Santa Fe College freshman Ayesha Solomon strolled through downtown Gainesville one Fall evening.
She recalls the line of people waiting for a show on the steps of the Hippodrome, she said. Solomon had never seen a play before.
Streams of people hopped in and out of shops that lined the brick streets.
Solomon’s eyes landed on Arlington Apartments and she thought, “This is where I want to be; This is how I want to live.”
With the checks she received for her summer job stuffed underneath her mattress in her mom’s house, she made downtown Gainesville her home.
While living in her dream apartments, she started a job in customer service and exemptions at the Alachua County Property Appraiser office.
Nineteen years later, now 41-year-old Ayesha Solomon has not stopped loving and serving the town that raised her. In January, Solomon will become Alachua County’s next property appraiser — a position that was filled by current property appraiser Ed Crapo since 1980.
Solomon said she is excited to bring fresh ideas and a new perspective to the position. However, the East Gainesville native never expected to succeed in a place of power.
Solomon was raised in a single-parent household with three other siblings, she said.
She remembers the excitement she felt when her family moved from the East side of Gainesville to subsidized housing in the Majestic Oaks Apartment Complex.
The window units that once rattled above her head were replaced by a centralized heating system, Solomon said.
“It was a more comfortable environment, like carpet on the floor — it’s the little things that we today take for granted,” Solomon said.
Despite her family struggling with money, Solomon never realized that she was different from her classmates at Lake Forest and Lincoln Middle schools.
However, her four years at Buchholz High School gave Solomon a taste of cliques and popularity, and she realized that she stood apart from the others, she said.
At the start of each school year, her mother would buy her and her siblings five outfits each, one for every day of the week, she said. While she never went to school without washing and ironing her clothes, her friends in the “popular group” began to ridicule Solomon’s style and routine during her sophomore year.
“One of my best friends was crossing over into the popular group, and she would say, ‘It’s Tuesday — I knew you were going to wear that. You wear the same thing every week,’” Solomon said. “So I looked down my clothes, and I never knew something was wrong with me until that point.”
Driven by the desire to be able to fill her wardrobe on her own, Solomon’s dedication to a strong work ethic began, she said. Half of each day, she would work at Burger King.
Every time she got paid, Solomon said, she was able to buy something new. With one of her first paychecks, she bought herself a pair of tennis shoes.
Solomon’s independence and drive was also evident in her dream to go to college.
She was given the chance to run track in college after graduating from Buccholz, she said. However, she did not take the opportunity — a decision she sometimes regrets.
“I didn’t have that person or model to push me and say ‘this is a better life, and this is why you need to go to college, this is what a scholarship does,’” Solomon said. “I didn’t have anyone like that because no one had graduated, or no one could speak from experience or knew how important it was.”
Despite not having an example to follow, Solomon chose to begin her college education at Santa Fe College, which was the safe option at the time for the first-generation college student, she said.
At 21, she became pregnant with her daughter after finishing her Associate’s Degree. This pivotal moment in her life gave her the desire to lead by example.
“Once I had her, it was important for me to walk across the stage because then it was an option for her,” Solomon said. “She had the camera to take pictures of me walking across the stage, and then here we are when she’s voting for the first time, and then it’s her mother that is on the ballot.”
She received her Bachelor’s Degree in computer information systems from St. Leo University and her Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Northcentral University.
Jasmyn Solomon, 18, said watching her mother receive her diploma and experiencing her go back to college as an adult was inspiring.
The younger Solomon, driven by her mother’s advice to not let her chance to play collegiate sports go, took the opportunity to play volleyball at Florida Gateway College as a right-side hitter.
While the lessons she has learned from her mother are many, one stood out to Jasmyn Solomon: the importance of independence.
“Growing up, watching her as a single parent was always very inspirational because she always got it on her own,” she said. “Anything that we had to worry about, it always ended up going the right way because she made it work.”
On the day of the election, she said she noticed that her mother was the only candidate holding her own sign. Throughout the campaign, Ayesha’s independence stood out: She created her own website and trailed behind the other candidates in monetary contributions.
Through it all, there was a constant in Solomon’s life: The Alachua County Property Appraiser Office.
She worked her way through customer service and exemptions to residential, commercial and tangible personal property to the manager of the administration department, Solomon said.
The decision to run for Property Appraiser was influenced by an interaction with an 80-year-old woman, she said.
The woman came to Solomon and explained that she feared losing her home because she could not afford to pay her taxes.
Solomon realized that the woman was eligible for multiple exemptions but was unaware of the option. With Solomon’s help, she was able to save her home.
“It tugged on me because she was in such a state, and we got her on the right path, but there’s more of her out there,” Solomon said.”And we need to get it out there so that we can take care of the citizens, they are entitled to it — so they should take advantage of it.”
Solomon said she ran because she became passionate about helping those the property appraiser’s office served and the individuals she came to know through her 19 years of employment.
Current Appraiser Ed Crapo was a mentor to Solomon, she said. While he is retiring, she finds comfort in the fact that he will still just be a phone call away.
“Working with the property appraiser, he’s been a mentor and an extreme help,” she said. “So coming from under him, I’ve learned a lot.”
As a woman from humble beginnings, Solomon said she is excited for the community to be able to look up to her.
“Other kids, people who come from where I came from, to set an example for them and to pave the way for them gives them an opportunity, as well,” she said. “It’s more rewarding — just doing something that hasn’t been done before.”
Solomon lives her life with a “just do it” mentality, she said, and she encourages other young women to do the same.
“If you don’t do it, someone else will, so why not let it be you,” she said. “You have other people who are looking up to you, so don’t make it about you. Do it for us — we’re in this together.”