Kina Harding was a college student when she received a sign that predicted she’d one day call Arizona home.
As student body vice president at Virginia Commonwealth University in Virginia, she visited the Valley to attend a town council meeting, where a lively discussion came up over a sign that was 2 inches too tall. It intrigued her that this was the town’s greatest concern.
“I really wanted to live someplace where the issues were about a sign,” the now-Gilbert resident laughs. “It literally changed the trajectory of my life.”
"I went to law school because I wanted to help people. I will always be committed to serving others.”
– Kina Harding, Owner, The Harding Firm
Today, the 38-year-old is a mom, an attorney with a successful practice, and a philanthropist who recently started her own nonprofit organization. East Valley Family Center provides non-legal resources and services to make co-parenting, custody matters and child support more efficient at a nominal fee. The center also offers free community outreach events, such as its annual school and food drive for Mesa and Gilbert families.
Born and raised in Virginia, Harding’s father died when she was 7 years old. Her mother continued to raise their family of six: four children and two cousins. “We were too broke to have new things, but not enough to get financial aid,” she says. “How am I supposed to excel with broken pencils?”
But childhood friend Jessica Duren says she knew Harding was destined for greatness ever since the two were students in their school’s gifted program. Harding went on to earn degrees from American University Washington College of Law, and Pepperdine University School of Law.
“Even when we were children, you always stood by your personal convictions and were not influenced by peer pressure,” she wrote in a letter to Harding. “You could have easily gone down a course predicted by statistics or naysayers, but you were courageous enough to follow a path unlike anyone.”
Harding used that tenacity when faced with family challenges. In a February 2019 article for “Attorney at Law Magazine,” she wrote about her firsthand experience with how the law can affect family.
“I have a brother in prison,” she wrote. “The process of his case moving through the legal system had a detrimental effect on my family, and it did not have to be that way. As a family, we were confused because we did not understand the process, and the attorneys were brash and brutal as we faced losing my brother for a long period time. That experience left an indelible print on how I practice law, and why I will always be committed to serving others.”
Today, her firm is known as an advocate in divorce and family law matters. “I went to law school because I wanted to help people. If your family is in disarray, how could you possibly focus on anything else?” she asks.
Harding doesn’t only focus on family inside the walls of her law firm. She also works tirelessly to help families in her community and beyond. Last May, she helped organize a drive providing COVID-19 relief to the Navajo Nation. After learning there was a need and no one to fill it, she—along with her firm and Kiwanis International and Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Mesa—collected donations of food, baby formula and pet supplies.
“It’s hours away from where we live, but we couldn’t find an organization to do something. So we took the opportunity to make an impact,” she says.
As a Mesa United Way Board member, Harding is also involved in the 12 Books Program, designed to provide free books to children in first to third grade in Mesa’s Title I public schools. According to the organization, studies show that children without access to age-appropriate reading material experience severe loss in reading skills over summer vacation as well as learning challenges later on in life.
Harding, who has shelves of books in her home, says “it’s astonishing that some kids don’t have any books in their entire house.”
It also doesn’t sit well with her that every child doesn’t have the same opportunity to dream beyond high school, prompting her to sit on the board for College Bound AZ. The nonprofit community resource provides aspiring, under-represented students with mentorship, guidance and support resources for their advancement to a better future through education.
A former Arizona Black Bar Association (ABBA) president and current member for the past 10 years, Harding also is a professional speaker at various engagements, including at the “Institutional Bias: Where are We and How did We get Here?” forum. It was partnership between National Bank and the ABBA.
“I’m a successful Black woman—the Black before the woman, but both matter to me,” she says.
And it matters even more when it comes to her 14-year-old son Bryce. She shares a story of them walking together one evening when he asked to run instead, and she froze while envisioning the worst.
“My heart in that moment was arrested by fear,” Harding says. “How many lawyers have that same fear (for their children)? ‘No, you can’t run in the neighborhood where mom owns a home because of your skin color.’ ”
Although Harding is hopeful for change, the dialogue has to continue. Paraphrasing former president Barack Obama’s speech to supporters in February 2008, Harding says, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek…”
And there’s no doubt Harding will be one to lead that change moving forward. Duren is confident of it just as she was when they first met.
“I admire how you live the life that you love, working for change with passion, and in a way that inspires others,” she says. “May we all have your courage.”
Story: Julia De Simone
Photo: Mark Lipczynski