Current Graduate Students



LaKisha T. David

LaKisha is a doctoral student at UIUC in Human Development and Family Studies. She has her Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Her research intersts focus on an emerging phenomenon in which African Americans and other people of African descent are identifying African relatives at the 4th to 8th cousin level using commercial autosomal DNA testing. Essentially, families that were seperated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade are reuniting. She is interested in (1) African American ethnic (versus racial) identity development in the context of African extended families and (2) the sense of community among African/African American relatives in emerging African transnational families. Interest 1 is the subject of her dissertation using ground theory methods. Interest 2 is the subject of a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project based in Ghana in collabroation with Dr. Christy Lleras, Gabriel Kugoriamo (resident of Paga, Ghana), Regina Nyaaba (resident of Tamale, Ghana), and several community members in northeastern Ghana cities. In both research projects, she is also interested in other outcomes such as psychosocial well-being and community engagement.

To learn more about her work, please visit her project website, The African Kinship Reunion, at




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Celía R. Burke

Celía is a 2nd year master’s student finalizing her studies in the Urban and Regional Planning department with a thesis. Her thesis is comparing healing and harmful public spaces/landmarks in areas with significant Black American populations, especially in the South. Her case study is focused on the Gullah/Geechee community of the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, due particularly to their unique culture as well as their long history of land ownership and loss. The purpose of this study is to examine potential community development approaches that urban planners can use to provide more equitable spaces and experiences that also serve to heal populations with extensive historic trauma.