Leadership #PROFspective: Ayanna Johnson on Speaking Up as a Woman in Sports

Ayanna sits down and leans against a bench on campus.
Ayanna wearing a yellow dress while posing against a tree.

Today, we speak with Ayanna Johnson, captain of the Women’s Basketball Team and an active member of We Are One Team, Social Justice Action Committee, and Rowan Athletics’ OWL (Outstanding Women Leaders) Group. Ayanna is an Environmental & Sustainability Studies (ESS) major from Ewing, NJ (Mercer County). 

This story is part of a series spotlighting campus leaders during Women’s History Month. 

What is your role in your organizations? What do your organizations do? 

We are One Team gives a voice to those in sports who are not always recognized and uses the power of sports to unify people. What’s special about sports is it unites people who all come from different backgrounds and walks of life and they have the same love for the game. It really represents who we are. We are activists, we care about social justice. We’re more than just athletes. I’m an athlete representative for the club. I speak for panels that they want to have an athlete representative for. I’m very involved in my team and the club!

(OWL) Group is Outstanding Women Leaders. It’s really about empowering women in sports and shedding light on women’s sports because it’s so underrepresented and under-publicized. It’s about leadership in women’s sports and how to be good to other women as a woman. I really love that club because it sheds light on issues that need to be brought to light. As athletes, we’re already in a man’s world.

I’m also a member of Social Justice Action. I’m not on the e-board, but you don’t always have to be the one out there and organizing things. As long as you can be there and have your voice heard, there’s a lot of value in that.

    Ayanna wearing a Rowan Basketball shirt.

    What have you learned in your role as a leader? 

    I’ve learned that your impact on people is way bigger than you realize. When you talk to that [first-year student], they will probably remember that conversation for the entirety of their college career. Just doing small things can change people’s lives more than you know.

    I need to realize how small acts of kindness can make a difference in people’s lives and just speaking up. If everybody felt like their voice didn’t matter, that’s what the people who want to keep you silent want you to feel like. Once you have knowledge and education about things, that’s power.

    Knowledge is power. When you’re educated about something, you can recognize when something isn’t right. When you’re used to being ignorant about things, you want even recognize injustice. So, I take every opportunity to educate myself on history. 

    What’s your favorite memory as a leader or at Rowan in general?

    Hands down, winning the NJAC (NJ Athletic Conference) championships! In 2019-2020, we beat Montclair who has won the conference for the past 10 years. We came back from being down and we won. I ended being the defensive player of the year and broke two records that year! 

    Who inspires you and why? 

    A lot of people inspire me. My little sister inspires me a lot because she’s one of those kids that is good at everything, and she looks up to me a lot. I have to do what I can to be a good role model for her. I know my little sister will root for me, just being able to see her blossom. I just love her so much. How she views me as a good big sister, makes me want to be that. I struggle a lot with self-confidence but I love both of my sisters so much. Your siblings see your whole life. You go through all the ups and downs with your siblings!

    Ayanna wearing a yellow dress while sitting on a bench and smiling.

    What’s the most significant barrier to women today? 

    Knowing that there’s a problem. In 2021, a lot of people are complacent with the way things are. There’s still discrimination and things we need to fight for. If we’re not educated about that, and still don’t see there’s still a problem, then we won’t fight it. If you think racism and sexism is a thing of the past, you’re never going to realize what you’re facing is injustice. 

    What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders? 

    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to have your own opinions. Just because the majority feels this way doesn’t mean you do. If you feel like you should speak up about something, speak up about it! There   are probably other people who are hiding and feel the same way. If you’re brave, you’re probably being brave for so many other people who didn’t have the courage to say the thing you said. 

    Is there anything else you would like to share?

    Take care of your mental health. It impacts your whole life. It’s something I struggle with, it impacts sports a lot. It impacts everything. Just because you’re physically healthy doesn’t mean you’re mentally healthy. There’s a lot of stigma around it, and it’s something I’m really passionate about.

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    Story by:
    Marian Suganob, senior public relations and advertising double major

    Photos by:
    Joe Gentempo, senior art major

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