Portrait of Ayanna Johnson

Meet AFS major Ayanna Johnson

Ayanna Johnson is a graduating senior in the class of 2020 majoring in African American studies and minoring in public health.

What made you want to become an African American studies major? Was this always your original study of interest?

I wanted to become an African American studies major while taking African American Culture: History and Aesthetics with Dr. Chike. I was originally an Urban Studies major but less than a month into my first semester at Wayne State, I realized that the discussions I wanted to be having, the concepts that sparked my reasoning, and the path that I would need to take in order to evolve my intellectual process were all in the AFS department.

Within African American studies, where are you most interested? What topics?

If we are talking geography, my interests are definitely global, though in recent months my focus has been leaning toward Haitian politics. Within the field, my interests are constantly expanding as well. However, Black feminist politics and global Black social movements are the topics which I find myself grounding the majority of my principles in.

Who are your mentors in African American studies and how have they helped?

I am truly inspired by all of the professors I have had the opportunity to learn from in the African American studies department. However, my mentors would have to be Dr. Ollie Johnson and Dr. Lisa Ze Winters. They have both trusted my capabilities while helping me discover my strengths and weaknesses. Some of my best work thus far has been accomplished under their guidance.

What goals have you accomplished as an African American studies major?

I would say that as an African American studies major some goals I have accomplished would be having developed a solid sense of composure and articulation in discourse, as well as discovering the intricacies of who I am as a writer. I have also gained the confidence to maneuver in spaces with people who are older, wiser, and more experienced than myself, which I consider to be a skill of utmost importance when it comes to assuming revolutionary undertakings in the real world.

What resources and events from the Department of African American studies have you enjoyed and want to keep seeing? What did you take away from these events?

My favorite events showcased by the department would have to be the author panels that I have attended. In multiple AFS courses that I have taken, we have read a book or piece then later in the semester actually were able to listen to authors like Dr. Ula Taylor and Dr. Todd Steven Burroughs discuss their texts in person while my professors interviewed and theorized alongside them. The Black Studies Summit was also a very memorable and well-curated event that featured scholars who specialized in a broad range of subject matters concerning global African sociopolitics. From these experiences, I was able to get a taste of some of the themes circulating within the discipline and be genuinely motivated by my intellectual seniors.

What challenges have you faced with taking this major on? How did you conquer them?

A lot of the challenges I have faced in my academic experience have been related to my emotional sensitivity when it comes to tender subjects in the field. For example, though it was one of the shortest books assigned in my academic career, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs was one of the most challenging for me to get through. From that experience specifically, I realized the importance of gathering information with an objective mind, thus urging me to be in a constant state of practice when it comes to expressing insight free of emotional undertones.

As an African American studies major, I have had the opportunity to understand the history of my people in a way that has rooted my thirst for knowledge in the intentions of collective advancement. I see myself being a lifetime student. 

What would you say is the most fundamental lesson you've learned as an African American studies major?

As an African American studies major, I have had the opportunity to understand the history of my people in a way that has rooted my thirst for knowledge in the intentions of collective advancement. I see myself being a lifetime student. However, the education means close to nothing if not applied in a way that is productive, sustainable, and free of ill will. I have learned that knowledge truly is power, and collaboration is key to radical change.

After graduation, how do you plan to utilize your degree in African American studies?

I plan to utilize my African American studies degree by applying my understanding of the world from an inclusive perspective to all of my interests. I plan to learn the languages of Africans around the world and gather global evidence of our interconnectedness. I plan to write and speak about my people to the eyes and ears that refuse to see and listen. I plan to pursue higher learning in the field; to teach, learn, explore, assist, and create.