SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.

 

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.

READ THE STORIES

Kenniesha Laurel Cankirli - Orlando, Florida

Story published in September 2016  | Interview conducted in July 2015

Kenniesha was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium. Her mother is Flemish and her father; African-American. Kenniesha shares her intercultural and mixed race story in a very honest video interview. She moved to Florida with her husband, Bünyamin, in 2014 and became a full time YouTuber in 2015.

International Upbringing

It was very important for Kenniesha’s parents to give her an international upbringing. She spent a lot of time traveling across Europe and the United States. She was brought up to be very aware of her Belgian heritage and her identity as an African American Female. “My family is very good at embracing both my sides. I have curlier hair and am a little more tanned than my Belgian family. I am also a little lighter than my American family. It has always been normal for us! We alternated between visiting the US one year and discovering a new European country the other year. Looking back, I think my parents did an amazing job!” Watch Kenniesha’s interview to learn more about her interracial and intercultural upbringing.

Bünyamin Cankirli, SignMyCar!, Belgians in the US
American Calling

All her life, Kenniesha has felt the need to move to the United States. As a very sociable person, she has always felt a little “hurt” by the grimness of Belgian people around her. “When you are hyper social the way I am, you need a little bit of something -  a smile, a hello back - from every social interactions - not just from your family and friends. People in Belgium often won’t even look at you. It always bothered me.” Kenniesha explains in one of her vlogs: “Why I left Belgium”.

Her biggest dream was also to start her own business. Kenniesha knew from personal experience that it would be very hard to accomplish in Belgium. In High School, one of her friends created an art organization that kept “at risk” kids off the street. Kenniesha was one of their Counselors. The nonprofit was very successful and was booking shows all across Antwerp. They even won a big grant from the Flemish government. But the heavy regulations and administrative immobility ended up killing the initiative. “They should encourage their youth instead of making sure that each tedious tiny procedure is respected. We were providing outstanding social work! At the end, we were not able to spend all the grant money. It was so sad and frustrating!”.

 

Kenniesha’s first experience with entrepreneurship confirmed what she had felt deep down all her life: she needed to move to the United States. “It’s crazy how you can come from one place and still feel totally disconnected from it.”

Love without barriers

Kenniesha met Bünyamin in 2008 when she was 17. She is 7th day Adventist (a branch of protestantism that follows some Jewish traditions) and he is Muslim. Their first year of dating was interesting. No one in Bünyamin’s family had ever dated someone outside of their community and religion. Bünyamin acted very distant and secretive at first to protect their relationship. They made a vlog about it called ‘Our Journey: Interracial - Interreligious - Intercultural’.

 

Bünyamin felt as disconnected in Belgium as Kenniesha. Together they dreamed of finding a place where they wouldn’t feel rejected or discriminated. Kenniesha’s American dream became Bünyamin’s. They started preparing their move to the United States in the summer of 2012 and got engaged in March of 2013. Kenniesha applied for a Fiancé Visa for Bünyamin. As the procedure was taking much longer than anticipated, she had to move to Florida in September 2013, 7 months before her fiancé. It was both hard and exhilarating.

SignMyCar! Intercultural Dialogue. Kenniesha Laurel.

Kenniesha with her mother and father

Alone in Florida

Kenniesha spent her first months alone in Florida. “I went from living with my parents in Antwerp to living on my own in a different country! It was a big transition. But I made it! I found an apartment for us and a job. I realized my biggest dream which was moving on my own to America! I was finally home!”. When the immigration papers were completed, Bünyamin was issued a K1 Visa in April 2014 and joined Kenniesha in Orlando. They held a civil wedding in June of 2014.

Full-Time YouTuber

While she was preparing everything for Bünyamin’s arrival, Kenniesha started her own YouTube Channel: Keyshaszone. Her goal was to create a platform where she could be genuine, creative and connect with like-minded individuals. She vlogs mostly about fashion and lifestyle but does not restrict herself to those matters. With YouTube, she aims to empower young ladies and encourage African American women to embrace their beauty. In 2015, Kenniesha made the jump to full time YouTuber. She presently has 7000 followers and has been approached by commercial sponsors. It was a bold move, yet she is glad she followed her guts! She includes Bünyamin in many of her videos. Kenniesha often feels the urge to vlog when he wakes up or goes to sleep. As a result, Bünyamin appears to always be yawning in every video! It is now an inside joke!

SignMyCar! Intercultural Dialogue. Kenniesha Laurel.
September 2016 Update

Kenniesha and Bünyamin are going to be parents! They are expecting their baby boy in November of this year. Kenniesha is excited to share her pregnancy journey on her channel. Earlier this year, they went back to Belgium to organize the wedding of their dream with all their friends and relatives. The celebration was a perfect representation of their love, blending Türskish, Christian and African American traditions. You can see all the pictures in Bünyamin’s story.

SignMyCar! Intercultural Dialogue. Kenniesha Laurel.
Related story: Bunyamin Cankirli
Other Belgians living in Florida
SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US. SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US. SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US. Support SignMyCar!

If you like this story and want to see more mini-documentaries on Belgians in America, please support SignMyCar! on our GoFundMe page!

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.

Thank you to our sponsors!

Become a partner too!

© 2014 - 2017. Séverine Dehon Photography, LLC. All rights reserved.