Pop!: Meet Koya

Pop! Street Fashion is an experimental collection of patron street fashion at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It is devoted to photographically documenting the sartorial narratives of patrons who visit the library. Please email My Nguyen for more information.

Meet Koya.

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Some folks just have it in spades. Koya is one of them. With her fierce hair, pin-straight posture, dramatic red lip, and impeccable poise, it is safe to say that here is a person who turns heads wherever she goes. While holding the title of first runner up for Ms. U.S. United, Koya proves that beauty is not only skin deep: she is a literacy advocate and doctoral candidate by day, an avid reader in her spare time, and holds an unshakeable love for comic books. Read more after the jump.

What brought you to the library?
I’ve been visiting the library since I was knee-high. But, I come here for leisure as well as for my job. For my job, I pair tutors with adult learners that have a literacy level of sixth grade and below. I’m also working on my doctorate so I’m here for that.

Cool. How did you get involved with literacy?
I started volunteering with Literacy Volunteers and Advocates about two years ago and then I was hired as a coordinator for their tutors and other volunteers.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of tutoring?
To see adult learners reach goals—write their name, a sentence, or read their mail. It’s a daily triumph just to see their victory.

How long have you been working in literacy?
About two years now.

What are you getting your doctorate in?
In business management with a specialization in social impact management and marketing.

What would you like to do with that?
Ultimately I would like to stay in literacy, probably from an administration perspective, but I’ve also taught. So I’m looking to continue teaching at a community college level and desire to teach at a traditional four-year level.

Did you grow up in D.C.?
I did. I did.

Who are your fashion icons?
I would say my mother. My mother definitely. Iman. She’s impeccable. Victoria Beckham. And there’s a young lady—she’s Nigerian. She has a website called Style Pantry. Her name escapes me now, but her style is amazing.

What draws you to these icons?
I like more abstract, non-traditional yet traditional types of style. I’m big into prints. I like to mix prints, a lot of African prints, actually. A lot of eclectic pieces. But, I also like very classy, clean lines.

Where do you shop?
A lot of thrift stores. Unique Thrift, Value Village, consignment. I will go to maybe a Marshalls or an H&M. But you can find me in a thrift store on any given day.

What’s the key to having good personal style for you?
For me it’s just to know yourself. I march to the beat of my own drum. So just to be comfortable in what you’re comfortable in. I don’t think you have to necessarily follow a trend. Make your own trend. That’s what I believe.
 
Your hair is such a statement. How are you so confident about it?
I had challenges with personal esteem in my younger years. However, when was I able to push pass self-doubt, my confidence flourished. I had my hair cut while enduring esteem challenges. This was about 20 years ago when I was in undergrad at Elizabeth City State University. A good friend of mine cut my hair. And I said, “Oh, alright!” I’ve just been walking in that journey of discovering myself and knowing myself as a natural hair woman ever since.  I think, ultimately, when it comes to hair for women, it’s just identifying it as a part of you. And it’s OK if you want to change. And if you don’t, that’s OK too. Ultimately just being confident in who you are and walking in that. For me, confidence is knowing you are a great wonder. Though I do not perceive my hair as a statement, it is an indication of my confidence.

Love it. What inspires you?
Everything.The rain falling, my family, adult learners. I have a favorite proverb. It’s an African proverb. “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside will do me no harm. And I say that to myself daily. So, if anything, tangible yet intangible—that [proverb] inspires me to go for it and do my own thing— what I want to do. Even if those things may be a bit challenging or may even frighten me a bit.

Can we talk about you being part of the Ms. U.S. United pageant system?
Yes. I’ve competed in pageants on and off since my 20s. So I have been competing for about 20 years. I’ve won some. I’ve lost some. Ultimately it comes down to the platform for me. I speak on self-esteem and awareness, self-empowerment. Knowing your purpose and knowing yourself. And so absolutely I want to win when I compete. However, I love to compete because it gives me a platform to meet young ladies as well as young men to say, “You know what, even though you have a challenge or a fear, you are made in greatness, you are valuable, you are handsome, you are beautiful.  So let’s go forward in whatever that purpose is for you.”

The end of my reign as Ms. Washington, DC 2013 is approaching. I don’t know if I’ll compete again. I may be retiring out. But the advocacy part, the self-esteem and self-awareness part, will always be a part of what I do, as well as the mentoring. It’s been a blast. I placed first runner-up in Nationals. I have definitely had a great year representing D.C.

Aw, congratulations on that! Do you have any words of wisdom for young people who are navigating their lives currently? What should they look out for? What should they keep in mind?
I think, for me, it’s my spiritual tenants. And so I say to everyone to have a foundation on which to stand. It’s great to have a circle [of supportive people] around you. However, not everyone has that. So, you need to be confident in yourself. And of course, it’s easier said than done. But find someone who you can connect with. And that’s what helped me. I have two mentors. So they keep me in line. [Laughs.] But prayer has been what has held me. Also, reading a lot. That has been a place for me to go and just discover things, even about myself. Hearing about other stories. But ultimately, education, having a foundation in faith, and walking in your purpose.

Awesome. You mentioned reading books. What are you reading currently and what are your favorites?
Oh my gosh. What am I reading outside of school. School keeps me really deep in the books. But, for leisure, I’m reading a book called Picking Up. It’s about the sanitation workers in New York. There was actually a biography on that called Trash Dance. The actual author, Robin Nagal—she’s a Ph.D.—is part of one of the workers with New York sanitation. She interviews the sanitation workers just so we can know about what occurs daily and what they deal with. It makes you want to recycle and creates understanding about the occupation. It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Outside of that, I am a big comic book reader. I’m reading the Aurora (Storm) series. I love comic books. They’re great.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love African dance.

I don’t want to call it a hobby, but I can sign. I would say I’m an advanced novice. I’ve interpreted for a few events. But by no means would I ever call myself an interpreter. My skill set is not there – yet. I desire to obtain my certification in ASL.

I [also] love extreme fitness type of activities. So, climbing trees, flipping over tires, those types of things. Playing football.

Describe yourself in five words or less.
Optimistic, faithful, personable, gregarious, dedicated.

Very nice. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Read. I love to read and I’d like to encourage everyone to read, as well. Because I’m a literacy advocate, if you know someone who does not have the ability to read, connect him or her with someone who can. Literacy Volunteers and Advocates, a relative, a librarian, you. A lot of times we see people and think, “Oh, they’re holding the line up at the store or the ATM”. But they may not have the ability to comprehend what’s going. So I leave everyone with that message. Assist someone with literacy challenges.

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--Story and photography by My Nguyen

Check out more Pop! Street Fashion:
Meet Markeith | Meet Dante | Meet Jamela | Meet Jennifer | Meet Steven | Meet Kiara | Meet Kial | Meet Beejay | Meet Leandria | Meet Wendell | Meet Allison | Meet Brea | Meet Laura