My name’s Neyla Kirby and I’m thrilled to be a Baldwin Scholar!
I was born in Boston but I grew up in Canada, which makes me a dual citizen. My father is half Japanese and half Scottish, while my mother is Sri Lankan, which also makes me multiracial!
I think this diverse background will tell you a bit about who I am as a person - I grew up with many places to call my home and was never really a part of one culture or country entirely. Although not fitting into one culture may have felt alienating at times, more than anything I found it to be liberating. I never felt tied down to one perspective and I was free to explore any that interested me, fueling a love of learning from other people and hearing their stories that has brought me so much joy.
I have an older sister named Yasmin who is the coolest person in my eyes. As a kid I would copy everything she did, and to some extent I still do! She’s my role model because she does what she loves without regard for what other people will think - she’s currently modeling in Hong Kong while pursuing a degree in marine biology.
More than anything, I love spending my time slowing down and being outside. If I could throw my phone into the ocean and never look back, I would. Reconnecting with nature, with people, and meditating on my purpose and my life are my hobbies, however odd that may sound. My sister likes to tell me that the life of a recluse would suit me very well, and I wholeheartedly agree!
Because of the color of my skin, growing up in my predominantly white rural community I felt deeply different and very small for a long time. Over my fourteen years at the same school, it gradually became more diverse, and with that shift, I myself became more vocal and outspoken about my experiences with prejudice and racism. This became a large part of my identity - finding a strength and voice in that which once silenced me.
A universal experience for young women is feeling shame around menstruation, as learned from our schools and our peers and our cultures. When I found my voice through advocacy at my school, I sought to change that stigma and challenge the internally held belief that periods were shameful. I’m most proud of a fundraiser I started in my junior year to purchase menstrual products for local women's shelters, and speaking in front of my whole school about periods (something I never dreamed I’d be brave enough to do).
I have known the feelings of alienation and powerlessness throughout my life, and very often still do. But in finding my voice, I’ve been able to use my own experiences to hopefully help others who feel as I’ve felt. I’m deeply passionate about female empowerment and equality, and preaching to any female who will listen about the value of knowing your worth and your strength, and not leaving that up to anyone else to determine. My friends and family all agree that if I was an animal, I’d be a lion - fierce, protective, and self-assured.
I’m beyond excited for the next chapter and to join the Baldwin community of fellow strong women!