What is your name, and where are we located today?
I am Ayanna Molina, also known as Mama Fiya in this New Orleans community. We are at the Milne Inspiration Center, located in the old Magnolia Projects – what’s now called Harmony Oaks. Milne Inspiration Center is an organization that I’ve worked with in the past doing healing work with young people. We do healing circles, talk about coping, emotional regulation, and emotional understanding. I rent some office space here in the Center.
Tell us about your hustle, the timeline.
I’m a hustler baby! I’ve had to ever since I was young. Having children so young, I’ve had to put myself out there to use my gifts and talents to make a living. Supplement my income through hustling. Lots of times it was telling my story. After Katrina I decided to self-publish some of my stories I had written as a poet, as a hip hop artist, as a speaker. Katrina was tough, but it gave me the bravery that I needed to put my stories out there. I wanted to tell the truth about some of the things that Black women in particular really deal with from young. Stuff like sexual abuse and rape, abortion, and self-harm. I had never read a book like that, so I knew it was special. After Katrina I felt like I had lost everything, and I was like, you know what, I still got my story. And now Katrina is part of my story. It’s called Run Away Girl. Even now I’m always pouring into it. I’m always thinking ways that I can get it out there like it should be. Before Katrina I was going to different classrooms, different youth organizations to tell my story. And after Katrina, by 2008, I had a product, a book, that I could do book clubs with or conversations around the book. I was excited about having a product that I could sell that I was proud of and I felt like needed to be out in the community. As a poet, as a spoken word artist, now I had something that, when I went to perform, now I could say, “everybody buy my book.” I did a CD along with the book as a recording artist and that was my first album. I could go perform and hustle them books, the books became tee-shirts that say, “True Love Movement.” And in a nutshell, it’s supporting Black women in telling their own stories, and through their stories finding healing and self-love. It’s really what it was always about because through my process of telling my story, I found healing, and I found the benefit of self-care, self-love really, the opposite of self-hate and self-harm.
What brought you to doing therapy work?
I realized that the work that I did, I needed certification. I didn’t want nobody to tell me that I didn’t have whatever it took to be able to do this work, healing work with individual women, groups of women, groups of young people. I got my master’s degree in counselling.
What other kinds of work have you done?
It’s always been in school, an education setting where I could tell my story and still do healing work. After Katrina I was 8 and half months pregnant with my fourth son, so I built TrueLove Movement at that time. I needed to stay home and nurse not only that child, but another child that came after that, my Katrina babies. So I took care of them, and any time I had a chance to speak in a school or community center, that’s how I hustled. Telling my story and selling my book, facilitating a book club or conversation about sexual abuse, or a conversation about trauma. That work took care of my family. I took care of my three children while I went to school before Katrina. And then I started teaching at a home school community school that we created as parents. I taught kindergarten for a long time. When I saw the children I was teaching and loving were missing some social and emotional behavioral learning, I thought they would get it from home. So I started talking to their moms about these skills and I started realizing, the moms don’t know. They don’t know how they could teach their children emotional regulation or self-control and these kinds of things. So that’s when the idea of True Love Movement was birthed. My mom was a teacher. She was also very in tune, intuitive, an empath. She taught us about our feelings, and she taught us about feelings, expressions, and so I just wrongly assumed – I was very young – that mamas teach their children. But if mama doesn’t know, then the children don’t know, so that was a revolutionary experience at the time. In the 70s and 80s there were some Black, African-centered home schools, but at that time right before Katrina, Kuumba Academy was the only one in New Orleans. The experience poured into me: we have to take this deeper. So that’s where we are today, offering support for Black mamas.
How is True Love Movement and your hustle work different from other places you worked?
I think about the restaurants that I worked at and always being there, being consistent, available to do whatever lifted their business up. It felt like a waste of energy, not pouring into my people. I might as well pour my energy into for my dreams, what I think my community needs and what I think my community is missing, filling in the gap for my people. The point of True Love Movement is to support Black women into healing, into the healthiest of self-esteem, into self-understanding, and practicing self-care, self-love. So all of the work I do is for that, all of the hustling that I do is for that. The book, the music, the festivals are for that specific reason. That’s the goal. The real mission is sistas believing in themselves, pouring into their work, speaking at events, facilitating workshops. We’ve had13 years of Womanifest, the whole of idea of getting my sistas upon stage, let them teach, get their products displayed. We’ve had fashion shows, hair shows, all of these things to show what our sistas do and introduce them to the New Orleans community. Any of the events True Love Movement does are creative, conscientious, healing events to introduce a sista the community needs to know. I really hope for it to ascend from New Orleans to the South, to the East and West, to the whole country, to the whole world. Why not? Why can’t we celebrate Black women all over the world? So that’s the goal.
What are some challenges in doing your hustle?
One time there was an event going on underneath the Bridge at Claiborne and Orleans. True Love Movement was invited to be there, but the police came and made everybody move. I couldn’t understand it. It was bubbling, it was beautiful. They had so many hustlers out there popping up, they literally made everyone pick up and move to another location, I just couldn’t understand the humanity of that. And many people left at that time, so it didn’t end well. That’s all because somebody had to come put their hand in it, instead of letting people commune and organize together and hustle together. I’ve been shooed away too from Bayou Road during Jazz Fest. Popping up out there, if you didn’t have a permit they make you leave. I feel disrespected as a citizen of New Orleans, that I can’t stand in a place to hustle. This is an experience that we’re having, that we are really under attack. We are not able to just be free– in the way we move around this country, in the way we move around New Orleans, and it has an impact on our self-esteem.
What is the significance of Claiborne and Orleans Avenue?
Sometimes your second lines popoff there, people set up out there. The bridge has a huge significance because Claiborne Avenue, before the bridge was erected, was a long strip of Black owned business, it was the Black Mecca of New Orleans. And then they ran an interstate through it. They chose to run the interstate, straight through the businesses. Which cut off the community. It really made an economic impact on what was happening in that space. If anything, that space should be sacred, where nobody bothers nobody about nothing – as far as police bothering the community.
Tell us about what hustling means to you.
Hustling is saying “by any means necessary, I’m going to make what I need to make, regardless of your rules, your permits, and licenses.” I think hustling is something I saw my mama do, something I saw my grandmother do, something that’s embedded in who we are as a people. Hustling is like a spirit. It’s a response to oppression. It’s a spirit of resistance, a spirit of power. You feel like oppression has taken everything– or it feels like your back is against the wall. When you’re taking care of people and you’re taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of children and families, that feeling can do a number on how we feel about ourselves. … And the hustler spirit makes me feel powerful like I’m in control – I’m the one in control. If anything, Black people need that, that feeling that no one else is controlling me.