You’re new to Richmond, VA (RVA), and you don’t know anyone or where to go to have fun. You force yourself to go out to area events, mingle and make friends. You can’t help but notice that almost every event you go to there’s a youthful woman, with an infectious personality who seems to know everyone and everything about RVA. You ask around and find out that her name is Kelli Lemon, that’s right – Lemon like the fruit. You discover that Lemon has made a name for herself as someone who is interested in creating opportunities for people to socially interact, through food, sports, education or the arts. If you’ve ever wanted to know who Lemon is, this is your chance.
Lemon considers herself to be a person who is “heavily engaged in changing how people live their lives through social experiences”. In the 20 years since graduating college, she has been fortunate enough to work in a wide array of sectors. Specifically, she has worked in sports (Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Athletics), music (Radio One Richmond), entertainment (VCU Student Programming) and food (Mama J’s) industries. Despite these experiences, all of which have opened the door to present day opportunities, Lemon quit everything in December 2016 and decided to become a social change agent. “I’ve now gotten to a point in life where I am continuously looking for happiness and happy moments. I am living life in a different way, #dopeanddifferent, as a social change agent”.
Lemon, who grew up in the Tidewater Virginia area, reflects on how her upbringing helped to shape and propel her down the path of social change agency. Growing up, Lemon’s parents worked government and corporate jobs that required that they travel from Tidewater to Richmond every day. In high school, Lemon was given the opportunity to make the decision for her family to move to the Richmond area. “When I got here, Richmond was not the RVA that it is today. It was the capital of the state, but lots of crime, lots of bad things that were connected to the city. I left UVA (the University of Virginia) and landed a job at VCU and I pretty much learned life and a lot about different areas of the city while I working there. I got the taste of how the confederate capital of the south was turning into an art and culture urban city. I fell in love with every aspect of that”.
While Lemon fell in love with the city of Richmond, she quickly realized there was some serious work that needed to be done. “I went to a University that was majority white and then I come to Richmond that is majority black, and I was still seeing very separate events. Even in socializing it was still segregated. I would talk to my white friends and they wouldn’t know about certain things. I would talk to my black friends and they wouldn’t know about certain things. I knew the city could not progress and be this huge brand (RVA) unless I could help change the narrative of how people socialized.”
As a result of these conversations, Lemon chose to pursue her passion of connecting people through food, sports, arts (visual, performing, etc.) and education. When asked why she chose these areas Lemon passionately explained, “I believe that through these four areas I can have a conversation with anyone. If I’m sitting at a bar beside a man or woman that looks nothing like me or someone I assume has no values that are similar to mine, we could be listening to music while CNN (politics) is on, and instead we’re focused on the song. We see what’s going on, and we choose to not talk about what’s on the TV but we talk about the song playing and how it connected us and right there is an introduction [through music]. Then there may be a conversation about something else major, because we were able to find something to connect with [to start].”
One of the greatest rewards for Lemon, as a social change agent, has been creating a cultural buzz about the city. The plan to bring people together and put RVA on the map, was not done for the money, but purely for the enjoyment and passion it brought. “To see some events become staple pieces on calendars after all these years, to see people watch Coffee with Strangers when it was just something that Matt [podcast partner] and I wanted to do for fun, to have major institutions who normally don’t have a diverse audience ask us to be a part of events, for government officials to know and call you- that’s major, that feels good!”
While Lemon enjoys bringing people together and creating spaces where connections can be made, it has not been without its challenges. Lemon recalls instances where it has been difficult to ignore some of the things that are said and done by others who are different from her. However, Lemon who is a consummate professional, is always able to maintain a business relationship with these individuals. She believes everything happens for a reason and thus has no regrets; she only wishes she would have stopped working for others sooner and went to work for herself long before she did. “My career was my focus. I would leave to go to work at 9 am and come home at 11 pm and then work on other things until 2 am. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t engaged with my friends and family and asked myself, am I happy? No! It was then that I made the switch. I wasn’t chasing a dollar anymore and the dynamics of my career path changed. I need my passions to pay me.”
Lemon recognizes that often times there are obstacles that stand in the way of young people venturing out on their own and becoming entrepreneurs, but she offers advice on how to overcome them.
- In order to be involved in a community, you have to live and work there. Lemon strategically decided to purchase a house in a neighborhood that was struggling, because she saw the rose in the concrete. Being in that neighborhood gave her insight into people’s perspectives and exactly what things needed to be changed.
- Have an open mind. “I’m the type of person who goes to the ballet, then to the neighbor “hood” for a cookout. Be open-minded to those experiences that make up city living. You can’t go to the same old things and expect to know what others have going on.”
- Stop being afraid to fail. “Failure is always an option. In order to be successful, you’ll have to fail at things for the trial and error part. When I fail I ask myself, did anyone die? No, no one did. Then I can calm down and move forward, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Friends describe Lemon as loyal, sporadic and passionate. Outside of being passionate about being a social change agent, she is also a fervent mental health advocate. After having received a diagnosis of depression, Lemon nonchalantly told her Facebook followers in a post. While the post was meant to help others understand that mental illnesses are diseases and how comedian Robin Williams’ suicide should not be taken lightly, her transparency resulted in others sharing their personal struggles with her and finding comfort in her admission. “Mental health is a taboo issue in the black community and [some believe] the Lord fixes everything. We’ve got to get the stigma off. I want to make sure that girls and women get the support they need it.”
Lemon is a true visionary and a trailblazer. Through her efforts, RVA will most certainly continue to flourish and become a place where people of all ages, especially millennials, flock to and love to call home. She is truly showing others how to “live Richmond”. Kudos to Kelli!
RICHMOND VA – We've got Social Entrepreneur & Media Maven Kelli Lemon speaking at Emerge-Preneur 2017Get your ticket : emergepreneur.mlifestyle.org
Posted by M-Lifestyle on Thursday, July 27, 2017
Images courtesy of Kelli Lemon
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