Leilani was born in Honolulu and adopted by a Midwestern couple through Child and Family Services. The family lived on the grounds of Central Union Church, Honolulu, where her father was the church organist. When Leilani was four, the family moved to Lakewood, Ohio. Following her early schooling, she attended Lakewood High School, and graduated from Defiance College, Defiance, Ohio. The family then moved to Southern California where Leilani continued her education at San Diego State University and received her MA in Social Sciences. Developing a keen interest in the hula, she joined a local halau (hula school) and became a member of Hui o Hawai'i of San Diego. While a tenured instructor in Sociology at Grossmont Community College, Leilani received her PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. Following retirement from Grossmont in 2007, Leilani now focuses on promoting her book. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Ivan (designer of her book), whom she met while touring the Marquesas on the Aranui.