Avery Kelley inspires with a new film and charity event. The 15-year old filmmaker, CEO and founder of Inspired Melanin Inc. – a production company that shares uplifting stories of the Black experience that are underrepresented in TV and film.
In changing the narrative, Avery is inspiring her generation to help its peers in need. Noticing foster children often have to rely on trash bags to carry their belongings and the negative psychological impact that can have on them, she started the Love Carries On Drive in 2022 – a community-driven initiative, to provide duffle bags for foster children in need.
A Riley’s Way Foundation Call For Kindness grant recipient, Avery is expanding her drive from her Chicago hometown to her new home in Atlanta, to reach more foster children in need.
In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, Avery is hosting the“Give Love & Carry On” drive on Dec. 2. This party with a purpose is a great way to engage the community to contribute to a brighter future for foster children around the holidays: The charitable event will bring together Atlanta’s youth to spread positivity, with the goal of raising 1,000+ duffle bags for foster youth. To receive a ticket to the event, participants can raise five total duffle bags, which can be purchased via Amazon.
Kelley shares thoughts on her new film and giving back.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Since a little girl, I have always loved everything about The Arts…dancing, and singing, with my passion being writing. In early 2018, I decided to take my love for the arts and audition for the part of a 10-year-old prodigy, in an upcoming independent film. For the audition, I was asked to self-tape a monologue. Instead of reciting a well-known monologue, my love for writing led me to write my own. While nontraditional, it landed me a call back for the role. Although I declined the role, I did come to the realization that my true passion for the arts was writing.
A few months later, I began to pen a dramatic comedy, “Back Row,” inspired by many of my real-life middle school experiences. In Spring 2019, at 11 years old, I filmed a short episode of this series, entering it into the Mustard Seed Vision Youth Film Festival. The film walked away from the festival with the 2019 Leadership Award. Excited about the future, that same summer I begged my parents to help me establish my production company, Inspired Melanin. In creating the “Back Row” short film, I realized that I wanted to write and film stories that represented the underrepresented, creating content that will tell positive Black stories in the film and media space.
What was your first step in documenting this story?
My first step in documenting this story was identifying the message I was working to tell. I wanted to tell a story of community and sisterhood. I am originally from Chicago, IL, the birthplace of the 40+ Double Dutch Club. My aunt is a member of one of the local Chicago Chapters, and always talked about the sisterly bond the members have with each other. So, when the idea came to mind to develop a story of sisterhood, my first thought was the friendships and relationships my aunt had developed with this organization. From there, the story evolved, the characters evolved and “The All Aroundz” was born.
What was the overall message you wanted to give?
In “The All Aroundz,” I wanted to share a message of black joy, black positivity, black sisterhood, and the black community. I wanted to share a story that had a conflict, but through community, sisterhood, and support, resolved with a joyous conclusion. As I grow as a writer, I realize that I want to create stories that are rarely shown of our community…stories of us not just surviving, but thriving, growing, and happy.
How long did it take from beginning to final draft?
It honestly didn’t take too long! In total about 4 – 6 weeks. Originally, the script was about 22 pages, which in the film world equates to 22 minutes. “The All Aroundz” was created as a part of the Black Girls Film Camp program, in which we were challenged to create a short film of 7 minutes or less (including credits). So, cutting the story down was a STRUGGLE, but a needed challenge. It was actually the part of creating the story that took me the longest. It was hard to let go of some of the scenes. When creating a story, it becomes “your baby” and you see every part as necessary and beautiful. But having to shorten my story allowed me to grow as a writer and a filmmaker, creating a project that I am sincerely proud of.
What was it like to be the youngest filmmaker at the Black Film Fest?
Being the youngest filmmaker ever selected at Black Film Festival Atlanta was nothing short of a dream. I’m so grateful to Black Film Festival Atlanta, and Ms. Racine Tyes for believing in me and my work. Since beginning this journey at 11 years old, it has been my mission to serve as living proof that you don’t have to be a certain age to reach your goals. No matter how big or small. And I’m very grateful that the festival provided me with the opportunity to showcase this.
How does it feel to be a finalist at the Cannes World Art Fest?
It feels so surreal! When applying to film festivals, I mentioned to my parents that I was going to apply to the Cannes World Art Festival. Their response was, “GO FOR IT!!!” So being selected is an amazing salute of honor. It is a salute from experts in the industry that has me more motivated than ever to do the hard work and keep on creating. I am so thankful! I’m pinching myself, it is prayers answered!!!
What can attendees expect at the “Give Love & Carry On” event?
The Give Love & Carry On Event will be a unique experience for youth to come out and enjoy an evening of giving. There will be curated performances, food trucks, giveaways, swag bags, selfie stations, a DJ and a lot of fun. But the event is centered around giving.
In 2022, after donating clothes to girls being placed in foster care, I wanted to learn more, and understand the foster care system. So, I started my research and learned that on average foster children are moved to approximately seven different homes in their childhood, with their belongings often transported in garbage bags. I was devastated by this information. Why garbage bags? In an already traumatic situation, what narrative was being painted to these children about them and their belongings?
So, at 14 years old, while I knew she could not change the entire system, I wanted to try and change what I could. It was then that the Love Carries On Drive was born. The Love Carries On Drive raises duffle bags and luggage tags for foster children nationwide. These bags are donated to child welfare agencies to have in stock when moving children into foster care.
The Love Carries On Drive asks for foundations, organizations, and members of the community to purchase a new duffle bag from our Amazon Wish List to be donated to foster children across the country. In 2022 we raised over 150+ bags and it is our goal, with the Give Love & Carry On event that we will raise 1000 bags.
In order for teens to gain a ticket to the Give Love & Carry On event, they must donate a duffle bag. This donation will give them access to the event. During this season of giving, it is my hope that many will contribute a bag, or two, or three, to this cause.
What advice do you have for future filmmakers?
I have gotten great advice on my journey and cherish all of it. One piece of advice that sticks with me and gets me through those tough times is “Bet on yourself at all times.” Betting on myself is why I applied to Cannes. Betting on myself is what makes me continue to take courses, workshops and enroll in programs that will allow me to continue to grow in this field. Betting on myself has allowed me to pen feature films, even if it’s not traditionally what teenagers do. But although I bet on myself every time, I know that this is possible because of my prayers and my village. My village bets on me too, and I am thankful for that!