Name: Kiyla Armstead
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
What does it mean to have a voice?
To have a voice means being more than just being physically loud. It’s about getting your point across effectively.
How did you find your voice?
As a woman of color, I began to realize that there are multiple forces working to silence me. I couldn’t let that happen. While how I’m perceived is always in the back of my mind, I’ve made a commitment to myself to go for what is right regardless. Because I’m damn proud of who I am.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
My voice was definitely shaped by my environment, especially being the oldest of two. I’m an Aries woman as well (think Diana Ross), so having a strong personality was definitely natural for me. As a black woman with an Afro-Latina mother, I always have to combat stereotypes of the aggressive black woman. My culture is very naturally passionate. We express and speak with our hands, our faces, our tones, our inflections, and our cadences. I often found myself using weak language to avoid sounding “angry” or “aggressive.” If it was my time to speak up in the room, I tried my best to not say things too loudly or to be the first to speak.
“It doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what you think.” I learned that from my little brother. He’s probably the most amazing 21-year-old man that I’ve ever come across. From the age of 3, I always remember him marching to the sound of his own bass. When peers, teachers, and almost everyone projected a perceived image of how he SHOULD be, he completely rejected it – and he’s my hero for it. It was him who helped me to see that you are ultimately the commander-in-chief in your life.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
Both of my parents are extremely strong individuals who made it out of rough neighborhoods so they were definitely BIG on having a strong but CLEAR voice. This is definitely an interesting one. I believe I started expressing my voice around when I was 2-years old. On Christmas Day, my parents attempted to get me to play with one of my toys and I kept saying, “I want to get in my Car. Car, I want to get in my Car.” There are countless instances of me telling the adults in my life what I, then-toddler, wanted to do.
I lost my voice once I entered elementary school. As a shy kid, I retreated to expressing myself through the arts but rarely spoke up on the things that were happening. I went from the outspoken kid in front of the camera to the girl who only came alive on stage. This was my own “Sasha Fierce” moment. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I found that voice again. I vowed to never lose it and definitely never give anyone the power to silence it.
How valuable is walking in other people’s shoes, or empathy?
Meaning. I just want everything that I work to accomplish to mean something and to impact someone positively. It’s incredibly difficult to do everything with intention as life throws various things your way, but I realize that I never want to pursue something just for the sake of it. I want to shake things up and give it meaning. I’ve gotten many things taken away from me as a result. I was too opinionated in middle school, so a teacher altered my grade to ensure I didn’t get salutatorian. Promotions, friendships, job positions…I’ve sacrificed these at times. One thing I’d never sacrifice? My integrity. None of the rest matters.
How has your voice influenced others?
When I hear that my voice inspired others who are older than me or come from a completely different background, I’m in awe. It really shows that it doesn’t matter your generation or socio-economic or cultural background, when you’re hit by inspiration and influence, you’re just hit in every way. It never mattered to me whether I could directly relate to an experience of someone that I was helping through my work, all that mattered to me was that they needed what I was working towards. As someone who is now pursuing storytelling through film, I don’t want to just tell my story. That’s actually the problem with Hollywood now. I want to tell a wide range of stories, not because I relate…but because someone out there does.
From hearing my voice, my community knows that their voice matters as well. I’m willing to be the one who drills through the concrete ceiling because let’s be honest, it’s more than a glass ceiling that holds back people like me from opportunities. I am intentional about volunteering with youth from under-resourced backgrounds because they need to see me. They need to see that it’s possible and that it’s not just a fairy godmother who swishes a wand that can get you out of the cellar.
I am accepting of feedback and assume very good intent, but nothing is well-intentioned about working to silence someone else’s voice. When I receive push-back around sharing my voice, I work to dig into the individual's “why.” Is it that they’re intimidated? Fearful of their own voice? None of it matters, but it helps me to understand how to navigate them. If they’re willing to learn, I explain to them the implications of silencing my voice. If they’re not willing to learn, I share my voice regardless. Beyonce said, “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”
Where will your voice lead next?
I’m excited to actually pursue my passions in life. There’s been so much that has been suppressed and I’m ready to let it out. I plan to take more [calculated] risks that are going to drive impact for others. There’s no reward in playing it safe. No reward for remaining in fear. That’s not how you inspire and it’s darn sure not how to break age-old narratives. I want to be the person who builds a new kind of table, instead of just having my head down hoping for someone to give me a seat. I’m going to launch a few projects with some friends. It’s amazing to see what you can accomplish with a camp around you. I’m very excited to lean on the knowledge of others and push heavily to give it my all because they deserve that. I deserve that.
Kiyla Armstead is a writer, content creator, fashion-lover, home culinary star, and a lifelong learner. She is a proud “cultural cultivator” focusing on pushing the narratives of individuals of color and women through storytelling and media. Outside of that, Kiyla has spent the past 2.5 years at Facebook/Instagram working with agencies on their digital media strategies. Kiyla recently launched her aromatherapy and skincare business, @GidanUzuri
“ Everything is a lesson. You just have to choose if you’re going to study. If you can’t learn the lesson, you’ll just go to the summer school of life to learn it again” – Kiyla Armstead