By Ramunda Lark Young
This column is a series created by entrepreneur and community leader Ramunda Lark Young and is poised to connect you to extraordinary women of color in Prince William County who’ve surpassed obstacles and rose to great success.
I am thrilled to introduce my audience to Ms. Hala Ayala. Hala worked for the government as a Cyber Security Specialist for the Department of Homeland Security with close to 17 years of experience. She is the mother of two and an avid community advocate who founded the Prince William County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (PWC NOW). Her commitment to service and community are evident through her various leadership roles. She was elected Vice President at the state level of Virginia National Organization for Women (VANOW), and in Prince William County she serves on several community boards, including the Literacy Foundation of America Prince William County. Hala is a graduate of both Emerge Virginia and the Virginia Progressive Leadership Project. In 2015, she was honored to be appointed by Governor McAuliffe to the Virginia Council on Women. Additionally, in 2015, she was appointed Vice Chair of the Occoquan Democratic Committee and recently also served as Fundraising Chair.
Ramunda: How long have you lived in Prince William County and what have you enjoyed most about the community?
Hala: I have lived in Prince William County for almost 30 years. What I truly enjoy most about is the way we build relationships and stay connected. It seems like someone always knows someone. It really does feel like there’s six degrees of separation and it’s a beautiful thing when we find that beautiful connection. I actually used to deliver the local newspaper myself and had an opportunity to meet countless people and learn my neighborhood.
Ramunda: What has been the most surprising and rewarding part of juggling your career and life as a mom?
Hala: The rewarding part for me is that you’re never off. We have to continue nurturing our children, even when they grow up. My son just graduated from high school and knowing that I’m living in a community that gives back to my children is rewarding to me. I realize that it truly takes a village and I’m proud of the real concern and care in my neighborhood and that is a great feeling of comfort as a parent.
Ramunda: You recently ran for public office as a state delegate in Virginia and won your primary. As you prepare for the fall election, what has been the greatest aha moment of your political journey so far?
Hala: The greatest “a-ha” moment has been simply waking up grateful to even be in a capacity to potentially represent so many. Although I’ve assisted other campaigns for almost a decade, I stand tall with the realization that my own vote becomes so much bigger, that it’s about serving us, we, inclusivity. When knocking on doors, I experience those moments frequently as I am reminded that I am put here to serve.
Ramunda: My acronym for SOAR is Surpass Obstacles and Rise. As a community leader, what has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far and how did you rise to overcome it?
Hala: Being in a leadership position isn’t always easy and overcoming the fear that I don’t know everything and learning to be ok with that is where I’ve struggled at times. I will make mistakes and understanding I must rise to the occasion and respond in a positive way to address the issue is my resolve. As women, we may be judged differently than others and we have to ensure our crippling mindset doesn’t stop us from moving forward and being the change we want to see.
Ramunda: My company Ramunda Young, Inc. is dedicated to teaching entrepreneurs strategies to build authentic business relationships. How important is it for women to step outside of their comfort zone and establish real connections with thought leaders, and mentors?
Hala: I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded and mentored by amazing women who show me that I don’t have to change to fit into a certain mold. Women like you [Ramunda], our friend Marlo Watson and the women who run Prince William Living Magazine. It is critical for women leaders to be visible and have a seat at the table to provide role models for our young girls and even women my age, who desperately need to know they can do it too. A few ways women in our community can step out and become socially engaged is perhaps starting a business they’ve dreamt of and attending events where other successful women entrepreneurs are. Meeting other women at your children’s schools affords a different set of opportunities to build relationships too. It’s very important to get out there and put yourself in positions of power and build with others.
Ramunda: How has face-to-face networking impacted your career and bourgeoning political path since many entrepreneurs make marketing, promoting and connecting with potential clients online their primary focus?
Hala: To me it’s a balance between being online and face-to-face. You have to be aware of your audience, some may be more numerically mature than others and learning where they are is key. Human touch, voice and connection are critical. Technology is an enhancement not a replacement for a real person. Nothing beats human interaction. When people see, hear and shake your hand, you have an instant connection and it can’t be replaced. Having a balance of both tech and in person is vital. Some people may feel more comfortable online and that’s ok, but knowing how to be comfortable in both arenas is invaluable.
Ramunda: What advice would you give a woman who is interested in pursuing a leadership role in her community?
Hala: My advice:
- Get out there
- Find out more about a topic you’re passionate about
- Step out of your comfort zone
If you love making things, go to craft stores, meet other crafters, learn about what you want to do. Get out and be informed so that you can begin to navigate your own path to leadership. If you want to get in politics, find out about your party, learn about local issues in your community. Leadership won’t find you. You’ll have to step out of your comfort zone to find it.
Ramunda: What motivated you to run for office?
Hala: I’ve had the desire for years but didn’t realize it would be now or this way. Life has a way of showing us through varied experiences the leadership positions that suit you.
In 2008, I was inspired by the election between Hillary [Clinton] and Barack [Obama] and becoming more informed about advocacy and volunteering in the campaign. Those activities encouraged me, engaged and informed me.
Now running as a delegate, it is hard to put yourself out there on public display and scrutiny so I was very thoughtful about making this move. I stepped away from a 17-year job in cybersecurity but after the recent election, I chose to jump! I knew the time was now.
There have been women across this world who have served as Prime Ministers and Presidents but we still have not elected a woman to lead our country. I felt like something was so wrong that we as women have yet to be able to shatter the highest glass ceiling. It was then that I could no longer sit back behind the television or a boardroom or a march, it was time for me to step out there and run for office instead of talking about it. I had to get in the game!
Ramunda: Let’s take a moment and imagine it’s the day after the votes are tallied and you’ve been elected the next delegate of your district. What would you do, how would you feel?
Hala: I will honestly experience several emotions, shock, overwhelming joy, blessed, humbled to be elected. Knowing my leap of faith was just that, a leap and it came to pass because of so many people who believed in me. If elected, it will be so important for me to remain accessible to my community and stay connected to those who put me there.
You can find Hala Ayala online at ayalafordelegate.com or on Facebook at Ayala for Delegate.Mom
About Ramunda Lark Young: Mom, SocialPreneur, wife, community leader, lover of people and God. She is the Chief Encouragement Officer and Connection Strategist of Ramunda Young, Inc. A firm dedicated Encouraging Extraordinary Women to SOAR! Built on the premise that leaders can exceed beyond their expectations when given the proper tools and connections, Young has dedicated her life to equipping women for success
She and her husband co-founded MahoganyBooks, an online award winning bookstore whose books are by and about people of the African Diaspora.
Facebook: Ramunda Lark Young, Connection Strategist