Kennedy Whisenant works to make inclusive fashion a reality
What is one thing you wish more people knew about HBCUs?
That we exist. As someone who was “the first African American” in many areas of life, I can say that HBCUs are either unrecognized or unrecognized. I will always say to people, “I go to an HBCU”, and they will say, “What is that? Sometimes I get frustrated because we really are a hidden gem and we have people who go to these universities, graduate from these universities, who become legends, and there are so many people here who deserve recognition. Even our teachers deserve to have their flowers while they’re here. They form us, shape us and make us the people we are.
Was there a teacher or professor at Clark Atlanta who had a particular impact on you?
Too many to count. From staff to administration, I have truly been blessed not only with people who will stay in my life forever, but also with my family. These are relationships that will carry me even off campus. They don’t just care about my GPA, but they care about my well-being and my mental health. They pour out on me and make sure Kennedy is a better person when she leaves here. Yes, the degree is the main focus, but they want to make sure that in my graduation from Clark University in Atlanta, Kennedy is the best version of herself when she walks across the stage.
You want to create clothes that are both practical and flattering for breast cancer survivors. What inspired you to do this?
Before I graduated from high school, my mother was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. I am an only child and my mother is a single mother. She adopted me at two days old. I saw her go through hardships physically, mentally and spiritually. I saw the effect it had on her and I also witnessed the effect it had on me, without even knowing it. Looking back, I realized that when my mother was in pain, I was in pain. When she suffered, I suffered.
After the double mastectomy, we struggled to find clothes that made her feel good again, that gave her confidence and made her feminine. I think we take the female form for granted, and when those things were taken away, my mother had a harder time regaining confidence in her femininity. I want to design clothes so people with all disabilities can look in the mirror and like what they see.
When do you feel most beautiful?
Probably when I enter a contest. It’s not so much the makeup and the hair and the dresses, but it’s me being authentically myself and putting my heart on stage and letting people see me for me. When I stand up for things I want to see change in, when I constantly inspire people, and when I share my experiences and stories with such pride, that’s what makes me beautiful. Being able to know that I can help someone else or that I can make someone else’s day brighter. Just being able to be that light for someone.