MB Magazine’s favorite girlfriend, April Daniels, sat down to have a one-on-one with one of her girlfriends, Mrs. Aventer Gray.
April and Aventer have known each other for some time. When April lost her beloved husband, Lashawn, in the fall of 2019, Aventer was one of the first to begin praying, and she continues to pray and be there for April today. What girlfriend cannot appreciate that? We’re so excited to highlight powerful women in ministry. MB Mag Family, meet Mrs. Aventer Gray.
Those who know Aventer well also know her as the mom of Theory and “Four” (John IV), the First Lady of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and the wife of Pastor John Gray III. But, who is Aventer outside of these titles? We all have a story, and we’re delighted to share hers with you.
What makes this conversation so amazing are the similar strengths apparent in them both. Each woman has continued to gracefully maneuver through the twists and turns life brings — with neither straying from their faith and both attesting to the strengthening of their relationship with The Father as He renews them daily.
Aventer, born Aventer Monique Cotton, is even referred to by her husband as “a mystery to people,” she shares. During this conversation between April and Aventer, Aventer opens up about her childhood, her name, her love of the arts, and the events that became the building blocks of who she has become.
Dothan is a small town in the tri-state area of Alabama, just a short distance between Florida and Georgia. And that’s where Aventer was raised. She’s a country girl at heart, with both grandparents being farmers years ago. Would you believe the woman you see in these pictures used to groom pigs, cows, and chickens? In her own words, she shares that she’s more comfortable barefoot on a dirt road any day of the week. Those humble beginnings mixed with education and life experience are what make her not too country and not too driven so that she doesn’t forget her solid footing.
In small towns, typically home grown folks always have a “nickname.” Aventer is no different. If you call her “Mo” or “Monique,” clearly you’re from Dothan or that’s where you met her. Only folks at home know her by that name. She was named Monique by her older brother, primarily because she originally didn’t like her first name. Aventer was named after her grandmother. As a young adult, she learned to love her name, but as a child, “I shied away from the name because people would butcher it so bad.” She’s heard it all: Adventure, Avatar (even though that movie came over 10 years ago), and the list goes on.
When we become young women, we can perhaps all relate to the struggle to find our actual identity. Aventer says, “I really feel like identity was a strong part of me trying to figure out my purpose. So I started with a name.” Aventer’s grandmother passed away when she was 12 years old from cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. It was at that time that she began to embrace her name and identify with the characteristics she loved about her grandmother. Her grandmother’s condition became one of the first few blocks in the making of who Aventer was becoming.
Growing up, and definitely after her grandmother’s passing, she became even closer to one of her older brothers. Aventer is the “super baby,” she calls it, of four children, with her older siblings being 12, 16, and 17 years older than her. “That generational gap informed my old soul nature,” she says. Not only did she grow up in a faith-filled family, but she grew up inspired by her brother’s musical background as well. At 12 years old, she was singing everything from Motown to rapping Run DMC songs, singing “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna, and “literally feeling Collins (Phil Collins), I had this strong soulful musical background,” Aventer recalls.
From a young age, the arts had her captivated. “I started dancing at three years old, technically ballet, jazz, tap, modern, and lyrical. That part of me got me used to the stage.” After dance, there was public speaking. When Aventer was in middle school, she won many oratorical competitions. “I was no stranger to the stage. I won lots of pageants. It was just a part of who I was. I didn’t know what God was doing at the time. I was just having fun.”
It was faith first, then music, then there was dance. Like many creative children, Aventer wasn’t encouraged to follow those creative gifts and dreams as a career. Through it all, God was still laying the foundation through the arts — yet it wouldn’t be until later that she would understand the relevance of those experiences.
Though she wanted to dance, she reflects on a conversation with her mom. “Mom, I want to dance,” she told her. She shares the different types of responses she would hear: “That’s probably not going to be the best thing for you to do,” or “You should choose this or that”
“So,” Aventer shares, “you go for the thing that is the logical thing and kind of deviate away from your path and your dreams.”
She says she heard advice such as, “There’s always going to be someone sick. Someone will always need a lawyer. People will always need a doctor. Maybe a teacher. Find something like that to do.”’
“But,” she continues, “the Lord has blessed me to be able to actually still have my connectivity to music and dance while He propelled me into my purpose.” If you’re a creative person, these statements are probably all too familiar. As someone getting to listen to this conversation and be the writer of this article, I know I can definitely relate.
As April and Aventer continue to chat, April reflects on what has been shared. In response to Aventer’s description of being guided toward something other than the arts, April asks, “What do you say to the person that struggles with tradition and coloring outside of the lines?”
Aventer’s answer made me pause the recording, go get a pen and paper… rewind and hit play… Aventer takes a breath, and with this quiet confidence, shares “There is a symbiotic relationship between logic and dreams. I am under no illusion that sometimes the ones that color outside of the lines, they don’t really get to manifest that dream all the way out based on whatever circumstances they’re in. So it can happen for some people and not for others. You ask yourself, ‘Where do you fit?’” As she continued sharing her journey with us, the answers to these questions were presented to Aventer like a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Like many who didn’t follow their creative gifts into post-secondary education, Aventer focused on the practical things. Also reminiscent to most creatives, she made several changes to her major during her time in college. Aventer is a proud HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) graduate of “The Florida A&M University” (FAMU). Aventer giggles as she shares that she changed her major “a strong four times” before she settled on a healthcare track. Remember, her grandmother passed away from cystic fibrosis. As if that weren’t enough, her older brother who had become her creative muse also passed away from lung cancer her senior year of college. Her love to see people “well, healthy, and whole” and wanting to pursue the respiratory area of healthcare since it had claimed the lives of her loved ones are what drew her toward this profession. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Cardiopulmonary Science. With a degree in hand and a promising lead for a new start in the field, she made her way to Atlanta, Georgia.
At this time, if you were in the South and a newly graduated young Black professional, Atlanta was the place to make your mark on the world. Though she had a strong recommendation for a job in healthcare, a career in this industry was not to be. Aventer ended up in the financial industry, but only as a “passover job,” she calls it.
She also shared those feelings and perspective with her manager at the time. Not only was her manager receptive to her transparency, but when Aventer asked for extra time during her lunch break to interview for another job, her manager not only gave her the time, but said she would say a prayer for her, too. Guess what? She got the job! Though she left that “passover job,” she says, “I didn’t leave the friendships or the lessons behind from that time in my life.” She continues to reflect that “God has a path for us all. Sometimes during that journey, you have to do what you have to do until He positions you where He needs you to be.”
Sometimes in life God will take you through things and you find yourself in a “waiting period,” as Aventer calls her time in banking. “There is something that you can do in that waiting period that gives God the glory and allows Him to see your faithfulness. And the thing that would make Him say, ‘Hey, that’s a daughter I can trust. Hey, I see what the desire of her heart is, but because I’m quiet right now, I’m trying to see how she’s going to deal with My quietness. I’m going to see how she deals with My stillness right now.’” Aventer says she didn’t always get it right, but on the other side of this stillness, she saw God’s hand. She encourages us, “I would say if by chance it’s not working out the way you would like it for coloring outside the lines, color inside until the Lord offers you an out.”
At this point, listening in on this conversation became “class in session” for me. As these girlfriends talked and bounced wisdom off each other, I was literally witnessing iron sharpening iron. April and Aventer agree and share sentiments of servant leadership. “It’s important for people to understand that if you want to lead, you have to learn how to serve. People see so many things. They see the warm and fuzzy part, but they don’t see all the pain that went into the purpose,” April says. Continuing on, they speak about humble hearts and the posture in which you navigate through life’s bumps and bruises. Please understand, they agree, life will toss curveballs, but with God, you may get bruised and even broken but He heals and He restores.
Aventer admonishes, “The closer I get in my relationship with God I’m realizing that none of this stuff matters. Not this picture on the wall, not these curtains, none of it. I’m being blessed to enjoy them while I have time. The relationship you have with God is all that’s important as we navigate this thing called life. Integrity is huge and are we missing the boat?”
April reflects and discusses her memory of people just doing the right things because it was the right thing to do. April says, “Integrity used to be common… when did it change?”
As they continue, Aventer provides a very relatable scenario. “Integrity is so key. We all have sin nature, so we’re going to miss it. It’s about how you respond to your miss and what you do with your miss and what you do with your perceived failure. I think failures are opportunities for you to grow. We don’t have a choice because we don’t get it right all the time. But we need to work to try our best to be the best to people, even when they’re not the best to you. There’s a choice to make. I have seen people distort the picture. I’ve seen people have motives I would never even imagine. Even if I don’t catch onto the motive… you don’t think the Creator knows??? He was in the room when you were discussing this. He was in the room when you were plotting and planning. His plans for me are not defined or limited by or contingent upon what you do to me or what you try. I think a lot of times people miss that living a life and living it well, whatever that means for you… when you’re giving and sharing and loving and nurturing and doing all of the things that the Lord describes in His book… there’s nothing greater.”
Y’all, I’ve never met Aventer, but I feel like I know her. I surely can see how, through her reflection of her own life, I have another vantage point in which to consult God as I take her and April’s lessons and reflect on all God has brought me through.
Reading Aventer’s story, can you relate? We all have a “Making of… ” story. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Forgive those whom you may have misunderstood. Be thankful for the experiences, good and bad, because just as they all played an integral part in The Makings of Aventer, you too have integral parts of your story that have shaped you.
We cannot thank Aventer enough for sharing her life with us. More of this conversation can be seen on our YouTube channel and snippets will be shared on all our social media platforms.