M y mission is to have people remember my story and the way I made them feel.” Ayana explained. For women impacted by the system or trauma, she is a vision of the future, an example of what can be. Ayana’s ability to spread good energy stems from her willingness to grapple with the dark underbelly of life. From an early age, Ayana was confronted with situations that forced her to make sense of herself and her place in the world in a very intense way.

A yana grew up in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents from the Caribbean. They worked tirelessly and relied on the collective efforts of extended family. When Ayana was ten, she and her mother traveled to Virginia. It was there that Ayana was molested by her uncle. “I was robbed of my innocence. My outlook on men, on trust and on safety were taken from me,” said Ayana. “The life I knew was gone.” The experience made Ayana realize her worth since she figured people only stole things of value. But, the experience was still incredibly challenging to process as a child. She suffered in silence until confiding in her father five years later. 

A nger radiated on a constant loop through her body. It was an inescapable force that drove her towards promiscuity out of desperation for control. Finally, at age 17, she learned what it meant to trust again. “God sent me a man to love and protect,” said Ayana. That man was her son. Ayana switched to online classes and remained an excellent student while adjusting to motherhood. A few years later, the two moved to Virginia. There, Ayana met her husband and became pregnant with a girl. At nine months, Ayana had a stillbirth. She and her husband were devastated but fortunate enough to welcome another baby girl a year later. 

I was like supermom,” said Ayana. Since her own parents were largely absent, Ayana made sure to prioritize her family. She cared for her sister, her two biological children, and her stepson while running a daycare in the community. “We lived hood fabulous,” she said. But their suburban lifestyle took a turn when Ayana and her husband were charged with felonies. Ayana knew her husband was active on the streets but didn’t know the specifics of his wealth acquisitions. Regardless, she profited from the illegal funds when she moved some of the money from his account to her own. Ayana was charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She and her husband surrendered, and at age twenty-seven, Ayana was sentenced to three years in prison.

P rison made me the ultimate warrior,” said Ayana. “I came face to face with all my anger, disappointments, trauma’s and all the good things too. I spent five months in the Special Housing Unit (solitary confinement) where I saw and heard some unmentionable things. But, I remained focused on my higher power.” In prison, Ayana confronted herself and made a promise to never let her children suffer at the hands of her poor choices again. 

U pon her release, Ayana divorced her husband and rejoined her children in New York City. They stayed in the city’s shelter system for nine months while Ayana worked two jobs. Eventually, they moved into a three bedroom apartment in Brooklyn where they stayed for six years. Life took on a comforting rhythm. Ayana was employed as a case manager through a service provider for the New York City Department of Homelessness and even married a man she had prayed of meeting while on the inside. 

A fter four blissful years of marriage, Ayana’s husband died of cancer. She recalls him saying,“I just love my life. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t want to die.” Whenever life seems hard, Ayana remembers those words. “My children are my why, and my late husband is my driving force ,” Ayana explained.

A yana’s appreciation for the gift of life motivates her to capitalize on all opportunities. Whether this be developing her professional endeavors, or supporting herself and others. Ayana is a self proclaimed “mover.” She co-owns a moving company and is onboarding as a Community Re-Entry Specialist with the Osborne Association to assist formerly incarcerated people with their transition home. “I really am coming full circle in life,” said Ayana. She is eager to work with directly impacted individuals by facilitating counseling in jails and preparing them for life beyond bars. “I get why they feel discouraged. I understand their boundaries and what they need because I’ve been there,” she said. Ayana is excited to be the face of post-incarceration because she knows how important it is to see everyday women while you’re on the inside. Ayana recalled her time in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, saying, “I would go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and I’m not even an alcoholic! I just loved to meet people, to smell their perfume, to look at them with jewelry and regular clothes on. Now, I’m that person someone is looking forward to connecting with.” 

A yana speaks publicly about her journey through multiple organizations. She is a board member of The New York Belles, a league of women who empower one another and their families through leadership, advocacy, education and philanthropic initiatives. Ayana also spreads awareness through The Ladies of Hope Ministries Faces of Women Imprisoned program. Some people are shocked when Ayana tells them she is formerly incarcerated and for this reason, she puts her fear of public speaking aside to defeat stigmas. Ayana is a life-long giver who is changing the narrative and strengthening communities.