For the first part of their high school careers, twin sisters Briaunna and Tiauna Black displayed many signs of success — straight-A grades, power positions on the varsity basketball team, plans for college and careers in sports medicine.
But in their junior year, their best cheerleader, teacher and role model — their mom — faced a long and painful struggle with Type 1 diabetes. Her blood sugar levels soared to dangerous highs, she began passing out frequently and, when doctors put her on dialysis, her health went from bad to worse.
“Our mom needed someone with her 24/7,” says Briaunna, who along with her twin recently turned 18. The sisters agreed that Briaunna would leave her traditional school — and a class schedule that didn’t leave time to care for their mother at home. But she wanted to continue her studies, and went searching for an alternative.
The search led her — and eventually her sister — to Clark County Acceleration Academy. Their mother, Tasha Memminger, passed away on September 8, but her daughters are about to take the step that would make her proud — earning their diplomas and a $10,000 Nevada Millenium scholarship to college.
“Tiauna and Briauna are extraordinary young women,” says CCAA Director Wendy Thompson. “Their intrinsic motivation and desire for excellence is a model for all students. I so admire and respect their fierce determination and scholarliness. I know that they are going to do remarkable things at UNLV and in their lives.”
The twins say they’ve always been competitive with one another, pushing each other to train harder for basketball, to study harder in class. Says Tiauna, “We get hella competitive to make our grades go higher than one another.”
As they were growing up, their mother provided steady support. When they would encounter schoolwork challenges, she would urge them to try looking at the problem from a different angle, and — always — to persist. Says Briaunna, “She would tell me I could do it, not to give up.”
It was no different in basketball. “Even if she was not allowed to be in the gym (during practice), she would still be in the gym,” Tiauna recalls. And as for games — Briaunna looks at her twin, flashes a tender smile and says, “and screaming in the stands.”
CCAA operates in partnership with the Clark County School District to provide a nontraditional, flexible path to graduation. After Briaunna transferred in September 2019, she found a personalized approach and a staff willing to support her at every turn. She began by studying at the East campus from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, then returning home to care for her mother.
Shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools across Nevada and the nation, their mother’s condition worsened and she had to be hospitalized and placed on a breathing device. Briaunna brought her laptop and did work while she and her sister kept their mother company.
Although unable to speak, Mom continued to urge them to success. “Our mom was very vocal with her hand movements,” Briaunna says. “She would just watch me and communicate, ‘Get this done!’ ”
After their mom passed away at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, CCAA educators did their best to support the young women. They wanted to keep moving forward with their studies — including extra coursework required for the Millenium Scholarship — and say they have plenty of support.
Briaunna credits career and life coach Natalie Bishop with helping keep her on track academically and emotionally. “She’s very very encouraging, telling me how smart I am, how strong I am.”
After their mother’s death, the sisters lost heart for a time and wondered if they should go to college after all. Tiauna says that Thompson encouraged them to stay on track.
“She’s who convinced me to go to college,” she says. Her sister adds, “It was something we needed to hear (after) our mom passed.”
Both sisters want to pursue studies and careers in sports medicine; Tiauna says she’d like to work as a physical therapist and Briaunna has ambitions to become an orthopedic surgeon. Both suffered injuries while playing sports and say they’d like to help others in the same way.
Their hearts are big, and getting bigger. They say their journey at their mother’s side made them stronger, and eager to do their part for others who suffer.
“We know the kind of pain that they’re in,” says Briaunna. “So we know how to help them.”