Mora was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of jazz vocalist and entrepreneur Theresa Mora and jazz percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett. Her paternal grandparents are Francisco Mora (painter) and sculptor, painter, and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett. She is the inspiration for her grandmother's 2001 black marble bust entitled Naima. Catlett described it as:
That black marble head, Naima: we have twin granddaughters who came to stay with us one summer, they were studying Spanish. I kept looking at one of them, who has a very dynamic personality. I thought I would like to do a head of her. And then it was the shape of her hair with a knot at the back. It was a whole different shape. She posed for me a little bit, to get the general shape of it. She has a little bump in her nose that I wanted to put in.
Her father is Mexican and African-American; her mother is Irish and African-American. She was named after the John Coltrane song "Naima". Mora has five sisters, including her identical twin, Nia, who is a photographer. Her older sister, Ife Sanchez Mora (born 1977), is a singer/ songwriter and was signed to Tricky's Massive Attack label Durban Poison/ DreamWorks S.K.G in the trip-hop group, The Autumn People and is now a solo rock singer Ife Sanchez Mora and part of duet Ife & Danny and was the wife of chef Aaron Sanchez.
Mora grew up near West McNichols and Schaefer on Detroit's northwest side and attended Bates Academy for middle school. She graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit in 2002. A serious ballet student, Mora attended Detroit's Ballet Renaissance and was enrolled in American Ballet Theatre's Detroit summer program.
On September 3, 2012, she released the iBook Naima Mora's Model Behavior, published by Possibility Publishing & Entertainment. She has been seen on television as a guest on The Tyra Banks Show, on the second season premiere of Veronica Mars, and in a CoverGirl commercial with Yoanna House.
Mora has done print modeling for CoverGirl, ELLE Magazine, Fuego Magazine, Us Weekly Magazine, Radar, In Touch, Star, Teen People, Split Clothing, and elsewhere. Mora's runway shows include Christopher Deane Spring 2006 Collection, Gharani Strok Fall 2005, Carlos Miele Fashion Show, Walmart and ELLEgirl Presents Dare To Be You Spring 2006, Fashion Comedy Style 2005 (Charity Event), and New York Fashion Week 2007. She has modeled with her sisters twice: with her sister, Ife, for iTunes and with her twin, Nia, for Cycle 2's Camille McDonald's lingerie line, Lingerwear.
In 2006, she completed filming a role in the independent film Sarbanes-Oxley and made an appearance in a music video for TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me.” The following year, she was on the cover of U&U magazine and Uzuri magazine and was photographed by Romer Pedrome and Derek Blanks. In 2008, she had a cover and editorial in Vicious magazine, and she signed with 301 Model Management in Miami and Basic Model Management in New York City. She got a showcard for Fashion Week SS09 and walked in the Project Runway Finale for designer Joe Farris.
Mora was the vocalist for the unsigned band Chewing Pics. As of fall 2009 the group was disbanded. Mora joined the band Galaxy of Tar.