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Head Strong

Twins lead the way at Mizzou

Published Aug. 24, 2015
Story by Tiffany Melecio, with reporting by Derek Poore

Payton and Kandice Head on Francis Quadrangle, University of Missouri

Twins Payton, left, and Kandice Head have supported each other in pursuit of individual yet intertwining paths to student involvement and leadership at Mizzou. Photo by Tiffany Melecio.

Years of saved quarters, pennies and dimes allowed for family cruise trips for MU twin seniors Payton and Kandice Head. Saving those coins was a lesson in patience and responsibility. Saving also meant hoping for the opportunity of a new experience.

At MU, both Kandice and Payton have grown into seekers of whatever opportunity they can find. Payton is this year’s student body president, and Kandice is the incoming vice president for the National Association of Black Journalists chapter at Mizzou.

Adversity in their childhoods prompted both siblings to seek out opportunity, and the twins have benefited from experiences together and apart.

Sibling Support

Kandice and Payton support each other through tough times.

When Payton was working as a Summer Welcome Leader in 2013, he received a call from Kandice letting him know the family had become homeless.

“Honestly it was kind of numbing,” Payton said. “It wasn’t the first time. In sixth grade, we came home and everything was outside. [This time] the hardest part was knowing that Kandice had to take the burden of it. Kandice had to pack everything up.”

Payton continued to welcome the incoming freshman class to their new home with an unyielding positive attitude despite his worries about his own home in Chicago.

“[Kandice] was my support system so I wouldn’t lose it every day here trying to smile and welcome people to Mizzou,” Payton said.

Mother’s Influence

Payton and Kandice Head

Payton and Kandice grew up in Chicago. They are approximately 6 years old in this photo. Photo courtesy of the Heads.

During their childhood, the twins’ bond grew strong, particularly because of their mother.

“Our mom is an incredible part of making us who we are,” Kandice said. “Even though she was a single mother and living on a teacher salary, she tried the best to show us everything.”

Life with their mother, Kandice said, was filled with diverse experiences. A Grammy-nominated artist, Candice Walker exposed her children to many things in life despite their financial barriers.

“She always took us to the library to read books, but she also took us to give us a place that had air conditioning,” said Kandice.

At Payton’s Missouri Students Association presidential inauguration ceremony Jan. 31, the twins proudly introduced their mother, who performed the national anthem.

“Being homeless has taught me the importance of the relationships you have with people,” Payton said. “Never put stock in material goods, because it can easily be gone.”

Intentional Involvement

The twins looked for involvement opportunities from the beginning. Kandice said they were looking for a “true Mizzou experience” and wanted to reap the benefits of being at the university as black students.

“It was this intense need and compelling force to get involved,” she said. “Statistic-wise, I wasn’t supposed to be here. It truly was the grace of God that we’re able to be here.”

Kandice Head

Kandice Head interviews inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant during the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Minneapolis Aug. 8, 2015. Kandice is the incoming vice president of the association's Mizzou chapter. Photo courtesy of Kandice Head.

For a journalism project, Kandice was able to have lunch with Gus T. Ridgel, MU’s first black graduate degree recipient. Their conversation allowed Kandice to understand the challenges that past African-Americans had to face while studying at MU. Not even Mizzou’s most classic hangouts were without racial barriers.

“He wouldn’t have dreamed of stepping into The Shack,” Kandice said. In Ridgel’s day, it wasn’t safe.

For Kandice, who is currently serving on a planning committee for the Women of Color Summit, a safe space for women of color is a necessity.

“Being a black woman has given me so much self-power,” she said. “I want to make sure others that share my identity, and other identities that are unlike my own, will feel empowered by their identity and not oppressed."

Finding a Home

Payton’s freshman year challenged him to find a home away from home.

“I was navigating not only a racial identity, but also a sexual identity,” Payton said. “Not only trying to find a home within the black community but also trying to find a home within the queer community, which I found to be extremely challenging.”

Joining the Mizzou Black Men’s Initiative exposed him to many different student groups and organizations on campus and helped Payton develop a sense of belonging.

Payton said the groups he became involved with were “like my second family.”

Individual Yet Intertwined Paths

Payton and Kandice Head with their mother, Candice Walker, Ellis Library, University of Missouri

Payton and Kandice with their mother, Candice Walker, in Ellis Library at a Jan. 31, 2015, ceremony to inaugurate Payton as president of the Missouri Students Association. Photo courtesy of the Heads.

Kandice and Payton are involved in many of the same organizations, but each continues to carve their own paths.

Kandice, a senior studying strategic communications, is the vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Payton, a senior political science major, has been heavily involved with the Missouri Students Association. Both siblings are involved with the Mizzou Alumni Association Student Board and Summer Welcome, and they currently are on Tour Team.

During the alumni association interview process, Payton and Kandice spent hours together studying the fight song and MU traditions.

“We liked MU before,” Kandice said, “but being a part of the community that safeguards traditions of the alma mater — that’s when our love for Mizzou was solidified.”

Seeking an Inclusive Change

Payton Head

Missouri Students Association President Payton Head spoke at the White House June 1, 2015, as part of a panel discussion about ways to prevent sexual assaults on college campuses nationwide. Other panelists included Kristen Avery, national campaign manager for 'It's On Us,' Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, and Celia Wright, student body president at The Ohio State University. Photo courtesy of Payton Head.

Payton’s election made history at Mizzou by attracting the biggest voter turnout, but he says the university has more room for progress.

Prior to making his decision to run for MSA president, Payton was walking near campus when someone yelled a racial slur at him. He was shocked.

“Someone shouted the ‘N-word’ at me, and that is when I really felt alone here,” Payton said. “The idea of ‘One Mizzou’ was dead to me. It wasn’t one to me.”

That incident inspired him to act.

“I thought, ‘I can’t continue sitting around and listen to how students of color and minority students are marginalized on campus’,” Payton said.

He decided to seek a leadership role that would allow him to use his voice and work with the chancellor and campus administrations to make institutional change.

“I’m optimistic,” Payton said. “It really starts with student leadership. [Students] are in charge of setting the campus climate. They are the people that set the trends. They need to make a culture of respect and I really think the culture can be changed here.”

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Last updated: Aug. 15, 2017