Beauty and Brains: One 20 Something’s Story

A big part of the twenties is going after your dreams despite uncertainty. Kiana Billups’ story is not short on obstacles, but this twenty something has shown adversity who’s boss. An advocate for ending sex slavery and a beauty pageant novice, Billups is a 5 foot feisty, young woman with big dreams to make a difference. With her heart and persistence, I am certain that this twenty something will make a lasting impact wherever she goes.


Getting to know you a little better……

How old are you? 24
Where are you from? I was born in Washington but raised in Tulsa/Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Where did you attend college and what did you study? I am receiving a major in International and Area Studies and a minor in Nonprofit Organizational Studies from the University of Oklahoma in May 2014.

Describe yourself in 5 words.
Charismatic, compassionate, funny, bold, and witty.

What is the biggest lesson your parents have taught you?
To follow my heart. Your mind can reason you out of doing things that you were meant to do, but your heart will always tell you the truth if you’ll stop thinking long enough to listen.

What is your favorite quote?
“Keep moving forward.” Walt Disney

If you could pick a character from your favorite piece of fiction who you relate most to, who would it be and why?
Her name is Celaena. She’s an assassin with a secret past and huge future. I identify her because she’s slightly vain about her looks but is willing to get dirty to dispense justice. She hates slavery! Which I love because my platform, “1 person sold, 1 person told” is about bringing awareness to modern-day slavery. She loves very hard and very true. And that’s me. I love with everything I have and am completely honest about whom all that that encompasses. She also can fight quicker and fiercer than the wind and KICKS SERIOUS BUTT!

Who is one person who always makes you smile?
Just one?! Ummm my mom? Best friend Kalaya? Little sister Nicole?

What are your career goals?
In an ideal world, Anderson Cooper or Diane Sawyer finally retire and I take over their jobs. JK…but seriously…quit already. I’d love to be an international correspondent for CNN. God has placed on my heart to start a shelter in the U.S. that caters to boys and girls of human trafficking. It would be a place for them to receive aftercare and counseling, life skills and an education, and love. My main focus would be to gift them with the resources to get them successfully integrated back into society.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Keep moving forward.” Walt Disney

On to the more serious stuff……
Why did you decide to get involved in pageantry?

My first pageant ever was Miss Black Oklahoma USA in 2009. I did it because I had a platform I was incredibly passionate about and it seemed like a fun way to earn scholarship money. Later on, I competed in Miss Black and Gold at OU and then again in Miss Black Oklahoma USA in 2012, where I got 3rd runner-up. I honestly thought I was done with pageants after that. But I was offered the chance to chair the Miss Black OU pageant and coach contestants in Miss Black and Gold, Miss Krimson and Kreme, and Miss Black OU. I love it! I caught the fever. It’s such a good feeling to be able to watch young women grow and become aware their strengths and the world around them.

Talk a little bit more about your pageant title as Miss Black Oklahoma US Ambassador.
This title was honestly given to me by God. Having competed in pageants before and not walking away with the crown, I had decided to help on the outside but not to compete again. The national director called me and God gave me INSTANT confirmation and peace about accepting the title. Next thing I know, I’m staring at the crown and sash in the mirror—something that I’ve longed to see for 6 years. I appreciate the title of “ambassador” because I always been interested in what’s going on in the world outside of the U.S. At one point I dreamed of pursuing a career as a U.S. Ambassador to a foreign country. With this title, I am an ambassador for freedom, love and justice.

When is your upcoming pageant? Where?
I compete for the title of Miss Black US Ambassador May 15-19 in Atlanta, Georgia.

What is your platform?

My platform is “1 person sold, 1 person told.” The focus is to bring awareness to modern-day slavery in all of its forms: domestic servitude, labor trafficking and the most widely known, sex trafficking. I know I have been given this particular title in Oklahoma for a reason. Due to Oklahoma’s many interstates, it has become a major destination and travel route for human traffickers. I hope to rectify that by bringing awareness to the people it affects, that is everyone. This crime knows no boundaries and possesses no prejudices.

What is it about fighting to modern-day slavery that compels you to champion the cause?
On this earth, God gave us two major purposes.
1) love Him
2) love each other as we do ourselves.
Slavery is the ANTI-love. It’s the possession of another person. Traffickers take the person and turn them into a shell. They abuse them, overwork them, lie to them…etc. How can I not champion this cause?

In your future career, in what ways do you hope to involved with this cause?
I stated earlier that I wanted to be a international correspondent on CNN. Well, to be more specific, I want to use the media that we use for inane, pointless information to bring awareness to the 27 million slaves in the world. I want to use the TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, my blog and everything else in between to spread awareness. Eventually I will open a shelter that will care for girl and boys (yes boys are trafficked too) and help them be reintegrated into society.

If you win the pageant, how do you plan to leverage your title and the leadership of the position with educating people about modern-day slavery?
It is my goal to launch small-scale media campaigns of videos, fliers, speaking events, concerts, and fashion shows to not only spread the facts on slavery but also to raise money for the education law enforcement and the aftercare of victims.

What has being involved in the pageant world taught you? How has it changed you?
It’s taught me the meaning of “faith without works is dead.” I have really had to use my faith on this journey to the crown. But I’ve also had to step out with that faith and do my part. It’s caused me to grow by leaps and bounds. I used to be a HUGE procrastinator and this alleviated that. The pageant world has taught me to use my resources. Ever hear the phrase, “You have not because you ask not?” Well that definitely is true. I’ve learned that people are willing to help you. All you need do is ask. I’ve never had an issue with ambition, but the pageantry has taught me to focus that ambition and be realistic about my goals.

As an upcoming, twenty something, what is the greatest lesson you have learned so far?
KEEP MOVING FORWARD. This journey is SUPER hard and it will only get harder if you dwell on past mistakes. What’s in the past is in the past. Let it go and let God help you move into your future. Don’t be afraid of being uncomfortable. In fact, if your completely comfortable with your status and dreams in life, dream bigger. Get up and move forward.

What advice do you have for other twenty somethings with big dreams?
Don’t let the dreams get bigger than the God who gave them to you. Dream as big as you can! But remember that God is the one who will give you the strength to accomplish these big dreams.

– Stephkt


Dear 13-Year Old Me


I know you think you know everything,

But I am here to burst your bubble.

That boy you like right now-

Yea, the one who sits across from you in your 6th hour science class,

– He is not “the one”.

I know it seems like it is the end of the world,

But it’s not. I promise.

You will have more of these seemingly “end of the world” moments.

When you start high school in the fall, your friend group will change drastically,

But buckle your seat belt because this won’t be the first time this happens.

Hello college. Hello career. Hello marriage.

Your friendships will fluctuate with these chapters,

But don’t worry, the good ones will stick around.

I know you can’t stand mom right now.

You argue daily and can’t seem to agree on anything,

But she’s got your best interest at heart.

You won’t always have this time with her.

Appreciate her. Hug her more often.

And your older brother? Annoying, right?

One day he will magically transform into one of your best friends.

High school will be fun, but it will also be hard at times.

College will be all of this times 2.

Things won’t always be easy.

You will get knocked down.

You will go after things and not always win.

You will love and lose.

You will get burned by friends and lovers.

You will make mistakes and burn bridges.

You will have to learn how to let things and people go.

Things won’t always be easy, but keep going.

People may burn you, but forgive and learn to keep your heart open.

Take risks. Take chances. Be willing to win big, even if it means failing even larger.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Guaranteed, sometimes it will hurt like hell, but do it any way.

Stay open. Love big. Forgive often. Work hard to make your dreams a reality.

Never give up.


23-Year Old Me



Eighth Grade promotion ceremony

Twenty Something Advice (or Anybody):

“Dust yourself off and keep going.”

A Life of Purpose: One 20 Something’s Story

Authenticity is such a rare and beautiful thing. For today’s blog post, Marialicia Coates, founder of We Are Beautiful and Beautifully You magazine, shares her story. This young lady has such vision and purpose, but what strikes me the most about Marialicia is her realness as a person. Through sharing personal struggles, weaknesses and insecurities, she and the team of women at We Are Beautiful, are working to shift the cultural perspective of beauty and to encourage women to pursue lives of purpose.


Getting to know you a little better……

– How old are you? 27 almost 28 (OMG)

– Where are you from originally from? Ecuador, South America

– Where did you attend college and what did you study?
San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador.
I majored in Film and Advertising. I also went through 2 years of bible school at Victory Bible College and a year for a Masters in Ministry at Southwestern Christian University

– How did you end up in Tulsa?

I had been working in an Ad Agency as a copywriter for two years and I liked it, but I knew my life was not supposed to be a “regular” one where I had a job everyday and then went home. I always had a feeling I was meant to do something greater, but I needed to find out what it was so I decided to get closer to God and just leave everything and pursue Him and His word so I moved in 2009 to Tulsa.
– Describe yourself in 5 words.
Passionate. Driven. Funny. Loving. Crazy (in a healthy way though)
– What is the biggest lesson your parents have taught you?
To be a woman of integrity and to love everybody with open arms.
– What was your dream job when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a singer or an actress or some kind of celebrity.
– What is your favorite quote?
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
– If you could pick a character from your favorite movie/novel who you relate most to, who would it be and why?
Beauty from Beauty in the Beast because she saw beauty in the ugliest. She loved regardless and ended up bringing out the real beauty in others.
– Who is one person who always makes you smile and why?
My husband. He knows the way to my heart, but honestly just seeing him walking by makes me smile. I’m in love.
– Where are you currently working? What are your long-term career goals?
I’m working part time at a law office as a legal assistant, but the purpose to work there is just to open up time in my schedule to be able to work in my passion, which is We Are Beautiful, a non-profit organization that helps women realize how amazing they are and how impactful their lives can be if they dare to believe that they are valuable.
– Since you recently got married, tell us what it’s like to be married in your twenties so far? Any advice for 20-somethings considering marriage?
Being married in my twenties is very fun because we don’t have kids yet and we have lots of fun together. We sleep in together, which is a wonderful feeling. No, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about sleeping, snoring, cuddling, or just feeling someone is next to you. It’s the best feeling in the world. Praying together is definitely one of my favorites. Seeing how real is God and how he answers prayer lifted by a couple is very amazing. Hanging out with other recently married couples is also a really fun and good thing to do because it makes you realize you are not crazy! The last thing I like about being married in my twenties is that we have a lot of dreams and right now they seem so big, far and impossible, but dreaming time is good. We are gearing up to strategize and go for those dreams. When you’re younger, you think about things less and you just go for it which is yes, risky, but that spark is essential to succeed. How much more amazing if you’re doing it with the love of your life?
My advice for twenty somethings considering marriage is to know that love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. When you start sharing life with the person you love, you realize you really don’t necessarily “love” everything about them right away. There will be things that bother you, but you have to learn to love no matter what. Of course, communicate if there are things that are not acceptable, but in the great majority of circumstances, let go and try not to control.
Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):
“Don’t be afraid of big dreams. Go for it! What do you have to lose?” Marialicia Coates
– Explain the purpose of We Are Beautiful and Beautifully You and how they are different.

We Are Beautiful is an organization dedicated to shift today’s culture, teaching women who they really are and encouraging them to live a life full of purpose. Beautifully You is just one of the strategies we use to reach women with the message of identity and purpose. Beautifully You is a magazine designed to reach ANY women, ages between 15 and 35, and bring them the message of identity. We Are Beautiful also has conferences, websites and soon curricula to help women lead in helping other women realize their value and purpose.

– How did the two get started?

Everything started from We Are Beautiful. To know how WAB started check out the story:

– Has your college degree been helpful in the work you do with WAB/ Beautifully You? How so?

Definitely. Back when I was in school, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling led to study advertising and film. I mean, film? C’mon! It was just crazy, but honestly all the creativity that flows through my brain was pushed to its highest potential while in film school. Advertising taught me standards when it comes to design, writing and consumer behavior. Bible School, on the other hand, helped me find my purpose because it helped me realize who I am and how much God has put inside of me to really change the world. I thank God I went to school and graduated with both bachelors’ degrees and that I have a ministers’ license because they definitely prepared me for what I do now. There are so many things that I would have to pay others to do, but I am able to do it by myself because I know how to. Of course I don’t know it all, which is why I have a team of amazing people that help We Are Beautiful grow every day.

– When you were in college, did you expect to be doing what you are doing now?
Not at all.
– Did you always have a heart for women?
Nope. Not at all. It all started in 2010 in that “crazy experience in my room,” mentioned here:
– What is your hope for WAB/Beautifully You in the future?
To become a movement. To become a very influential part of women’s society generation after generation.
– As an upcoming, twenty something, what is the greatest lesson you have learned so far?
“I am what I am by the grace of God, and his Grace to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:10
There’s no way I would be where I am today if it wasn’t by finding my purpose and destiny by asking The One who created me. He created me not because he was bored, or because it’s just fun to create humans. He created me because He has an assignment for me on this earth and so I owe it all to Him. Without Him, I am nothing. I do nothing.
– What advice do you have for other twenty somethings with big dreams?
Don’t be afraid. Go for it! What do you have to lose?
** Photo courtesy Amanda Watson Photography,

The Beauty of Small Beginnings

We live in a world of more. More money. More success. More fame. There is always a higher level to get to. There is always something better. A smarter smartphone. A faster form of social media. A more high tech car. There is always something to attain, a higher level to strive toward. More, more, more.

Everywhere you look people are busy chasing something. The current generation of twenty somethings is not immune to the “more” disease. If anything, we are the leaders of it. I have fallen victim to this mentality myself. I have lofty dreams, dreams of grandeur and stature for my life. While there is nothing wrong with dreaming and working toward those goals, this incesscant striving can slowly lead to discontentment. Discontentment with the present, with all the things and people around us. We can get so caught up in our visions for the future that we forget to enjoy the present.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Your more doesn’t have to arrive tomorrow, for you to make the most of today.”

In my post “Enjoy the Journey“, I talked about learning to enjoy the journey and appreciating the baby steps that make up the master plan. In addition to enjoying your now, it is also so important to learn to serve while you wait. Instead of the fantasizing about all the good things you’ll do once you are successful, why not start now? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we became a generation of young adults who knew what it meant to be of service?


In your twenties, where you are at is “in the in between”. You are in the middle of where you once were and where you want to be. You are on fertile soil, soil that still needs watering to produce healthy fruit. You are on a launching pad that isn’t quite set to initiate. So what will you do in the meantime?

A friend and I discussed what it looks like to be of service where you are at. Last year, my friend was living at home with her parents after college and looking for jobs. Her “in between” was a time spent in service. Instead of complaining about not being where she wanted to be in her career or fantasizing about her life once she did get a job, she got busy. She served where she was. She cleaned her parents’ house each week. She had dinner ready on the table for them every day when they came home from work. She became a person of service.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait on my “more” before I become a person of impact. I don’t want to wait until I reach my dreams for me to have influence. The truth is, is that this life is what you make it. So you are a twenty something with goals and dreams and you haven’t quite gotten there yet. Frustrating? You bet! I understand. Instead of moping or waiting until you reach your illustrious “more”, I challenge you to serve where you are at. I challenge you to use the skills and talents you have to be of service to your city and the people around you. I challenge you to be a young man or woman of service, who uses what she has where she is at to make a difference. Through service, you will find that the time until you reach your “more” isn’t that bad at all.


serve Here is a group called 3D Give, a group of young adults from Victory Christian church, who volunteer around the city every other Saturday morning, passing out groceries, picking up trash and meeting the needs of Tulsans.