Kiana attended three different schools in Alabama and Mississippi during her high school years. She was raised mostly by her mother, who struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues and was violent at times. Kiana often found herself homeless and was taken in by another family, though she worked to support herself. When she landed the role of Jasmine in Aladdin at a local theatre in Mobile, Alabama, she took a full-time job at a restaurant so she could afford living expenses and the gas needed to get to her daily four-hour rehearsal.
While in high school, Kiana was active in many community and extracurricular activities, ranging from the tennis team and student government to a drug education program and other volunteer activities. Despite the turbulence of her upbringing, Kiana understood the value of a college education and maintained a rank in the top 5 percent of her high school class.
In her leadership classes at LEDA’s Summer Institute, Kiana’s compassionate approach gave her a strong voice and respect among her peers. They listened closely to her views on controversial topics. One of her high school teachers found it remarkable how well Kiana responded to the adversities she faced in her young life. “Through it all, she has developed into a responsible, independent, sensitive person who works through misfortune diligently and appears to emerge relatively unscathed,” this teacher said. “She has such a positive outlook on life and her enthusiasm is infectious.”
Kiana says simply, “I refuse to let the way I grew up define me or what I can do with my life. I know where I am going and I know what it is going to take to get there.” Taking full advantage of the resources and opportunities available to her at Barnard College, Kiana spent the Spring 2016 semester studying abroad in Ireland.
Click here to watch Kiana speak passionately during the 2014 LEDA Reception about LEDA’s crucial role in helping her fulfill her college dreams and broadening her horizons.