Ashley Quintanilla never stops dreaming

Ashley Quintanilla, a first-generation student earning her bachelor’s degree at 30 years old. Photo courtesy Ashley Quintanilla

Since 17 years old, this small-town girl with big-town dreams has inspired change through her love of pageantry, due diligence to her community through service, and never settling on others’ limitations for her.

Born and raised in Quincy, Ashley Quintanilla has blossomed in the spotlight as the former Tallahassee America and first Miss North Florida USA alongside being a first-generation student.

The senior public relations student at Florida A&M, transferred from Florida State College at Jacksonville after earning her associate’s degree. Quintanilla always had dreams of attending an HBCU and the 30-year-old is more than ready to earn her bachelor’s degree from FAMU.

“It has always been my dream to earn my degree. I’m going to get it no matter what. Nothing is going to stop me from getting my degree. Nothing is going to stop me whether we are facing a pandemic or not,” Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla started her journey at FAMU in the spring of 2020, right before the now-curable virus, COVID-19. She has yet to fully experience her lifelong dream of attending an HBCU due to the pandemic, but this won’t hinder her from doing so. In the spring of 2021, Quintanilla ran for the 115th Miss FAMU.  Although she didn’t win, she still came out victorious for fulfilling her dreams regardless of peoples’ opinions.

Ashley Quintanilla, a public relations student. Photo courtesy Ashley Quintanilla

“I always wanted to run for Miss FAMU, that’s always been a dream. One thing was people kept telling me I can’t do it or I shouldn’t do it because of my age,” said Quintanilla. “That’s why in my declaration speech I said, Maya Angelou said it the best, ‘if you want me to do something then tell me that I can’t’ because that’s going to make me do it. Although I didn’t know many students on campus, I was like this is something I always decided to do and I’m going to do it.”

Happily married with a loving husband and 10-year-old son, Quintanilla is heavy on her family. Meeting her husband in middle school, the two lovebirds got married on Dec. 13, 2014, and had their child Jhahid Abdalnabi Quintanilla.

Juggling being a full-time mom, wife, and student while also working isn’t easy for Quintanilla. Her husband, Ernesto Quintanilla, shares how her work ethic and generous heart are like no other.

“My wife is everything to me. She has accomplished so many things, but I think I’m most proud of her furthering her education and attending FAMU. She is a first generation student therefore she is changing the stigma in her family and being a positive example for all of us,” he said. “I’m just happy she is following her dreams and will not allow anything to hinder her. She is motivated and conquers everything she desires.”

He added: “[Going to El Salvador], she embraced my culture, my family, and the small city I was born in with open arms. That’s how I know I made the right decision to make her my wife. The highlight of our marriage is growing together. My wife is my best friend and I look forward to many more years together.”

Growing up in a rocky childhood, people always doubted Ashley Quintanilla due to her upbringing. Her side sister, Ah’Miyah Donshay Shaw, shares how her sister’s presence was constantly challenged because people didn’t believe in her.

Ashley Quintanilla with her husband and son. Photo courtesy Ashley Quintanilla

“She was one of those kids that people would look at and say, ‘Oh, you won’t get too far in life,’ always getting put down and disregarded. People doubted her and her capabilities. I’m very proud of her and I’m glad that she didn’t just stop at her A.A. degree,” Shaw said.

Ashley Quintanilla always had a love for the youth and showed this through her pageantry. One of the platforms she created during her run for Miss Tallahassee was called Change, Child Healing from Adversity by Nurture, Growth, and Empowerment, honed her passions to pursue her career in serving others.

Her plans after earning her bachelor’s degree are to continue to serve as a public relations officer for Gadsden County Schools for the next five years, then moving to a bigger city to further her career as a PR specialist. But for now, Quintanilla can’t wait to walk across the stage this year to prove her haters wrong and earn what she’s worked tirelessly for.