Empower yourself with education.
Kelley Akhiemokhali graduated from Duke in May 2008 with cum laude honors, a major in English, and teacher certification. She is a member of the inaugural class of Baldwin Scholars.
As a first-year student, Akhiemokhali participated in the Humanitarian Challenges Focus program. She became a founding member of the Duke Human Rights Coalition, which was nominated for the Darfur Award by the MTVU/Reebok Human Rights Foundation.
Committed to service, she volunteered with A New Day for five semesters, working with at-risk and court-involved youth in Durham.
Akhiemokhali was a guest columnist for The Chronicle, creating controversy and conversation with her article, “Narrow Definitions of Blackness.” As a senior, she was invited to be a regular columnist, frequently writing about the intersection of race, class, and gender. She also co-created a house course titled, “Black Women’s Identity at Duke.”
For three years, she performed in “All of the Above,” a collection of monologues written by Duke women, and co-directed and co-produced the show her senior year.
Leaving the United States for the first time, Akhiemokhali studied abroad in Australia. “I would say my decision to go to Australia really shaped me. I have a very strong sense of self and I knew what was best for me. The British pound was not what was best for me despite arguments that suggested otherwise. I knew I would enjoy Australia more because I wouldn't constantly be worried about money. It was a great experience and it solidified my belief that my family doesn't always know best.”
As a Baldwin Scholar, Akhiemokhali connected with Giles Mentors, the upperclass women affiliated with the program. She credits three of them for giving her guidance. “I've had a lot of mentors and role models throughout my Duke career, particularly Crystal Sanders, Jessica Palacios, and Candis Watts; I appreciated their frankness and honesty with me about life's obstacles. Whenever I called them for help, they ALWAYS helped me. I consider Jess one of my biggest and most constant mentors throughout my Duke career. She's like an older sister to me.”
She also names Dr. Karla Holloway as a role model. “She's the only Black female full professor in the English Department. I didn't fully believe I could become a successful professor until I met Professor Holloway.”
Akhiemokhali participated in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, completing research on representations of trauma in literature and education under the mentorship of Professors Charlotte Pierce-Baker and Kristine Stiles.
She is a truth teller. She is deeply and respectfully honest, even when telling the truth involves taking a risk. She finds inspiration in Audre Lorde’s quote, “Your silence will not protect you.”
Akhiemokhali hopes to impact others, not by what she does, but by who she is. She hopes to affect change by being her genuine self in her daily conversations and creating an environment for open dialogue. Her ability to be transparent about her trials and tribulations opens doors. To use a phrase from author Parker Palmer, Akhiemokhali strives to live “an undivided life.”
She urges first-year women not to sell themselves short. “Many people at Duke are trying to rationalize why they are not even attempting to live their dreams, but instead, their parents' dreams. It's a quick way to a mid-life crisis.”
Akhiemokhali is a spirited activist, a gifted writer, and a guardian of integrity. She will be teaching at a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school in Brooklyn through Teach for America.