Ceci Bordayo has many notable accomplishments in her life. She’s written and recorded “House of Secrets,” a song about her family’s secrets surrounding physical and sexual abuse, which has helped countless people come to terms with their own trauma. Her painful childhood experiences also became the genesis for “Pass the Mic,” a storytelling platform she crafted to empower other trauma survivors find and share hope and help with each other. She serves as worship director at her church and has started Pass It On, a community center in north Lansing. She works at a home for survivors of human trafficking while being one of two Community Engagement Fellows at Safe & Just Michigan.
And Ceci isn’t the only accomplished person in her family. Her twin sister, Priscilla, is the Michigan statewide director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. The organization’s national director, Aswad Thomas, was the featured speaker at SJM’s Celebration of Healing in October.
With so many notable achievements — both individually and in her family — it would be easy to assume that racking up accomplishments is what drives Ceci.
It isn’t. Instead, she says, living up to her purpose is what moves her forward.
“Goals are great, but I try to ask myself if I am being purposeful rather than being productive,” she said. “I’m just a local girl who believes we can all make a difference. We can all pass on something — even if it is just one thing — imagine how much better the world can be.”
Raised in both Michigan and Texas, Bordayo’s childhood was anything but easy. She endured sexual abuse from her grandfather at the age of seven and witnessed her father doing the same to her twin and then her younger sister. The family moved frequently.
The one positive constant in her life was the church. Being involved in a church that deeply cared for her family and stood with them as they worked to recover made all the difference in her life, Bordayo said. At Maranatha Bilingual Church in Lansing she found Pastors Jesus and Yolanda Mendoza. Pastor Jesus Mendoza became an important positive influence in her life — she called him her “bonus dad.” Sadly, Pastor Mendoza passed away in Oct. 2023, about the same time she joined SJM as a Community Engagement Fellow.
“As a young teen and young adult, it always helped that I was raised in a local church and they were able to love me enough to say I wasn’t bad, I went through bad experiences,” Bordayo said. “They got me help and therapy. They got me the help I needed so I can help others now.”
Bordayo had discovered a talent for music as a child, and she carried that talent with her as she became more deeply involved in the church as a music director as an adult. When she and her family decided to speak openly about the abuse they had survived, she decided to give those experiences voice through music. The result was “House of Secrets,” a song released in 2018 based directly on her family’s experiences. The song stresses the importance of bringing such secrets to light, but it also suggests the importance of faith in healing and recovery.
The success of that song led Bordayo to go further as a survivor advocate. She created a storytelling platform called “Pass the Mic,” which she designed to encourage trauma survivors to share their stories and support each other. The goal of the project is for participants to find hope in each other — or as Bordayo puts it, “one person’s story is someone else’s hope.”
Around the same time, Bordayo also looked around her neighborhood and found no community center serving her neighbors. So she did the only sensible thing — she set out to create one. The Pass It On community center that she is creating with her supporters is already offering tutoring, summer camps and after school programs, and is in the process of buying a building to house all their activities.
She also works at House of Promise, a Michigan-based nonprofit that helps survivors of sex trafficking. This work is incredibly meaningful to Bordayo because of her own experiences.
“We never forget, but for me, when I hear their stories, it motivates me to help more,” Bordayo said. “I arrived to the other side, and I’m not in that victim mentality. I’ve overcome that. I can remind them that they are still valuable, they still belong, they still have purpose.”
But hearing those stories can also be triggering, she says. In those times, she relies on her faith and her sense of purpose to keep from overwhelmed by her memories.
“I know my purpose and that makes a difference,” she said. “It gives me a reason to wake up every day.”
While she has most frequently worked with survivors of crime, Bordayo said she isn’t afraid to align with an organization like Safe & Just Michigan, who advocates for people who are incarcerated for crime. However, she concedes, she wouldn’t have always found it possible.
“As a teen and younger adult, I had a lot of anger toward people who committed crime,” she said. “As I got older, I realized that people who don’t get the help they needed repeated the same cycles they see. My father committed the same abuse he saw his father doing.”
In addition, she had seen how the criminal justice system had affected her wider family. Several of her uncles and cousins were incarcerated on drug charges, leaving many of her other cousins to grow up without their fathers. She also has memories of visiting them while they were incarcerated. When they came home from prison, she saw them struggle to find good work while they had a criminal record.
That’s one reason why she wanted to become a Safe & Just Michigan Community Engagement Fellow. She also is interested in the project of lowering barriers to health jobs for people with a criminal record, which she is working on during her fellowship.
Not only did she watch family members try futilely to secure good jobs after prison, she has also seen how the medical field is suffering because of a lack of staff. When her “bonus father” Pastor Mendoza was sick in the hospital recently, nursing was so understaffed that family members had to take turns tending to him.
With fewer barriers to employment, people who have a criminal record but who have the training and skills to work in health care jobs could start to take some of those open jobs. Not only would it give formerly incarcerated people an avenue to good-paying jobs, it would also help solve a longstanding employment gap and alleviate some patient care concerns. It would be a win for everyone, Bordayo said.
“I’ve seen the importance of rehabilitation and that people get a second chance at life,” Bordayo said. “I want to learn more about how policies that change people’s lives become law. I want to learn and grow in those areas.”
Senior Communications Specialist