In her professional life, LaKeisha Willingham is known as “Keisha with the Keys,” a realtor licensed in Texas and Arkansas who enjoys helping people achieve their real estate dreams of buying, selling, and investing in real estate. However, at home, LaKeisha is simply known as “mom” to her two daughters, Kyana Norman and Bryana Block, whom she calls by her middle name, Jalise. The three women share a strong bond of respect, admiration, and determination. “My favorite memory of my mom is when she first got into real-estate and it started blowing up. I loved just seeing the smile on her face as she worked to get people into their dream homes,” Jalise says. “I admire my mom’s motivation and drive to be successful. She is always going to get hers, regardless of the situation. She also has a ‘never give up mindset’ that she has also implemented in my sister and I.”
Currently, Jalise is a full-time student at Liberty Eylau, and Kyana is a substitute teacher and a graduate assistant for the budget department at Prairie View A&M University. LaKeisha’s favorite memory of Kyana is witnessing her graduate on May 15, 2021, from Prairie View as a summa cum laude honor graduate. “She received her bachelor’s degree in three years after graduating with summa cum laude honors in high school. That was a wonderful day and a priceless memory,” LaKeisha says. “My favorite memory of Jalise is witnessing her being crowned Liberty-Eylau High School’s 2021 Homecoming Queen. That was definitely a proud mama moment.”
LaKeisha says that her oldest daughter, Kyana, was timid when growing up, but she evolved into a “social butterfly” around the 8th grade and has been one ever since. Now, Kyana is outgoing, goal-driven, well-liked, and respected by her peers. “Every year of high school, she was voted Class Favorite Girl and was on the Homecoming Court; she was also crowned 2017 Homecoming Court Princess of Honor at Liberty-Eylau,” LaKeisha says. “Kyana has a warm, genuine spirit and is a joy to be around. She loves to have fun and make memories with her loved ones. Kyana is usually the person in her friend group to organize and plan trips and activities. She was also voted Senior Class President her last year at Prairie View A&M University.”
Looking to the future, LaKeisha is excited to see Kyana graduate with her master’s degree and then marry her high school sweetheart, DeAndre Hoof. Then, LaKeisha hopes that the couple will purchase their first home with LaKeisha as their realtor and start a family (though she hopes it will be several years later). “Kyana is a leader. She loves to set goals and achieve them,” LaKeisha says. “What makes me proud of both of my daughters is that neither one of them has ever given up. They keep pushing and striving for greatness, even when times get tough. They are a true reflection of me, and they both make me so proud to be their mother.”
LaKesiha considers her daughters to be her greatest achievement and blessing. To her, they are proof that even though she had Kyana at only 16-years-old and Jalise at only 20-years-old, they didn’t have to become a statistic. “They defied the odds,” LaKeisha says. “I feel like I did a good job of raising them as a single mother, along with the help of my support system.”
LaKeisha says that her younger daughter, Jalise, has always been outgoing and has never met a stranger. LaKeisha says that she has a bubbly personality and a heart of gold. “There were several mornings after games, during basketball season, that Jalise would ask to go to the school and clean the gym up,” LaKeisha says. “She stated that she didn’t want the janitors to have to throw all that trash away that the fans left in the stands.”
LaKeisha also says that Jalise constantly competes with herself to break her old records and make new ones. A tomboy growing up, Jalise usually hung out with her male cousins, playing basketball and other activities similar to it. “She developed a love for basketball at an early age; I have a picture of her at her second birthday party, running around Minton’s Sportsplex with a basketball in her hand,” LaKeisha says. “I’m looking forward to watching Jalise graduate from Liberty-Eylau with summa cum laude honors and watching her play basketball at the next level as she attends Sam Houston State University.”
Kyana says LaKeisha has always been her and her sister’s number one supporter. “She surpasses the description of an ‘extra’ mom. She hardly ever misses any event that we have, and she literally gets a shirt made for everything,” Kyana says. “We never have to second guess if she supports us because she constantly goes above and beyond for us.”
Both girls are inspired by their mother’s strength and determination, even in difficult times. Kyana even says that one of her favorite memories of LaKeisha is seeing her thrive after separating from Kyana’s former step-dad. “While many people going through a divorce allow the experience to break them, my mom grew from it and bounced back ten times harder,” Kyana says. “I am extremely proud of my mother for how much of a go-getter she is. She literally accomplishes anything she puts her mind to, and she continues to out-do herself every time.”
LaKeisha has worked hard to lay a strong foundation for her daughters, and she celebrates their journey. She also recognizes her girls’ differences and what makes them special and unique. “I look at my daughters as young queens. I want them to always know their worth and value. I believe they see that though,” LaKeisha says. “I raised them to keep God first and be confident about who they are.”
Questions for Mom, LaKeisha Willingham
1. How did you choose your daughters’ names?
One of my childhood friends, Dana Radford Thompson, helped me name my daughters. We decided on Kyana Talise for my oldest daughter while sitting in our 11th-grade English class at Arkansas High. Kyana is named after my niece (Darian Kiana-Alise) and Dana’s niece (Telise). Four years later, Dana and I worked at Woodforest National Bank together when we decided on my baby girl’s name. Bryana Jalise is named after my dad (Bryant) and her dad (Julian). I call her Jalise.
2. What advice do you have for young mothers of daughters?
Believe that generational curses can end with you. Just because you were a teenage mother doesn’t mean that your daughters have to be one. Build your daughters up and teach them that no weapon formed against them will prosper. Teach them to keep striving for greatness, even in times of adversity. Be mindful of what you allow. Always remember that your daughters are watching how you handle various situations throughout life. Lead by example. Teach them that they can achieve anything they put their minds to; the sky’s the limit. Love them unconditionally despite their mistakes.
Questions for Daughter, Kyana Norman
1. In what ways has your mother influenced your life?
My mother has left an incredibly positive impact on my life. Due to her hard-working mindset and always exemplifying that the sky’s the limit for me, I have developed the same characteristics. I will be fairly successful, and my mom has definitely played a major role in paving my journey. I see my mom as being unstoppable. There’s no goal or task too big for her to complete. If her mind is set on doing it, it will most definitely get done.
2. What advice do you have for daughters about navigating a good mother/daughter relationship?
I would tell them to normalize communicating things with their mom about things that bother them. For example, if a comment your mom said to you rubbed you incorrectly, don’t hold it in-let her know how it made you feel respectfully. Your mom should be your safe space; therefore, you should be able to talk to her about anything. Lastly, cherish your mom and treat her as such because you only get one mother.
Questions for Daughter, Bryana Jalise Block
1. What was her personality like when you were growing up?
My mom’s personality has always been happy and goofy, with an “inch of attitude” and a smart mouth. She is just happier than she has ever been now.
2. What is one thing that you see in your mother that you wish she could see in herself?
My mom is very confident and knows her worth, so she sees in herself everything I see in her. She has influenced my life in all ways. She pushes me never to give up, even when things get hard. She motivates me to get up every day and be the best me. She is the reason why I work as hard as I do.