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Young ambassador keeps advocating

A Suffolk teen is keeping up with her responsibilities as an advocate, while staying safe and busy at home.

Ayana Johnson, 13, is an honor student at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School. She’s also a competitive dancer, a violinist and a champion for multiple causes.

Ayana is an ambassador and youth advisor for Suffolk Sickle Cell Foundation Inc. Ayana has sickle cell disease, and as an ambassador, she raises awareness of the disease while promoting empowerment for others like her.

She also advocates through her Miss America platform. Ayana Johnson was named National American Miss Suffolk Pre-Teen for 2018 and 2019. This year, she won Miss America Outstanding Teen Piedmont Region 2020, where she also won the award for highest-scoring interview and talent, according to an email from her mother, Hermionne Johnson.

“She was the youngest to compete in this Miss America scholarship pageant, (and) she will be representing the city of Suffolk as she competes for the title of Miss Virginia’s Outstanding Teen at a to-be-determined date,” Hermionne Johnson wrote in an email Monday.

The young advocate has put together a routine for herself since the school year ended early due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. She wakes up at about 9 a.m. each morning to stretch or meditate, then gets dressed and ready for the day, as if it was just another typical, pre-pandemic school day.

“I always say that if you look better, then you tend to feel better, which is why I think it’s important to actually get ready during this time,” she said.

After she finishes her school work, she takes online dance classes, and then she gets to work on her various projects at this time. In addition to her sickle cell advocacy, she’s a state ambassador for National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be The Match” Registry, and also an ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

On Sunday, she posted a “bingo card” on her Facebook page, as well as on the “Miss Piedmont Region Scholarship Program” Facebook page. This is part of her fundraising efforts for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Donors can follow the link in the post to make a donation for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and if someone donates, then they’re encouraged to message Ayana via Facebook or to comment on the post, so that she can share a personal shout-out on her Facebook account.

She will cross off the space on her virtual bingo card that corresponds with the amount of money donated by that person — for example, a donation of $10 will cross off the space labeled “10.” Those who donate up to $150 will also be able to have a featured ad in the Miss America Virginia program book, as well as proceeds going to the Miss America Scholarship Fund, according to Hermionne Johnson.

“The money I raise will help save children’s lives, and a portion will also go to support the MAOTeen Scholarship Fund,” she wrote on her fundraising page. “Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals makes sure that donated funds stay local, which means that your donation helps kids and families right here in our community.”

She recently launched another project on social media called the “Operation Teen Mask Maker Challenge,” with the hashtag #operationteenmaskmakerchallenge. As of Monday, she’s made more than 200 masks to donate to health care professionals, and will be donating 100 masks this week to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk.

She’s also selling masks that she’s made for $8 each to pay for more mask-making supplies, and to help raise more money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Those that want to buy a mask can reach out to Ayana on Instagram, “@_ayana_lee_” or on her “Ayana Johnson” Facebook page.

She plans to volunteer for “Storytime with the CFCMS Hawks” through Facebook Live, and she has also stayed engaged with her fellow students as the CFCMS Student Council Association President. On March 28, she emailed a letter she wrote for her peers to her principal, Dr. Shawn Green, and he forwarded the email to the student body.

In her email, she encouraged her peers to stay connected with friends and family in order to reduce anxiety, boredom, depression and loneliness at this time. She advised them to use technology to text and email each other, and also FaceTime and Skype — Ayana’s personal favorite means of real-time interaction, she wrote.

“As the leaders of tomorrow, we, unfortunately, do not have a choice in what is going on but must find creative ways to adapt,” Ayana wrote. “I want to encourage everyone that our situation will not last forever. Now is the perfect time for us to get to know ourselves better and stay healthy.”