Ayanna was raised in St. Mary, Jamaica and Snellville, Georgia before moving to New York City in 2010 to attend The New School for Anthropology and Contemporary Music. She currently works at the NYC Department of Education, and is planning to earn her Masters in Ethnomusicology. In 2012, she began volunteering with Art Start on the Hip-Hop teen night at LIFE. Since then, she has volunteered during music and art nights at both LIFE and now, the Bushwick Family Shelter. She has a passion for music, social justice, and creating accessible spaces for learning together. www.ayannaheaven.com
Favorite song to dance to (when nobody’s watching)!?
This one is really tough but I’ll give two: “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by the Funkadelics and recently, “Work” by Rihanna.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I currently volunteer on Thursday nights on the theater and music night with Nella. We have done so many fun projects with the kids, and I love getting creative with them every week. I am currently working with a small group to choreograph a dance to perform in a few weeks. It’s so much fun seeing all that they come up with when we are together on Thursdays.
What inspired you to get involved with bringing arts to underserved NYC youth?
I have always had a passion for the arts and education, so this was a perfect fit for me when I began volunteering in 2012. Back in high school, I was very involved with a local family shelter, and in my senior year I developed an art class for parents and children living there. I was eager to continue the work when I came to college, and Art Start gave me an opportunity to serve a community that I am passionate about.
Can you share a special moment you experienced during one of our workshops?
Every month we have a family night where we encourage family members to join us at workshop. A few months ago, we had just finished learning choreography to “Love On Top” and we decided to give families the opportunity to join in and perform the dance with our youth. Most of those in attendance were pretty shy, but we had one father who came and totally got down! He learned the choreography and nailed it during our performance. It is always fun to have parents in attendance, as they sometimes get to see a different side of their children in workshop. In this case, we got to see a different side of this parent, which was so funny and sweet to witness.
How has your time as a volunteer impacted you?
My time as a volunteer has been so formative, and my friends and family all know how important Art Start is to me. I have grown close to so many of the kids who attend the sessions, and it is always extremely bittersweet when they move out of the shelter. I have really learned to appreciate the time you have together with people, as it truly is fleeting. Every week that we have with the youth is important to cherish and to value. I wish them all the best as they move with their families, and I hope that our paths will cross again in the future.
Share a dream with us.
I dream of a society that allows all people to live their authentic lives free of hate and injustice. I dream of a people who understand their collective power, with the courage to speak their truth. Last, I dream of a world where we elevate the voice of our youth, and respect that they know best what they need to succeed.