A few weeks ago, I was dazzled and moved to tears by a young woman named Grace Key. A video with the headline: Born Different, showed her enjoying makeup, modeling and designing a clothing line called Candidly Kind. What made it special beyond the clever designs and taglines such as “Go With The Flow,” ‘Hey, Love Bug,” “Be The Light,” and “I Made Lemonade,” was that Grace was born with Down Syndrome. The last reference was an affirmation that she is surpassing the world’s expectation of what someone with an extra copy of chromosome 21 is capable of accomplishing as she turns what could be perceived as lemons into the sweetest lemonade.
According to her understandably proud mom, Carrie, the catalyst for Candidly Kind was a negative experience in high school. She says, “As I was driving one day crying…very emotional about it, I started thinking about Grace and her art and her heart and her many witty and inspiring “Grace phrases” and literally the idea for her to share her amazing art and phrases came to me. In those few moments when I was in such a desperate emotional state, it just hit me. I truly believe it was from a Higher Power…a sign. I want others to be inspired by the story and to see that Grace and ALL people are worthy to participate, worthy to be respected and deserve to live with dignity. I wanted to show the world that Grace and all people have talents, capabilities, abilities and are worthy.”
I reached out to the mother-daughter team and was astounded by the responses they offered.
Tell people about yourself, Grace.
I have a business and I sell lots of shirts. I paint lots of pictures.
I’m 21 years old and an ambassador for Best Buddies International. I just graduated from high school in 2018. I was a swimmer on the varsity swim team three years and a varsity football cheerleader for two years in high school. I like to have fun with my friends and family. My hobbies are going to high school and college football games. My favorite college team is the Clemson Tigers and my favorite high school team is the Westminster Wildcats. Two of my good friends from high school play for Clemson.
I swim for the Dalton, GA Sea Dragons at the Special Olympics State games at Emory University in Atlanta.
I have several medals…two gold medals in backstroke and a few silver medals in freestyle.
I’m a member of the Best Buddies Club at Emory University. We had a winter ball in December and we all got together Sunday and went to an Emory basketball game. We won! My good buddy is Yagni and we like to hang out.
I have lots of friends. Caroline Clark and Krystin Gilbert are my best friends. They celebrated my 21st birthday with me on January 18.
I’m pretty much always happy and like to be fancy and dress up in pretty clothes and wear makeup. I’m a makeup artist and like to do my own makeup. That’s why I love shopping and modeling. I painted a picture for that and it says “be fancy, be famous”
I like to hang out with my sisters and my friends and all my family. I like to travel. I go to the beach a lot in Florida and South Carolina and California. I went to Durango, Colorado to visit my sister Cara for two weeks after Christmas and I’m going to Malibu to see my other sister this summer. My life is fun. I always have fun. I love cheeseburgers, French fries, tuna salad, strawberries, chicken and tomatoes! And I MUST HAVE KETCHUP! Always.
My favorite thing to do at home is watching YouTube makeup and baking tutorials and Series shows on Hulu. My favorite shows on Hulu are One Tree Hill and Smallville. AND I love to listen to music. I always dance and sing. Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Bruno Mars are some of my favorite singers. “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars, “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry and “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus are some of my favorite songs. I also love the group Maroon Five. Adam is so cute! He’s hot. Hanging out with my cat, Bochester and my two boxers, Ellie Mae and Louie always makes me happy.
When did you discover you were an artist?
I used to draw and doodle and then I started painting at school. That’s when I painted the light bulb “Be the Light” painting for my be the light t-shirt and I loved it painting. My teacher Mrs. Robin worked with me and that is when I decided to keep painting and making t-shirts. My mom and dad helped me make an art studio in our basement. That’s where I usually paint now. We have tables, easels and about 1000 brushes in my studio.
Tell me about makeup and modeling.
I started watching makeup tutorials when I was around 12 and then I started putting makeup on like they do in the tutorials. In high school, I started modeling for different stores and did some fashion shows too. I like modeling because it’s fun and I like to strike a pose. I like to be fancy and I love high heels and cute outfits too.
How did you come up with ideas?
I used to look at pictures online and I would find things I like and start sketching them and then painting them. My mom said it would be fun to add some of my phrases I say all the time to my paintings. We decided it would be fun to put them on shirts for me to have fun and also sell them to people. We give a lot of the profit to charities…like Ruby’s Rainbow, Best Buddies, and Special Olympics.
Carrie, what’s it like to be Grace’s mom?
Grace is so much fun! She makes mine and our entire family’s lives happy. Happy…that’s the best word…Grace has the innate ability to brighten every single day! Even on the most difficult days she always makes me smile. She fills our home with laughter and keeps us all grounded with her outlook on life. She despises drama and coined the word “dramanatic”. She sets anyone straight who starts being dramatic with her “Grace phrase”….”Don’t be dramanatic, blah blah blah”. (It’s also on one of her tees because she HAD to put it in a tee).
So cliche, but she is truly my inspiration and many others’ as well. Grace has taught me forgiveness in its truest deepest form. Literally, Grace has the purest and forgiving heart. If only we all had the ability to look past the differences, and see the beauty in all people as she does. Don’t get me wrong, Grace is not perfect but she is the closest person to perfect of anyone I know. I might be a little prejudiced toward our shining light (Grace) but I think anyone who knows her well would agree!
How did you nurture Grace’s talents and her no limits mentality?
From the time Grace was born, we made sure she was always involved and we put no limits on her. Inclusion was the most important part of that to me. We accepted nothing less than full inclusion throughout school. We wanted Grace educated alongside her peers, never separated. As unfortunate as it is to say, sometimes it was a battle especially with extracurricular activities, but we pushed through those battles which ultimately made her participation possible and hopefully made it possible for those who follow behind her for years to come. She was on the variety swim team and was a varsity football cheerleader in high school. (Graduated in 2018)
When Grace shows interest, we make sure to help her just like we did with our other two girls and always offer encouragement and praise. She loves makeup and modeling so we got her tons of makeup, mirrors etc. and helped her find modeling opportunities. She loved swimming so we found a swim team for her to join and a coach and program for her to join so she could learn and train. She loved sketching and painting and has the most amazing “Grace phrases” (phrases we all can relate to) so we found an art teacher, made a home studio, got paints and easels). Encouragement is a key every step of the way. We talk to her and tap into the things that excite Grace. Basically, it’s the same most parents offer their children…help to discover their passions, get them involved, love them and encourage them.
How do you foster kindness in the world?
You must live kindness in order to foster kindness. We do that in our daily lives. Our motto is “just be kind…candidly kind”!
A big part of that is giving back. It is so important to me and our family. We have nurtured that in Grace as well. We feel that giving back both physically and monetarily helps foster kindness and promotes a society thriving on empathy and love.
When we decided to start Candidly Kind I knew it was so important to keep it authentic. The world needed to see Grace as true and authentic to “her” as possible. That’s what we try to do. If you follow her videos or pictures we post on Instagram and Facebook, it doesn’t take long to see that her business name, “candidly kind” fits her perfectly. She is the definition of candid and oh so kind. She tells it like it is and is so kind in her delivery…
watching Grace helps others to be inspired to be kind. We have had hundreds of messages from all over the world sharing stories of how Grace has become their inspiration.
We knew from day one that we wanted Candidly Kind to be Grace’s way of having a career by sharing her talents and art while also giving back to others. We decided to give as much as possible to non-profits who share the Candidly Kind vision to spread light, love, and acceptance. Last year (Candidly kind started March 21, 2018) we donated over 25% of profits to non-profits big and small who fit into that category. Some of those include Best Buddies International, the National Down Syndrome Society, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Congress, Ruby’s Rainbow, UcanSurvive, Marley’s socks, and many others.
We are taking the Candidly Kind journey one day at a time. Honestly, I never imagined it would have grown this much in less than a year. The doors that have opened for Grace, as a result, are such a blessing. We are extremely grateful and humbled by it all. Right now we are still running it out of our home….we have t-shirts EVERYWHERE. As I say often, there’s a method to the madness when guests walk in and see thousands of shirts in our dining room, our living room, our office, our basement. Ultimately I can envision it growing to eventually employ other people with extraordinary abilities and having other amazing artists work alongside Grace to create beautiful custom products. But the one thing that will never change is keeping it real and always giving back:)
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