor.
“If you want to draw people to Christ, you have to cast a net, and sometimes you have to cast it in an unconventional way,” Kelley says. “So, my goal is to open a film and television studio in which I can train and employ the community. At the same time, I want to create content the community can be proud of. It’s important in my mind that we control our narrative. I want to raise up a generation that wants to control their narrative— whatever that is.”
When JPMorganChase was approached to sponsor the show, the powers that be immediately saw the mutual benefits. They signed on as lead sponsor and Chase employees participate as mentors in two segments. They provide mentees with tailored financial advice and insights to help them market, grow and sustain their business. Chase also helps them understand how they can build and maintain a healthy credit score using tools like Chase Credit Journey—a free credit monitoring digital tool—to help maintain good financial health and achieve their financial goals. To make it really authenic, some segments were shot at a Chase Bank branch in Harlem.
Armed with the people, resources, and spiritual strength and commitment to help others, Kelley is prepared to live her dream of giving back by changing lives and helping the mentees chase and bring to life their dreams. “It is my heart’s desire that every mentee gets that thing that feeds their spirit and encourages them in a way they never could have imagined,” Kelley said. “This show is an extension of my ministry and what God has called me to do, and He’s called me to stretch out. He’s never limited me to one group of people, and I think this show is an extension of who I am.”
Chasing the Dream airs Wednesday nights beginning October 18 on NBCUniversal’s Peacock and LX Home at 8:00 pm, and will stream on the following: Hulu, Apple TV, Roku, YouTube TV, XUMO, FuboTV, and Samsung TV Plus.