By day – Ayanti Grant runs things
That same week in October, Ayanti Grant was named one of Connecticut’s 100 Most Influential Black People and the Fitch Sports Hall of Fame for her career in athletics. So who exactly is Ayanti Grant?
“You’re not supposed to know me,” Grant said from the Norwich office of US Representative Joe Courtney one day in November. “I’m just supposed to do the job, and you’re supposed to know Joe.”
Grant, the Courtney District Manager, oversees his Enfield and Norwich offices. She’s shy in front of the camera because – she and her friends say – she’s completely focused on the work Courtney’s office can do for voters.
Courtney’s head office in Norwich is in a building that houses businesses. Grant’s office has an attractive view of the Thames from Main Street. Thank you cards and other knick-knacks from the people she helped adorn her walls. She offers candy upon arrival based on her deadly sweet tooth.
On this November day, she is busy planning and preparing a virtual city hall event that has been sent to over 100,000 voters, in addition to her regular work on the files. Her main portfolio is immigration, but she also deals with economic development, small business, transportation and a bit of everything else.
The main question posed to Grant and Courtney’s district office, whatever the problem, is, “Why is it taking so long?” Sometimes it’s a pending application or petition, or someone or a small business is waiting for a return from the IRS to be processed so that the SBA can then process their loans in the event of a failure. economic disaster.
“This is one of my big issues right now with processing cases, getting those EIDL loans either approved or granted or denied and the funds disbursed,” Grant said, “but“ Why is it taking it so long? Why can’t no one answer the phone “I sent them the same documents over and over, why do they keep asking me?” “These questions transcend all other problem areas.”
Grant said people have been asking the office for help since the pandemic, noting that Courtney’s offices “were one of the only places of influence that was open and answering phones at the federal, state and local levels.” . Grant and the staff often work on veterans issues, Social Security, and issues with the IRS.
When asked if people knew about the work being done by Courtney’s offices, he said “yes and no”.
“The word has certainly been spread on issues like crumbling foundations or the work of our veterans, Medicare, Social Security,” Courtney said. “I think work product and efficiency are very high largely thanks to Ayanti’s leadership. COVID has added a layer or degree of difficulty in terms of working remotely but still answering the phone and dealing with it. agencies that were also limping. She kept it all together. “
While she is eminently positive, according to her own account, Grant noted that Washington’s bureaucratic knot has become more difficult to untie since she started working for Courtney in 2007.
“The way we react must have changed,” she said. “When we started, I could literally pick up the phone or send an email and return a visa, or make a decision on something over the phone.” Grant snaps his fingers for effect. “Now it sometimes takes me two to three weeks or six months to get a response. “
When a voter calls the office, Grant said, she and the staff make it clear how the office can help and provide insight into the federal bureaucratic process.
“We also like, depending on the case, to come up with alternatives. ‘Okay, that path can be blocked, but let’s also pursue that, and see how that might change,” Grant said. “It’s kind of like a puzzle. You put the pieces together to try and get well as quickly as possible until the other problem or the underlying problem is resolved.”
On a typical day, Grant meets with interns and staff, goes through files, meets with walk-ins, and firms up Courtney’s schedule.
Grant was born in San Diego and moved to Groton in 1992, when she started Fitch Middle School. She graduated from Fitch in 1997 and went to Hofstra University for her undergraduate degree, from which she graduated in 2001. She graduated with a law degree from the Southern New England School of Law in 2005 .
Grant and Courtney both credit Lonnie Braxton, a New London prosecutor, for putting her on the new congressman’s radar.
“Courtney was elected in 2006, I had been a courthouse clerk for a year and a half at that time,” Grant said, “and State Attorney Lonnie Braxton told me:” Hey kid, why don’t you see what’s up with Joe Courtney, he’s a good guy ‘and I said okay. “
Grant said her legal education and status as a certified lawyer as well as her interest in immigration matters – this has long been her focus on education and work, and she is a first generation American, her parents being from Panama – called Courtney.
“When you’re a new member, you don’t have an office. You have to build your own team, and it was referred to me by my friend Lonnie Braxton,” Courtney said. “At that time, she was interested in State Department and Homeland Security files, which is not for the faint of heart. I was very impressed that I had a licensed attorney. to exercise and able to handle the intricacies of this job, and she’s very energetic and organized, and she just screamed that she was a good fit. Since then, she’s expanded her portfolio to just about everything. “
Grant has maintained since she was hired that she is not a political person.
“I knew at the time that I was too, but I still think I’m the less political person in the office,” she said. She argued that this perspective helped her approach.
“When people come to me, whether they are Joe Courtney or not at all Joe Courtney, they are going to get the same respect, the same work ethic, the same treatment, from me and my whole team”, a- she declared. “When people call and say, ‘I was that 83rd vote,’ or someone says, ‘I’ll never vote for Joe Courtney,’ I say, ‘We’re here to help. “Knowing that you will be treated the same, regardless, keeps me and the constituency in a rather positive position.”
Cutter Oliver, director of external affairs for the State Senate Democrats, worked with Grant from 2008, when he started as an intern, until 2016, after Oliver led Courtney’s campaign. He is also a graduate of Fitch.
“In this industry, a lot of people are looking for the limelight and recognition,” Oliver said. “She’s definitely not like that, she’s all about the job.” It’s hard to find people like that now doing this job. A lot of people don’t realize that there is a congressional office and that there are people there who are helping, it is not always a matter of politics. Unfortunately, with everything that has happened over the past few years, people have this negative view of what government does. She is one of the maids. I think she always tried not to be in politics, which is sometimes difficult, especially when you’re a district director. “
Grant feels fulfilled in her role. She is confident but not completely comfortable – “Once I feel like I know it all, it’s time for me to go.”
Grant was an All-ECC artist and team MVP in both indoor and outdoor track. She won all-state honors in Class L as a junior while placing second in the 300, 55 and as a member of the 4×200 relay team. She still holds the school’s indoor records in the 300 and 4×360 meter relay.
She likens her job to running: “If you’re going to put your time and energy into something, make sure you do it right. If not, it’s time to move on. But not everything is always so smooth or simple.
“There are days, I’m not going to lie, where I’m like, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ You take a call or a few calls in a row and you say to yourself: “I’m here 50 hours a week, sometimes more, seven days a week, on public holidays, and they don’t care,” “she said. declared. . “Then you think of the other people you’ve touched, not just for this immediate moment but forever. We’ve done work that will change a person’s life forever. Who can say that? It’s those families, that are these individuals, these are these thriving businesses that are generational and can continue to be, because of the work that we do. I have a boss who is pretty amazing and gives me the flexibility to do what I do. have to do and trust me to do it. “
‘It’s my life’
Grant, who lives in Groton, has a niece and nephew she sees every day. She enjoys traveling, camping, going to the beach, eating and listening to the sweet sounds of musical acts such as Nas, Ashanti and Dave Matthews Band. A normal CV.
Except for constant accolades and recognition: In 2019, she was named Connecticut Congressional Staffer of the Year. She never imagined herself on a list as the 100 most influential black people in the state.
“I’m not doing anything for recognition,” she said. “I appreciate it, but that’s not why I’m doing it. It’s actually a little embarrassing.”
On November 9, at a press conference in Ocean Beach announcing $ 100 million in federal funds to restore and preserve Long Island Sound, Grant stood out as the only black woman among eight or nine white men, including Courtney , US Senator Richard Blumenthal. , staff and other event speakers.
“Every day. It’s my life. It’s my life,” Grant said, laughing. “Unfortunately, that’s what it is. But I’m just trying to do my job well enough that when someone else who isn’t me but looks like me is in the room, they get treated. with the same level of respect that those. individuals give me. As you saw, I had a really good rapport with everyone there. I want to be the role model for how they treat them. others, and I hope it won’t always be that way. But it is, and I roll with it, and I try my best. “
Grant was also in predominantly white spaces at college, where people often thought she entered college because she was black and not because she was smart.
“I went to Hofstra, so yeah,” she said. “While I was there they had this program, NOAH, for the kids without as much money and without the same opportunities as the others at Hofstra. in their own. ‘ And there were only blacks and browns. So it was assumed that you were a student of NOAH. You are not smart enough. You are there thanks to a scholarship. You are here for the demographics. It has always been my life, and I have learned to navigate it and to stand out from the crowd. “