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Watkins was born in Des Moines, Iowa on April 26th, 1970. She is of both African American and Native American descent. As a child, she was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia; her parents both have the homozygous recessive trait which one in 12 people of African American descent have. Since the age of seven, Watkins has been in and out of hospitals due to her condition. Watkins' family moved from Des Moines to Atlanta, Georgia, when she was nine years old. She was not expected to live past her 20s.