Taking the Journey. Meet Ashley Campbell of Ballet Afrikana

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Photography by Jenny Berliner of Jenny Berliner Photography

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Ashley Campbell. I am a classically trained dancer from Washington, DC. I began my collegiate journey at the University of Rochester as an undergraduate student in 2005. I worked diligently to earn her BA in English with a Theatre concentration and interdisciplinary minor in Dance and Political Science. My minor was titled, “Artistic Activism: World of Dance and Politics.” As a student, I danced at Garth Fagan Dance and became actively involved in the Black Students’ Union, Minority Student Advisory Board, and the College Diversity Roundtable. I served as President of the Black Students’ Union for the 2008-2009 academic term.

Since graduating, pursuing additional education and civic engagement have been my top priorities. In 2010, I earned a Master’s Degree in English Education, Inclusion and Urban Teaching & Leadership from the University of Rochester. In 2014, my husband Lomax and I created a dance school in the city of Rochester: Ballet Afrikana: Dance Prep Academy. I am a member of several organizations in Greater Rochester: Rochester City Ballet Board, charter member for Monroe County South’s Rotary Club, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, and the Monroe County Democratic Committee—25th Legislative District.

Currently, I am a PhD Candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies. My dissertation research is: We are Afrofuturism: Using television to revisit Black cultural roots while envisioning and facilitating a path forward in American society. I also currently serve as a manager of security and data integrity with Human Resources at the University of Rochester.

What did you want to be as a child?
As a child, I had aspirations to be many things—I was mostly inspired by the people I saw in Black television shows. I wanted to be an entrepreneur because of Khadijah from Living Single and I wanted to be a lawyer because of Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show. But mostly, I wanted to be a professional dancer; I had many visions of performing in a classical ballet in Moscow. As a young ballet dancer, I knew some places had not had the pleasure of experiencing a Black ballerina on stage. When I learned classical ballet variations: “The Finger Fairy” from Sleeping Beauty and “The Snow Queen” from The Nutcracker, I imagined myself performing those pieces on the massive stages in Moscow.

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How did you started in your current career?
There is an African proverb that shares, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” I have allowed myself to take the journey.

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What are some difficulties you have faced?
My career began in the Secondary Education area—I taught middle and high school English. I enjoyed teaching, but I wasn’t completely fulfilled with the work. Working with the students within the Rochester City School District was truly rewarding, but I was mostly interested in working with the youth differently. At the time, I really didn’t know what that was.

I knew I enjoyed teaching so I started teaching at the collegiate level. Teaching at introductory English courses at Monroe, Finger Lakes, and Genesee Community Colleges really expanded my world of understanding how to work with various populations. Teaching, along with my civic engagement, granted me an opportunity of serving as Director of Diversity Programming at the University of Rochester. That work created opportunities for me to actualize how diversity, equity and inclusion can be effective across many different types of people.

Since working in the diversity space, my career has evolved and deepened. My work experiences and my doctoral research studies are beginning to align. I am now working in systems security and analyzing how we manage the integrity of our data.

The journey has not been a pleasant ride. I have experienced prejudice, racism, colorism, ageism, and sexism. I have learned to understand that there are things in this society, I am unable to control.

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In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
I surround myself with family and friends, laughter and silence. Depending upon the type of hardship or failure, I use any of the “medicines” I previously mentioned to build myself back up. I also rely on the principles of Ma’at (an Ancient Egyptian Philosophy). The principles of Ma’at are truth, justice, order, reciprocity, balance, harmony and righteousness.

There is an African proverb that shares, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” I have allowed myself to take the journey.
— Ashley Campbell

What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
One of the most important elements for any person, especially for a person of color, is for them to know who they are and be comfortable in their own skin. Professional work environments may not always embrace an individual’s diversity and it is important that individuals do not lose themselves in an effort to be accepted.

Persons starting out in their professions should learn and understand the professional climate and understand how they would like to function within it.

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What inspires you?
Love—genuine love, inspires me. Audre Lorde (1984, 2007) shared “…I learned that if I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” I am truly inspired when I see that type of love expressed.
Quote found in the text, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde.

What is your favorite part of what you do?
My favorite part of what I do is developing solutions to problems. I have a lot of interest in complex problems that require sophisticated thinking to develop a solution. I enjoy investigating and studying the different facets of something and understanding how a solution could address the problem(s) in the process or the environment. In my various current roles, developing solutions to problems is absolutely necessary.

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What do you find most challenging?
Maintaining balance and harmony is a constant challenge because of the many things going on in my life. Every day I strive to take moments to meditate, breathe, and reflect on the goals ahead.

Name some local creatives you admire.
Niema Atkins (dancer, radio host)
Sadiyyah El-Amin Turner (dancer)
Racqui B. Steve (radio host)
Sonya Sampson (graphic artist)

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