Deana Ayers: Living authentically as an activist
Deana Ayers is an activist, organizer, community builder, former student government leader, and more. They attribute their passion for civic engagement to their mother who would take her child with her to every election from the local to the presidential. Deana grew up with a role model that demonstrated an unwavering commitment to civic engagement. Deana’s mother was an entry point for them to get involved politically by focusing on voter engagement. Like many young people, it was not until the 2016 election that Deana understood the layers of processes that went into a presidential election. The upset of that election motivated them to dig into organizing from where they stood.
Deana took the time to explore their interest in high school volunteering, playing in band, and generally just helping others. They never thought about student government or running for elected office of any sort until college. Entering University of North Texas soon after the 2016 election left Deana and others with the saying “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” Despite hesitation, and after a reminder of that notion from the college democrats who boosted her up to be a leader, Deana decided to run for student government. They did not have a wide network, describing themselves as shy, and did not have the senior standing of others but they had a passion for listening to student concerns and working to change systems. After taking that first step to run, Deana had a solid career in student government while attending UNT, culminating as SGA Vice President.
Deana’s experience in student government was not smooth sailing and they faced many challenges as a black person in leadership. The “student government is more women than men and is still dominated by men speaking” Deana explained, mansplaining is still alive and well. Deana also shares their initial fear of being perceived, “as the angry black woman, so I bid my time but then it gets to the point where you are angry...We could of had more discussion if the women of color did not have to bid their time.” Deana observed that in the political space, there was pressure to perform and Robert's rule and the dynamic benefitted a patriarchal system. Just because someone does not know how to say something in an official meeting does not mean they do not have something important to say and Deana points out that that is particularly true for women of color. Deana prefers to create a political space focused on working sessions that call on the people who don't usually speak for an inclusive environment that focuses on diversity and equity.
The same passion that Deana has for equity in their community also translated into their major choice. Deana was drawn to Social Work because they wanted to help others and be a part of improving society. Social Work allowed for that direct service that helps people immediately as well as to focus on the macro ideas that lead to questions like “How do we have housing for everyone?” or “How do we ensure access to a safe and healthy living environment for everyone?” Deana’s leadership centers on questions like these that improve quality of life for everyone. They value community, social justice, reproductive justice and you can find them fighting for rights like abortion and birth control access.
Now that Deana has graduated, they are taking a gap year and are planning to pursue a masters in public policy next year. In the future, they would like to run for Congress for those being wronged by others. Deana looks to leaders like Ilhan Omar, who say what needs to be said, as inspiration on how to live their values in a position of power for the benefit of others. Wherever Deana lands, they will pursue organizing work they care deeply about. Thanks to organizations like Lone Star Parity Project and a coalition of others leading a political movement that includes and empowers women particularly of all ages as well as nonbinary folks has been encouraging to Deana. They are hopeful that nonbinary folks of all ages will continue to be included especially in organizing and political spaces.