Hala Ayala is a candidate to represent the 51st District in the Virginia House of Delegates in the upcoming election. A single mom, Ayala decided to leave behind a 17-year career in cyber security to run for office. She’s the founder and current president of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women and serves on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Council on Women. In January, Ayala helped coordinate Virginia’s Women’s March on Washington.
Growing up, I wanted to be a ballerina, and I wanted to be a dancer. Then I wanted to be on TV. At one time, I wanted to be a lawyer, always defending people who couldn’t defend themselves. But I didn’t have one set of dreams. There were many. It wasn’t until I was raising my child on my own and I started a job training program that I really was set me up on this path. My son had serious medical conditions, and I was on welfare and Medicaid. The program that I was enrolled in taught me how to do my resume and gave me some other skill sets that I just didn’t have. After that, I did some security work and then transitioned into cyber security.
Raising my son, I joined the local PTO and was elected president. I wanted to become a better advocate. I was volunteering more, too, working on campaigns and getting active in the community. I think the more you know, the better you do. I started to hear input and started to have experiences; and all of a sudden I was awakened to some of the challenges my community was having.
Over time, you start to find a passion — you start to wonder: What’s wrong? What’s going on? You start to do some research. You reach out to organizations. You look for answers. I realized we needed to do better by supporting women; they are the infrastructure of our communities; they are the nurturers who bring people together. They needed need help.
After the election in November, I was in a political depression. I was scared and I was sad, but I wanted to channel that into something positive. Once I heard that the Women’s March was happening, I knew I wanted to be involved. And to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women — we were just able to come together and kind of recalibrate ourselves, do what we needed to do to organize our thoughts and our energies and figure out the next steps. But we have to continue to take action. We have to make change. We can’t let that be the end of the road.
Eventually, another woman of color, a Latina woman, said we need to continue to not only uplift our mothers, but our mothers of diverse backgrounds. She reached out to me, and now I’m one of two Latina women running for the House of Delegates here in Prince William County. I also have Lebanese, Irish, and North African roots, and my kids are African America, so we have a really diverse family. To me, we are what Virginia looks like.
But even now, I think sometimes, “Is this worth it? Am I making a mistake?” And even when we won the primary with 66 percent of the vote, every precinct we won — it threw me back a little bit. I was shocked at the outcome and the voices that came to the polls to vote for me. With a race, there’s so much you don’t know; you just have to jump in.
I have two children who are African-American, so [President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville] has no place in my worlds, in my community, and in this nation. This is not who we are. I have to fight to find the words to even react, to articulate, because there is fear that underlines the emotions. It’s just very disturbing and disheartening, and it’s emotional.
Believe me, I’m a woman of color; It’s hard to speak up. It’s hard to stand up for yourself. But we need people who are elected into office and in positions of authority who can do that. I had a conversation with a voter this week, and he said, “I don’t know how you can remain calm in this horrific incident.”
I said, “Please understand that I get what you’re saying, but my kids don’t get to remain calm if they’re pulled over for the color of their skin. My ancestors who marched and rallied and screamed at the top of their lungs for some of the injustices in the world are not here.” It’s not simple. But I think we have to be honest with ourselves and be able to be open and allow people to have honest conversations, to have people feel able to come to the table and talk about a collective solution. And it starts with our leaders and our organizations and activists. We all need to move forward for the sake of our families and communities. We have a history of bad behavior in this nation. We need to find a better solution.