There are people who seem to emerge out of thin air with a kindred soul akin to a gravitational pull. That magnetic force was what instantly attracted Miami creatives to Rabiah Ahmad, a hairstylist who operated under her own brand, House of Kiyomi.
Last Friday, Ahmad was shot and killed in a residence she shared with her boyfriend Kadeem Bailey and several roommates in Columbia, Maryland, about 20 miles southwest of Baltimore. According to the Howard County Police Department, at around 11 p.m. on July 31, officers responded to a report of a shooting in the 6600 block of Dovecote Drive. Upon arrival, they learned that several shots had been fired into the house, one of which struck a woman identified as 30-year-old Ahmad.
Ahmad, who was 28 weeks pregnant, was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where she died from her injuries. Doctors were able to deliver her baby girl, Ahja, who spent several days in the hospital’s NICU in critical condition.
On August 6, an update on a GoFundMe campaign to cover Ahmad’s medical and burial expenses and the baby’s care announced that Ahja also died.
A Miami native, Ahmad left a lingering imprint on the arts community, embodied in her work. Her collaborative nature led to her styling a sleek, braided do during last year’s Miami Art Week for social-media influencer and Fenty Skin model Jazzelle Zanaughtti (AKA @uglyworldwide). Her artistry also caught the eye of Becca McCharen-Tran, founder of bodywear fashion brand Chromat, which collaborated with Reebok on a 2019 footwear collaboration.
“I knew of Rabiah’s work before I ever met her,” says McCharen-Tran, explaining that the introduction came indirectly, by way of artist and producer Suzi Analogue. “She was always doing the most experimental, really creative hairstyles on Suzi that you would have never seen before. She was such an expert and so creative. There were no limits to her creativity.”
Ahmad first met Analogue in 2014 in Wynwood, but the two wouldn’t encounter each other again until a couple of years later when Ahmad asked Analogue if she could style her hair for a series titled the Drip Project. From there, the two formed a working relationship that accentuated Analogue’s unconventional style and elevated Ahmad’s meticulous braiding skills. Their compatible styles worked in concert with one other, appearing in content for Vogue, Cultured Magazine, and Jezebel.
“She’s just an angel and she flew into my life. I thought of her and she came,” Analogue says.
Her presence would divinely materialize in other colleagues’ lives when they needed encouragement or an ingenious peer to help inspire their art.
“It was so fascinating to watch her and her process. She would look at a video, look at a photo, study it in five minutes, and then just does it,” says Jade Lilly, a Miami-based photographer who collaborated with Ahmad for the Goddess Collective’s Crowns and Glory photoshoot.
That project challenged perceptions of black womanhood, femininity, and beauty through tribal-influenced makeup and afro-centric hairstyles like box braids curled into a horn or coiled into a myriad of Bantu knots. A portrait of Ahmad surrounded by hands and hair tools teasing her supple afro was the dominant photo at the art gallery where the project was showcased.
When DJ and Fempower collective member Ashley Venom scheduled a hair appointment after meeting Ahmad in 2018 on the set of Fempower’s Afrofuturistic exhibit, 2040, she found herself entranced by her infectious energy and wisdom. She says Ahmad would subsequently style her hair for free and offer encouragement when she felt insecure about her body or questioned her spirituality.
And Margo Hannah, a stylist and creative director, reminisced how Ahmad’s presence would command attention before she even opened her mouth. Last December, Hannah asked Ahmad to present that same poise on a panel about black hair for her Tenderheaded project.
Aaron Jackson, the cofounder of FGO Network and podcast, points to Ahmad’s work ethic.
“She was like a unicorn,” Jackson says. “I did an interview with her recently for my podcast. It was something about her that said, ‘She’s going to get things done.’ It was that hustle mentality.”
In a chilling twist, Ahmad, a Muslim, died on the holy Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice.”
“She was our moon child, wildflower, sunflower, free-spirited, zany, funny, talented zephyr,” Rabiah Dawson, Ahmad’s aunt and namesake, says of her niece.
In one of her last interviews for VoyageMIA, Ahmad shared her vision for the future: “I see myself one day working on a project with Harper’s Bazaar magazine or for the Met Gala…. I want to build my Drip Project into something that will not only give back to the women in my community but also educate them about holistic ways to take care of their hair but most importantly themselves…. I’m going to leave my mark in Miami, the place that helped give life to me being who I am today.”
Howard County police are still investigating the murders of Ahmad and her baby and encourage anyone who may have witnessed anything pertaining to the shooting to contact them by calling 410-313-7867 or via email at HCPDCrimeTips@howardcountymd.gov. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the police department are collectively offering a reward of $15,000 to witnesses who come forward with information about the incident.
Ahmad’s family is planning a candlelight vigil for friends and family to celebrate her life and legacy on Friday, August 14, at 7 p.m. at the beach behind the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach. In order to comply with capacity and social-distancing mandates, the celebration will be livestreamed.
In lieu of flowers, family members suggest donations to the GoFundMe campaign.