Lower East Side Community Hero
photo by Whitney Browne
Ayo Harrington is currently the co-chair of LES Ready! Ayo Harrington has been involved in social justice issues most of her life, with a strong focus on people of African descent, starting with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and attending the former Malcolm X Liberation University. She has served on numerous boards, task forces, committees and as parent, tenant and block associations. She has the experience and skill to organize effective, issue-oriented campaigns that have benefitted the community in which she lives and New York City.
Currently, Ayo is the co-chair of LES Ready!, a coalition of organizations that coordinate a joint, community-based response to manmade and natural disasters impacting Community Board 3 and adjacent neighborhoods. Organized after Superstorm Sandy, she was responsible for directing financial, housing and other resources to over 160 survivors of the 2015 Second Avenue Explosion. For decades, Ayo has worked to reclaim land and repurpose it for public benefit and use. She founded Friends of the African Burial Ground to ensure the federal government adhered to the MOU detailing the education, research, and memorialization agreement for the burial site of over 20,000 enslaved and free people of African descent. With her bare hands, she also helped gut and rebuild several abandoned buildings, as affordable housing, and cleared vacant lots turning them into public green spaces. She founded 30-year old Orchard Alley, a community garden on E 4th Street.
In her role as president of the 200,000 strong United Parents Associations of NYC, Ayo greatly amplified its mission bringing training and resources to thousands of parents and educators. She played a major role in orchestrating establishment of the Department of Education’s Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, Office of Parent Engagement (now FACE) and School Leadership Teams. Ayo was a founding producer and on-air personality for “On the Count: The Prison & Criminal Justice Report”, a news talk show, on Pacifica Radio. It continues to provide a platform for people formerly incarcerated and examines policy law to affect reducing punishment and incarceration as a response to social and economic inequities.
She remains a proud, former member of “Sweet Honey in the Rock”, an all-women, African American, a cappella ensemble, whose music is rooted in the African American experience – racism, immigration, environmental injustice, women’s issues – expressed through song, movement, and sign language. Ayo serves on the boards of the Rod Rodgers Dance Company, Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth, Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens (LUNGS) and the Steering Committee of the East River Alliance, which she co-founded. She has received numerous recognitions for her work including the 2019 “New York State Assembly Woman of Distinction.”
Ayo still resides in Alphabet City where she raised her adult son and co-raised her teenage granddaughter. She’s considering suing the manufacturer of the magnet on her fridge that reads, “Stop me before I volunteer again!” as its message has, decidedly, failed!