“I felt like skipping upside down, like, so happy you’d be on the ceiling skipping in circles,” Kayla said, recalling when she learned that her twin would graduate with her after all. “I was ecstatic. I almost felt like it wasn’t true, that they were going to do something. … It felt like it was too good to be true.”
A “School Discipline Crisis”
On top of everything else, although Kiera was never officially charged by the state attorney, let alone convicted, the arrest record is still there weighing her down. Her mother, Marie Wilmot, is working tirelessly to make it disappear, but it could take years, depending on how legal proceedings turn out, before the record is scrubbed clean.
“To clarify, these are sort of what they call uncharted territories, so based on everything the attorney has read and understood and conveyed to us … on clearing felony charges, you’d have to go through a five-year period and kind of keep your nose clean [to get the charges cleared],” Marie Wilmot said.
“Usually when they say we can expunge one [felony], it’s after you’ve been convicted or officially charged,” she continued. “The Bartow Police Department arrested her with these two felony charges, but the state attorney office did not file formal charges, so she wasn’t convicted of anything. So we’re not really sure. Records need to be cleared, yes. But we’re not really sure how the law is interpreted at this point,” the 50-year-old single mother added.
The Advancement Project, which describes itself as a multiracial civil rights organization, is working with the Wilmot family to tell Kiera’s story and hopes to change the narrative. The organization is using Kiera’s case as an example of the stark racial disparity evident in the way students are punished. The organization put a video on YouTube detailing these harsh disciplinary “zero tolerance” policies and how they affect students of color.
“Kiera’s experience is indicative of a larger school discipline crisis,” Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis said in a release. “While every child should have the opportunity to succeed, children, especially children of color, are punished more frequently and more harshly than other students for the same offenses.”
Children of color are punished more frequently and more harshly than other students for the same offenses.
With two felonies on her record, Kiera was forced to answer yes when asked on college applications if she has ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a felony. That prompted some prospective schools to ask for a statement of explanation. There is no way to know if her account of her arrest somehow stopped her from getting into other universities.
Still, arrest record or not, one school saw her potential, and Kiera is staying focused on her future. The twins will be going to college close to home, both opting to be in the first class of Florida’s first STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-focused university, the Florida Polytechnic University, which is still being built but is scheduled to be completed in late June or early July. Kiera wants to study mechanical and robotic engineering, while Kayla is going for computer and gaming design, although at some point she hopes to transition into audio engineering.
As for the more immediate future, the twins have a busy summer ahead as they prep for their freshman year at college, with a robotics workshop just around the corner. And then there’s their 18th birthday in July.
“They graduated, they will be turning 18 and going into this brand-new college … that everybody’s looking forward to,” their mother ticked off happily. “2014 seems like our year. I mean, we had an awful 2013, but everything’s looking up in 2014.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.