Kali – Kenyan Inspired Shoot
Happy 2021! I know it’s been a new year for a while now, but I’m just coming out of my winter shooting break, and am so excited about all the photographs that will be created. I am making a goal this year to actually write on this blog. I identify myself as a writer, so maybe I should share some of that with you. Today’s post is inspired by a lot of things. I’ve wanted to photograph Kali for a while, and this shoot overcame so many hurdles (snow emergencies, work emergencies, all the things). She’s just a very cool person. She graciously agreed to answer some questions for me to give this post some depth. I am thankful for her honesty, and think there is always something we can learn from each other.
The initial concept for this shoot was based around Black History Month. I asked Kali about her background and learned that she’s Kenyan. I did some research and found a lot of bold patterns and bright colors in Kenyan and African cultures, we pulled pieces of that into the shoot. Originally scheduled for February our shoot was rescheduled for March, so I was doubly pumped. Now we can celebrate Kali’s heritage AND that she’s a woman. Obviously, you don’t have to wait for a month or a holiday to celebrate. I think this shoot and these photos are timeless, and it’s important to show support for those different than you year round.
So without further ado – I will have Kali introduce herself! (I add my two cents every now and then as an author’s note, otherwise these are Kali’s words.)
For starters, tell us about yourself. What is a little of your background and some of your favorite things about you?
Alright! Well, I live in Mount Joy, PA and I am currently studying psychology through Penn State (WE ARE). I’m completing my inpatient experience at a psychiatric inpatient hospital in Mt. Gretna, difficult but incredibly educational and rewarding! In my free time, I enjoy reading, spending time with friends, and trying out new things! I really enjoy learning, one of my favorite feelings is that “Aha!” moment where you just get something and you feel it connect. It’s this really cool moment of insight and wonder and curiosity and excitement. I intend to go to grad school and pursue a doctorate in psychology and a career in outpatient counseling. I absolutely love tea and my favorite food is raspberries. Biggest flaw? Almost every morning I wake up and convince myself that I can get ready in fifteen minutes and that laying in bed a few minutes longer is fine. Almost every morning, I’m absolutely and tragically wrong.
How important/influential is it for you to see women in media that look like you or share similar beliefs? Absolutely incredibly undeniably important. As a child, the lack of representation absolutely affected how I viewed myself. When I saw commercials, billboards, and magazines, all of the women representing beauty and success were not like me, I believed that my value was less than my friends. I grew up with the definition of beauty meaning white, a standard I still have trouble deconstructing today. Growing up, It was difficult to find makeup in my skin tone at stores, which further drove in the spike that I wasn’t beautiful. Sometimes as a little girl, I would pray that God would make me white when I wake up, so I could be pretty, only to feel ashamed and somewhat disappointed in the morning. I often thought that I wasn’t pretty because my skin was too dark, or my hair was too kinky, or my eyes were too black. It’s actually quite recently that I’ve begun to take pride in my skin color and how I look. Growing up has a lot to do with that, but so does seeing women of my color (especially my shade) valued and seen. Now, I like my dark skin, I love how it glows in the sun and the deepness of it. I love the way it contrasts with brighter colors and how it looks against gold jewelry. I love doing my makeup every morning and I love my hair and all of the things I can do with it. Honestly, teenage Kali wouldn’t believe I said those words hahaha.
Can you tell us some artists/actors that have made an impact on you? Haha, the list is long but I’ll try to narrow it down. As a girl, I read the Oprah Winfrey biography (I think I was like 12?), and she made me see that someone like me could overcome challenges and become someone I can be proud of. One of my favorite writers and poets is Maya Angelou, I would say she was one of the first writers that taught me empowerment and grace in the face of trials. A song? Check out “I’m Here” from The Color Purple sung by Cynthia Erivo (an absolute black icon). Actors? Will Smith, Viola Davis, Morgan Freeman, Brandy (ESPECIALLY in the 1997 Cinderella, inspired me so much as a little girl), Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o, among many others.
Author’s Note: The Brandy Cinderella is AMAZING! One of my favorites as a child, too. Talk about representation, that movie has the most colorful cast. I am all about it. And the music? I’ve had the tune to “Impossible” in my head for as long as I can remember. It’s on Disney+ now. You need to see it.
Has there been a time where your community made you feel appreciated for exactly who you are? If so, please share about that experience. Honestly? Every time someone takes the time to listen and empathize. I think growing up I had this odd reasoning that if it was an uncomfortable topic, I shouldn’t talk about it. But I can think of so many instances when my friends and community just listened and saw me for all that I am. When my friends defend me and affirm me, I guess it makes me feel seen? Especially with the events of the past few years, it’s meant so much to me. Kinda broad I know, but yeah.
As a black woman with white parents, is there anything your parents did particularly well in preparing you for racial prejudices?
My parents did an amazing job preparing me for prejudices. I grew up in a mostly white family, in a predominately white neighborhood. I also attended primarily white schools/churches/sports teams. In short, in almost every group I was in, I was the minority. From a young age, I remember my mom telling me, “There are going to be some people who might treat you badly because of your skin and how it looks. They are wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. It is not your fault and you’ve done nothing wrong. Those people are just wrong. Okay?” My parents were always open to talking about race and racial injustice, even when I didn’t feel like I could talk about it. Whenever I did face racism, they talked about it and reminded me of my value. They encouraged me to embrace my heritage and the way I look. My mom especially took the time to teach me how to take care of my hair and my skin, although as a kid I found it annoying or tiresome, now I see the value in the way she intentionally taught me to love myself through those simple actions (thanks mom, love you). She also learned how to make African food and how to properly braid my hair (incredibly cool right?). My dad was always willing to talk about things that were happening in the news and speak to me honestly about it. He genuinely loved me for me and embraced my differences. In my senior year, we both co-spoke on adoption in a Sunday morning sermon at church. One of the most impactful experiences I’ve ever had with my father (hey dad, I love you too).
Author’s Note: How amazing do Kali’s parents sound!? Excuse me while I cry.
Is there any advice you could offer to white parents who want to or have adopted a child of a different race?
Yes. Create opportunities for them to learn about and embrace their heritage. Be open to conversations and difficult moments. Listen and empathize, and validate when you comfort your child. Expose them early on to media that shows people that look like them, and try your best to create a diverse environment. Will you make mistakes? Absolutely. Don’t feel afraid to reach out to other people who are going through the same thing or spend time researching. Parenting is incredibly difficult, but those small changes make a huge difference.
Do you know much about your African roots? A good amount. My birth-mum and my mom are actually really good friends. I’m in contact with my biological family and have met them several times, I adore them deeply. I am especially proud of my mum and all she sacrificed for her family and to give me the best future possible. She is an incredible woman. My family has roots in the Kikuyu tribe, and both my mum and mom have taken the time to teach me about African customs, food, and culture. One of my favorite things my mom did is she learned how to make Mandazis (delicious) and I would bring them in for an adoption day treat for my class! I am Kenyan and incredibly proud of my heritage.
Author’s Note: This is so wonderful! As someone who intends to adopt one day, I am always curious to hear stories. I used to be so fearful of what open adoption would be like. It’s not always a healthy situation, but sometimes, like this, it can bring so much richness and even more love. It gives me goosebumps. God does such incredible things. I’m so thankful to learn from those who have gone before me.
Have you ever been to Africa? No, but I would absolutely love to someday!
Where have you traveled that you absolutely loved? When I was in high school I traveled to L’Alcora, Spain for missions. A little town located in the eastern part of the country. We went to run a summer camp where children could practice and learn English. I loved every moment of the trip. The kids were absolutely amazing and I loved spending time with them. The town was beautiful and everyone was so kind and friendly. The culture is so different from over here. They put such an emphasis on taking time to connect with your community and rest. The complete opposite of the busy, scattered environment I’m used to. I loved walking along the streets and seeing the creative tile artwork (their main export) and exploring. We walked in the Mediterranean sea, went to a running of the bulls festival, and connected deeply with the locals there. My host parents were this incredibly sweet couple that was unbelievably patient with my stumbling Spanish and loved us so well. The whole trip was awesome.
What is something about yourself that you are proud of? Hahaha, questions like this always make me kinda uncomfortable? Well, I guess. I’m proud of my ability to empathize? I don’t know I guess I really value empathy and connecting to others. It’s something I do like about myself.
What is your favorite part about being a woman? Hmmm… I love feeling empowered by my gender. I love dressing up and feeling beautiful. I love girl talk (underrated and unmatched energy). I love my natural propensity towards nurturing, creating, and inspiring (some really interesting psychological studies on the differences between men and women in this area, like super cool). I don’t know how to describe it, but I really enjoy being a woman. Women are so powerful in this incredibly unique way and I LOVE hyping other women up and reminding them of this intricate beauty we have.
Can you name a few women that inspire you? It can be famous people or personal friends. Okay, that is an incredibly long list. Personally some of my mentors growing up Jen, Bridgett, Chrissy, Kristin, Kelly, Lauren, and so many more! They taught me so much about being a woman, growing up, and taking on the world. My closest female friends are CONSTANT inspirations to me. They hold me to such a wonderful standard and remind me of the person I want to be so much. All of the women in my family are so impressive and have taught me many of the values I still hold tightly today. In the media, also countless examples but I feel like I’ve talked a lot so far.
Okay let’s end this off with a few lighter questions!
If you could do anything for fun on a Saturday, what would you do?
If I had no budget? I would sleep in, go out to brunch, spend the day doing fun things with friends, maybe go out for a bit in the evening, and end the night with movies and/or board games.
What is your favorite candy?
Peach Rings for LIFE! The Hershey’s cookies and cream bar is a close second for sure.
If you know your enneagram number, what is it, and do you feel like it describes you well? Hahaha, I absolutely know my enneagram number. I am a 2w3. 2 being The Helper and 3 being The Achiever. The combination of the two is called The Hostess. I think my enneagram number describes me incredibly well and looking into it more has given me some interesting insights into my own personality and behavior. Total psych nerd, I know. (If you don’t know your enneagram number check out the Enneagram Institute’s website and their descriptions, it’s actually pretty cool).
Our shoot was held at Warehouse 100 in New Holland, Pa! It was a beautiful space, and we’re so glad we could work with them.
Thank you again to Kali for answering questions and being part of this shoot! I had such a blast!