My name is Quiyona Bridges, but you can call me Yahniie. I'm a 22-year-old single mother, student and peer mentor. I also the Graduate Program Coordinator for Spirit Awakening Foundation, as well as a member of the Leadership Committee at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), and the Alumni-Advisory Board for InsideOUT Writers (IOW). I stand in my community solely as an advocate for change and empowerment.
I have transitioned through various facets within three of the most flawed systems in America: the foster care, mental health and juvenile justice systems. I was abused physically, mentally and emotionally. By the time I'd reached adolescence, I was tormented spiritually.
At 14, I was placed on probation for a “Mutual Battle on School Grounds” and incarcerated in the following weeks for running away from my mother's home. During this time, I was oblivious to the trauma that left me in a reactive, aggressive state. Every ounce of my time incarcerated as a juvenile was used for transformation by reading empowering books, staying focused in school, researching colleges, and engaging in the brilliant Spirit Awakening Character Development Program offered in my class through LACOE.
Along with a very passionate probation officer, I was given the immense and eternal gift of hope, an escape from my life that I’d recently named a tragedy. During my incarceration, I helped advocate for programming for my peers and remained in a leadership role until I was released. I knew I didn't belong there, so I made the decision never to go back.
At that moment, I realized the instants in which the universe will prepare you for opportunity; they will be the most frightening, but also the most liberating. Since then, I have dedicated my life to advocacy for former foster youth and formerly incarcerated youth. With Spirit Awakening, I have traveled to Ghana twice, and have spent glorious summer retreats at the beautiful Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Akuyoe Graham's guidance has been lifechanging.
The Spirit Awakening program offers family, truth, freedom, vigilance, forgiveness, expansion, and most of all, unconditional love. This is all any child needs to be successful. I am beyond honored and grateful to be a part of this organization. The fact that I was taught how to be available to hear my own voice gave me the power to advocate for others. My experience doesn't make me a victim; it makes me an incredible guide.