February 17, 1979 - April 23, 2023
Debra Robin Kalusa Kiliru was born on February 17th, 1979 in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa. From the day she was born, she had a heart and spirit that was meant for greatness. It was in her laughter as a small child when she played peek-a-boo behind the couch… everything was funny and everything was serious. She grabbed dad’s car keys, put them into her trike handles and Vroom she was off to her life!
Her early years were spent on the pineapple plantations, at Thika Sports Club and at her beloved Diani Beach with her Mum, Trudie Jean Steckal Kiliru, her sisters Sheila and Dawn, and her Dad, Philemon Kiraka Kiliru. Vihiga Village, where her father grew up, was a favorite place to visit and enjoy her Kenyan family. She attended Imani School in Thika where she was an excellent student. Debra moved to Durham, NC with her Mother when she was 13 years old. She graduated from Riverside High School where she was very active in the theatre program and was a featured performer in many plays.
Debra’s grandfather was instrumental in bringing Quakerism to Kenya, and Debra’s Quaker roots led her to Guilford College in Greensboro, NC for her undergraduate degree. She created her own major and became immersed in social justice issues. Debra, along with her ex-husband Christopher Keiser, spent many years on projects related to the African Diaspora, multicultural experiences, and connecting disparate communities in the US and Africa. During this time, she worked as the Director of the Bonner Scholar program at Warren Wilson College, AND birthed 2 beautiful daughters, Jahniya and Ondessa, the loves of her traveling heart who stand in the world today as vibrant young women.
Debra and her family experienced tremendous growing pains while living in Ghana from 2013-2016. Debra came back with a renewed sense of herself and what she wanted in the world. She attracted her heart’s desire in her loving partner, Daniel Wright, and her perfect, purposeful, employment with Global Leadership Academy. GLA and parent organization Terra Education are the manifestation of the vision Debra had during her youth, and they saw and rewarded her value.
Since returning from Ghana, Debra secured funding for Light a Path, a yoga program in local prisons, through YMCA sponsorship. She earned her certification in organic farm inspections, worked with Seeds Program International where she served as an active Board member and Vice Chair, and was developing a small business featuring body products made from the Moringa tree. She hosted dinners to bring together the Black African community around the Asheville area. She was involved with the Black Wall Street organization due to her interest in financial literacy.
Debra’s energy and vision will be carried on by her beloved partner, Daniel, her daughters, Jahniya and Ondessa, her Mother Trudie (partner Jude), sister Dawn (partner John), brother-in-law Jeff, nieces Erin, Sophia and Francesca, grandnieces Audrina and Nadia, nephews Benjamin, Philip and Sam, the Keiser family, the entire clan of Vihiga, and literally thousands of friends that were her global community. Debra is predeceased by her father Philemon and sister, Sheila.
Debra died on April 23, 2023, after an extended illness. Her spirit lives on in the love and healing of everyone she connected with along her journey. A Celebration of Life will take place at Warren Wilson College on July 15, 2023.