Florence Ayeni: a student entrepreneur with a desire to help others
Florence Ayeni’s father taught her that helping people can, in turn, allow people to help themselves.
When Ayeni was young, her father, a pastor, selflessly brought a homeless man into their home.
He told her the man was her uncle from Nigeria who came to live with the family.
And when Ayeni’s father was deported for four years and nine months in 2008, the man who she believed to be her uncle took care of Ayeni and the rest of her family.
“That inspired me so much,” Ayeni said. “You never know what people are going through, and how much you can impact someone’s life.”
Ayeni, a senior health and human services major and president of the Black Student Union, still uses the lessons her father –– and biggest inspiration –– taught her. Ayeni grew up in Brooklyn with her two Nigerian parents and is now a full-time entrepreneur and student leader who dedicates her time to helping and teaching others. She started an event called Creative Minds last year, which takes place annually in New York City, as a space where people come together to display their art and discuss mental health.
Ayeni said being around so many different cultures growing up helped shape her.
“Growing up in Brooklyn I got to see so many different things,” Ayeni said. “I just envision Brooklyn as a layer of colors because you never know what to expect, it’s always something new.”
Ayeni often reflects on her high school trip where she visited Nicaragua. During the trip, she helped a man clean up his coffee shop, and told him how much she loved the coffee, which she called “Starbucks by 100.” When she got home to New York, she realized the man sent coffee to her home address.
Ayeni didn’t expect the man to remember her at all.
“Whenever I feel like I’m being naive or spoiled I think about the people I met in Nicaragua,” Ayeni said.
Ayeni’s impact on the people in her personal life is apparent in her relationships back home, too.
Nicole Hernandez, one of Ayeni’s close friends, called her a “go-getter” who inspires her to be the same.
“Being around her, she constantly inspires me to work harder and reach for the stars, because she makes it seem possible,” Hernandez said.
But Ayeni –– who has always been driven to help others –– found herself struggling with depression and anxiety in her sophomore year at UB.
“It was a scary thing for me,” Ayeni said. “It’s not a feeling [I had] ever felt before, so it’s something where [I had] a lot of questions.”
So, in an effort to help others cope with similar experiences, Ayeni started Creative Minds. The event allows entrepreneurs and creatives to come together and show off their craft, be proud of it and openly discuss mental health.
“Creative Minds isn’t about me at all, or about making me big,” Ayeni said. “It’s about making others feel appreciative of their work, looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, ‘I’m a great person and what I’m doing is really great.’”
The event creates a space for people to talk about their mental health struggles and individual journeys. Ayeni wants people to relate to each other through Creative Minds by sharing their own stories and highlighting others’ work.
But it helped Ayeni realize something, too.
“The event showed me I wasn’t alone,” Ayeni said. “A lot of people want to hear others’ stories and I love seeing people have fun and smile.”
Alison Garcia, Ayeni’s roommate, said Ayeni is the most driven and determined person she knows.
“She gets an idea and before you know it her mirror is filled with maps and bubbles,” Garcia said. “Within a short time she makes those thoughts and ideas come alive.”
This year, Ayeni took on a new role outside of Creative Minds. As this year’s BSU president, she hopes to use her natural drive to help others to bring communities together and educate people on how far African Americans have come while leading UB’s largest club.
Ayeni is looking forward to starting more conversations, but this time on her campus.
“Don’t be scared to do what you have to do to be where you want to be,” Ayeni said. “I feel like it’s time to show who you are, show what you’re doing, because everyone is destined for greatness.”
Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrittanyUBSpec.