Our Friend, Keisha

I sat in a cozy corner at a local sushi spot thumbing through the last few pages of a book when Keisha walked in. Known as a connection curator and social entrepreneur, she now had the title of author under her belt. I was in fact reading her new book, ‘Hey Friend: 100 Ways to Connect with 100 People in 100 Days’, when she walked over to greet me. Though we had only met once prior, briefly, at her book launch- with a super warm smile she leaned in for a hug. Little did she know she had officially become one of my new favorite influencers and provided me with my latest #lifegoals- yes, the book was that good.

Shayba: So, for those who don’t know you yet- who is Keisha Mabry?

Keisha: I sum myself up in characters that people can relate to- I say I’m part Dora The Explorer, part Curious George, and part Olivia Pope. When you think about those three characters, let’s take Dora for instance. Dora likes to explore and I love to explore, to travel, to just put myself into new experiences and new situations. I’m part Curious George meaning I’m just curious, like every day I’m trying to learn something new. The third piece of that is Olivia Pope- I like to dress fly and I like to solve problems. All of that can be summed up in different ways, whether I’m using characters or different things that excite me. I’m part author, part connector, and part social entrepreneur. So, again a matter of exploring, learning new things, bringing new people together, helping people, and solving problems while dressing fly.

S: Okay, I like it! I think that 100 ways in 100 days is pretty straightforward- why call it Hey Friend?

K: It’s actually an interesting story and the more I tell this the more people are probably going to realize I don’t know their names! But ‘hey friend’ came about 10 years ago when I was celebrating a birthday. So again, it goes back to this whole like exploration piece. I invited I think about 8 or 10 girls on a trip to Atlanta and we did like a whole Real Housewives of Atlanta theme. So, we went to a lot of the boutiques they went to in the show that season-

S: That’s fun!

K: …and a lot of the restaurants that they went to. We definitely hit up the strip club too. But throughout the whole weekend I just got lazy to be honest and so instead of calling everyone by name I just started saying ‘Hey friend!’- pure laziness! But it caught like wildfire. By the end of the weekend everyone was saying ‘hey friend’ including my mother who went too. So every restaurant if we couldnt remember our waiter or waitresses name we would say ‘hey friend’- everywhere we went.

S: Did anyone catch on to that?

K: Not really because people just repeated it back to us. I’ve learned that that word ‘friend’ is like a word of endearment. When you hear it ‘hey friend!’ it makes people light up and they repeat it back. So no, no one caught on that I was being lazy! Fast forward to a year later, I ended up moving to Saint Louis and I didn’t know anyone. I forced myself to go out all of the time. In going out I was running into so many people, some I would run into multiple times. Unfortunately I didn’t remember everyone’s names so I just started saying ‘hey friend’. So it was a way for me to let people know that I still remembered them, however, in the back of my head I’m like I don’t know their name. They never knew! So it’s part that and it’s part seeing how people respond and it opens them up. It really just taught me that there’s so much power in that word. Both words! Even if you separate them ‘hey’ is rooted in hello and there’s so much power in just saying hello to people. Then that second word friend- [so] often times we grow up and we don’t wanna meet new friends. Like Drake ‘no new friends’ we get stuck in that mindset. The power to foster new friendships and curate and cultivate them is so amazing and is has been so beneficial in my life to continue to share those stories. ‘Hey friend’ started off as something lazy but it really has become a part of me. Not just a part of me but a movement for me to continue to force myself to meet new people, to say hello to people [and] encourage others to do the same.

S: So, this idea of building who you want to become is incredibly empowering, is this an idea you utilize often when you come across clients that are less confident in their ability to connect?

K: Absolutely. All of my connection coaching comes from a place of authenticity. It comes from me and the things that I know to be true personally. Build a Keisha was not something I googled – it was a lived experience. As I mention in the book, transitions can be exhilarating and frightening, thrilling and trying, inspiring and mixed with a little bit of crying but friends and supports systems make them better and easier to whether. Those words are my own, they are my story, my testimony and it’s these words that make connecting easier for my clients to do because I’ve been in their shoes.

S: How do you strike a balance between maintaining personal vs professional relationships?

K: I have a lot on my plate – a whole lot – my plate runneth over. I have a full time job, I have Hey Friend, I have a long distance relationship and I have family and friends plus some. There’s no shortage of the things I have to do, and by having so much to do I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as work life balance – just choices. So I maintain my relationships by combining as many parts of my plate as I can and when I can’t I make choices. For instance, if I have a work event I will invite non-work friends and when I have a personal endeavor like running errands I will invite work and non-work friends to run them with me. So again I try to overlap as much as my life as I can and as many of my friends as I can. I also block time on my calendar to maintain my relationships because relationships take work – and not just relationships with our significant others but all relationships. They take work and I work at them by having email, text, call and date nights that I reserve just for my friends — and lucky for me my fiancé understands. But some days he has to wheel me in and remind me that I also have a relationship with him. ☺

S: I know you’ve had many mentors throughout your career, but has there been any specific person that really inspired who you are today?

K: I’ve had a village of mentors…too many to name. Mentors for reasons, seasons and lifetimes and there’s one lifetime mentor that comes to mind and his name is Mr. McDonald. Mr. McDonald has known me since the 7th grade and we have been close ever since I told him that I was going to take his job one day. He was a president and I wanted his c-suite seat so yep I said those words in the 7th grade. Cray but true and Mr. McDonald has been in my corner ever since. He’s like a father to me and lucky for me I’ve had a few men in my life that have stood in when my real father didn’t. He was one of them and over the past twenty years he has given me so many gems of wisdom. It’s funny, as I sit here I can hear his voice and I can hear his colloquialisms like never chase anything fast – no fast fun, no fast money and no fast men. Or, my favorite — you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I still have no clue what that even means but regardless he’s been good to me and I thank him for that.

S: What are some cultural touchstones you consider a part of who you are today — i.e.: what films, books, artists, places, etc., have been most influential in shaping you?
Oh wow. There’s too many to name. I’ve been shaped by a premature birth, the black church, a single mother, traditional middle schooling, a majority black high school, a PWI college, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Maya Angelou’s poems, Spike Lee’s School Daze, 1990’s R&B and hip-hop, summer track with AAU, the Whitney Young Scholars Program, childhood road trips with the fam, witnessing education inequalities while teaching and most recently losing a brother to gun violence.

K: What have you changed or done in your life that helps you to thrive?
I have done three things. 1. I have intentionally limited my multi-tasking. Now multi-tasking is a strength of mine but I’ve learned that I succeed more when I focus on one thing deliberately until it’s complete. 2. I have put a few things in place to move me from goal setting to goal getting. I have placed a copy of my goals everywhere and when I say everywhere I do mean everywhere. They are in my phone, in my planner, on my fridge, on my bathroom mirror and on sticky notes plastered all around my living room. They are also with my family and friends. Now, not everyone believes in sharing their goals with the world but I do. Family and friends hold me accountable to them and by putting them everywhere I can’t go anywhere without seeing them. 3. For the past year and a half I have treated my dream like a second job and I work on it daily. Every single day including weekends and holidays.

S: What’s your current curiosity?

K: I ask why daily, weekly I try to meet a new person over coffee, monthly I try a new experience and yearly I visit a new country. Being curious pushes me out of my comfort zone and exposes me to a reality outside of my own. Everything from DJing to flight lessons, improv to eating delicatessens and everything in between — I’ve done out of pure curiosity. Most exciting is my upcoming curious thing and that’s my race car experience…I have that in June and I’m so excited I just can’t hide it.

S: How do you see the way we network or better yet connect evolving?

K: I have no clue. Technology is moving at such a fast pace that connecting may be done telepathically one day. But just like everything else in our world, I am hoping history repeats itself. I am hoping that we go back to the days when we said hello to everyone we passed on the street and when we took a second out of our day to call family and friends just to speak. It’s a long shot but I am hoping that our attention turns back to people and away from technology – one day.

S: There are people that seem to prefer to hold on to the details of their success. But you were very specific with your techniques down to what to say, how to say it and when in this book, why share so much?

K: I share because I have to. I absolutely have to because I didn’t get where I am alone, because when much is given much is required and I truly believe the way we give back to God is to give back to our community. And this is my give back — connecting. I was blessed with this gift. I call it a gift now but I haven’t always thought of it that way — until one day. One day when getting takeout a lady walked up to me and told me that God sent me to change human connectivity. Wow, I thought – this lady’s crazy. But she wasn’t. I was crazy for not believing her because within weeks God was sending more people my way to remind me that connecting was indeed my thing, and to let me know that I wasn’t dreaming big enough. And they were right – I wasn’t. But now I am.
I dream of Hey Friend as a movement that will change the world one connection at a time by connecting people to the people and resources they need to catch their dreams. A movement that will make the world friendly again by showing people that we are more connected than we think and more similar than we believe. A movement that will lead to more communication, more access and more progress to get the right people in the right seats to end inequality.

S: To say you’re a go getter is an understatement, what drives you to do all that you do?

K: I am driven by two things. First, the fear of failure and not just failing myself but failing my future family. I grew up with a single mother and that struggle was real. So real — and I told myself at a very young age that I would avoid the struggle at all cost in adulthood if I could. Second, my love for people. A love that was instilled in me by my mother and brother, and a love that moves me to use my life as an offering of service to make the struggle less real for others.

S: What does Keisha’s future life look like?

K: I’ve always wanted a show. Like a real talk show where I help people get connected to the people and resources they need to catch their dreams. And I’ve always wanted to do voice-overs for tv. I have a unique voice – so I’m told – but I could see, well hear, myself on a cartoon or two. And lastly, in a perfect world I would live in a different country at least one month a year teaching and speaking. So yes, talk show to help people, voice overs to have fun and seeing the world with my family would be the life. Oh and another book or even two would be icing on the cake.

I’m encouraging you now to get your copy of ‘100 Ways’ by visiting KeishaMabry.com/getconnected. You will thank me (or maybe Keisha) later!