Biography of May Ayim


May Ayim is an Afro-German poet, educator, author, and activist known for her pioneering work in the field of Afro-German history, specifically her instrumental role in founding the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche (ISD), which translates to the Initiative of Black People in Germany. May Ayim was born Sylvia Andler on May 3, 1960 in Hamburg, Germany to unwed parents Ursula Andler, a German, and Emmanuel Ayim, a Ghahanian medical student.  Under German law, biological fathers did not have rights to illegitimate children.  Due to their situation, May’s mother decided to put her up for adoption.

After staying briefly in a children’s home, Ayim was adopted at a young age by the Opitz’s, a white German family. She was raised in Westphalia as May Opitz, along with the biological Opitz children, but later said her childhood was unhappy and that her adoptive parents were strict and physically abusive. Ayim would later reflect on these abuses through the medium of poetry. She attended Friedenschule, the Episcopal School in Münster, and then teacher training college in Münster as well, where she focused on German language and social studies. She then moved on to the University of Regensburg and majored in psychology and education. During her time at the University of Regensburg, she traveled to Israel, Kenya, and Ghana, and was able to reconnect with her birth father. It was at this time that she took his last name as her pen name.

May Ayim’s thesis at the University of Regensburg, entitled Afro-Germans: Their Cultural and Social History on the Background of Social Change, is considered to be the first scholarly study of Afro-German history. It serves as the basis to a book later published in 1986 as Farbe Bekennen or Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. It describes the history of Afro-German women, discussing racism while they struggled to find their place in Germany. Ayim moved to Berlin in 1984 and lectured at the Free University of Berlin. It was at this time that she founded the ISD with fellow activist, Audre Lorde. Ayim battled depression throughout her life, and jumped to her death on August 9, 1996.



MacCarroll, Margaret Catherine. “May Ayim: A Woman in the Margin of German Society.” The Florida State University DigiNole Commons. N.p., 1 Apr. 2005. Web. 15 May 2015.

“May Ayim.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 May 2015.

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