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Our Founder

Ayana Abdul-Raheem

Head of the Village

Coming from a family of educators, Ayana Abdul-Raheem discovered her passion for education at a young age. Ms. Abdul-Raheem is the CEO, Founder and Head of the Timbuk2 Academy, a second-generation independent Afrocentric educational institution in Trenton, New Jersey. She is also the founder of bornWORTHY., a subsidiary of Timbuk2 Academy. With a diverse background in cultural curriculum development, law enforcement, social services, athletic coaching, and teaching the performing arts, Ayana has over two decades of experience in various fields.

In 2020, Ayana reimagined the Timbuktu Academy (founded by her parents in the early 80's) and opened Timbuk2 Academy. She expanded its mission beyond early childhood education to include personal development programs for young girls and women. Her exceptional ability to develop innovative curriculum and create tangible outcomes with the most challenging youth population has led to the Timbuk2 Academy's great success. Despite the pandemic and adversities, the Timbuk2 Academy was recognized as Citizens Bank 2022 Community Champion and sought out by national and international organizations, including Rutgers University, National Crittenton, and the University of California. Ayana has led statewide and nationwide social justice initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life, careers, and education for disenfranchised youth, girls and communities. These youth-led research and community action projects focus on addressing violence against women and girls, advocating for system-involved girls, and promoting well-being for black girls and BIPOC, ensuring a more equitable future for all.  

In March 2023, Abdul-Raheem was awarded the Woman's Icon Award from her Alma Mater, as well as  the New Jersey Social Innovation Award for her exceptional work as a social innovator, entrepreneur, and change-agent. Ayana was recognized in the COMMUNITY VOICE IMPACT category for her innovative approaches aimed at promoting community voice inclusion and cultivating a sense of belonging. Her strategies have had a significant impact on programs and policies, with a particular emphasis on improving health equity among medically underserved populations that are at the highest risk of poor health outcomes.
  Furthermore,  Ayana's exceptional and courageous actions resulted in an invitation for her to feature her journey to Timbuk2 Academy on StartUP TV and  a PBS documentary.


Prior to assuming her current role, Abdul-Raheem ventured into law enforcement with the Trenton Police Department(Juvenile Unit) as a personal challenge. During her time, she designed and oversaw diversion, intervention, and prevention programs for high-risk youth and juvenile offenders. Her leadership was instrumental in significantly decreasing recidivism rates, chronic absenteeism, and juvenile-related crimes in Trenton. In recognition of her expertise, Ayana was invited to join the New Jersey Governor Young Women's Action Alliance Committee in 2010. The committee focused on addressing the growing number of girls entering the Juvenile Justice System and advocated for gender-responsive, culturally-sensitive programs and services to benefit system-impacted girls across the United States.

Ayana's involvement in the committee and her consistent work with a juvenile caseload consisting mostly of girls led her to realize that there was a lack of resources and programs for girls impacted by the system in Trenton. Taking matters into her own hands, Ayana started hosting "girls only" sessions in 2018, specifically targeting those affected by the system. This led to the creation of HEY GIRL! Blossoming into Joy, a cultural rite of passage program for girls and young women. This program became the first one offered under Timbuk2 Academy Youth Services Division. In December 2020, the Office of the New Jersey Attorney selected HEY GIRL! Blossoming into Joy to be administered in juvenile detention facilities for girls throughout the state.

A current member of the Collation for Juvenile Justice based in Washington, DC, Ayana continues to study, train and advocate on behalf of disenfranchised children.

​Raised in Trenton, NJ, Ayana earned a B.S. in Sociology from New Jersey City University and a Masters in Early Childhood Education. She is also a certified NFA- Youth Fire Setting Intervention Specialist. Ayana enjoys hiking, flowers, nature, laughing, thrifting, reupholstering furniture and basically anything related to the arts.

"I develop and deliver CULTURAL CURRICULUM for young children, girls and young women who are UNDER-ESTIMATED in the diaspora! I STRENGTHEN their Sense of Self despite them being involved in the system, so they believe they were BORN-WORTHY and NOT as a BURDEN! " ~ Ayana Abdul-Raheem

An Innovative Visionary in Education and Youth Development

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