Kiara Nixon, an alumna who defied the odds

Kiara Nixon with a resident at the Farmshare food giveaway event at Calloway Cove. Photo courtesy Kiara Nixon

Kiara Nixon isn’t one to flaunt her accolades. Instead, the Florida A&M University graduate chooses to lead by example.

A product of FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, Nixon’s resume includes her role as a public servant in the realm of government and policy, her community service efforts to reach Florida’s African American youth and her title of Miss Black Florida U.S. Ambassador 2015-2016.

When asked about what motivated her to become involved in each of these areas, Nixon responded with a simple answer:

“I’ve always wanted to be a helper,” Nixon said. “I’m in the field of policy now because I want to help people. It’s not because I want a title. It’s not because I want to sit at a fancy desk. It’s because I want to help people and make Jacksonville, the state of Florida, and even the nation possibly, into a better place.”

Despite the glamour that is often associated with being a pageant winner, Nixon credits her passion for humanitarianism as the key to her success in the competition. She also noted a valuable lesson she learned as a result of her experience.

“You don’t have to have a title to be a leader,” Nixon said. “I’ve actually been doing community service since I was a little girl. Then once I got a crown and a sash, of course that’s when everyone wants to be connected to you.”

Nixon made it clear that while she enjoyed the fruits of her labor, she also put in the hard work of planting the seeds and watering them.

“My state (pageant) director was located in Miami, I was in North Florida, and honestly, she wasn’t very much help.” Nixon said. “I had to do everything on my own. Doing PR all for myself throughout the whole entire state. It was pretty hard, but I had FAMU’s help behind me.”

Nixon built her brand by sending press releases to prominent black media outlets throughout the state, calling radio stations to tell them about her title, and sharing what she hoped to do to benefit their communities. Through this correspondence, she was able to connect with numerous media personalities, including Meaghan Taylor, who is also a graduate of FAMU and known for her community organization “Women in Radio.”

“This is where my J-School skills came in,” Nixon said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that had it not been for J-school, and had it not been for FAMU giving me that extra push.”

After earning her title, Nixon found that girls at programs where she spoke about leadership and self-confidence found it difficult to visualize themselves in her shoes.

“They don’t feel like they can impact change in their communities or in their schools,” Nixon said. “Because they think, ‘Oh I’m not popular,’ ‘I’m not a leader,’ or ‘That’s for extroverted people.’ No, you can make changes in your communities, your friend circles, and in your neighborhoods by being the best you.”

Stephanie Francois, a close friend of Nixon’s, said her extroverted personality contrasted well with her own introverted nature, resulting in a beautiful friendship. They met in the basement of Wheatley Hall dormitory in 2010, when Francois was trying to study and Nixon insisted on having a conversation.

“I was a little taken aback,” Francois said. “But I found that I liked her personality. She’s funny, she’s outgoing, she’s kind. Since then, we’ve been inseparable. She’s my best friend.”

Francois, who is a fourth-grade teacher, also weighed in on Nixon’s commitment to serving the youth.

“She has always been involved in my classroom,” Francois said. “She takes the time to come out and read to my kids, and I appreciate when she talks to my girls.”

Owner of Resumes by Brittany LLC, Brittany Geathers, who Nixon affectionately calls her “political bestie,” beamed when discussing Nixon’s work ethic.

“She’s involved in so many different things,” Geathers said. “Whether it be politics, or working with non-profits, she’s done so much.”

Nixon’s genuine positivity and candor has caused some to underestimate her, but like many great leaders, she was forged through circumstances that deepened her perspective. Years before ever setting foot on FAMU’s campus, she was diagnosed with endometriosis at age 14, a this discovery affected her both physically and mentally.

“Every month I ended up in the ER,” Nixon said. “The doctors said I was too young to have it, but my mom said, ‘I want you to do the surgery to see.’”

Photo courtesy Kiara Nixon

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It may affect more than 11 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44. Symptoms often include, pain, digestive problems, and even infertility.

Her mother’s persistence eventually resulted in an official diagnosis, in addition to the devastating news that she might never be able to conceive.

“That was heartbreaking,” Nixon said. “I would question myself, ‘Like are you even woman enough because you won’t be able to have babies?’”

Nixon explained that the way doctors neglected her discomfort, coupled with her mother’s unwavering advocacy, is what inspired her to learn more about healthcare policy. She now shares her story with women who have similar diagnoses, and urges Black women specifically, to feel empowered to advocate for themselves.

“As African American women, we have so many gynecological symptoms that we dismiss as bad cramps,” Nixon said. “If a doctor does tell you that you possibly can’t have kids, try to get a second opinion. If the second opinion doesn’t work, get a third opinion. If the third opinion doesn’t work, know that you always have the option of adopting.”

In a surprising turn of events, Nixon was ultimately able to conceive, and is now the proud mother of a 14-month-old boy.

After working under the direction of several Florida legislators such as Senators Gwen Margolis and Gwyn Clarke-Reed, Representative Mia Jones and Tracy Davis, Nixon took on the role of the director of communications at Edward Waters College.

The birth of her son led Nixon to temporarily step back from public policy and her college position to enjoy the spoils of motherhood.

Now, she is pursuing her master’s degree at Jacksonville University and was more than willing to share advice for individuals who aspire to accomplish this as well.

“A master’s degree is a lot of hard work,” Nixon said. “Make sure you learn how to schedule your time correctly, because you’re trying to become an expert in your field.”

Nixon’s capstone project is focused primarily on juvenile justice in Florida. When citing a specific example, she shared that the youngest person to ever be arrested in the state of Florida, was a 4-year old in Orange County. Through her post-graduate studies, she hopes to emerge more equipped to initiate policy changes that protect children from being mishandled by the justice system.

Nixon also extended guidance to undergraduate college students who, like she did, may struggle with finding the area of study that best suits them.

“Don’t decide to do a major just because there’s money behind it,” Nixon said. “Don’t decide to do a major just because your parents are telling you that you need to do it. If you’re passionate about business or journalism, go into that field, and the money will always follow you.”

In the coming years, Nixon sees herself continuing to be a voice for individuals facing injustice, and impacting the Jacksonville community for the better.