By Jim Gehman
A talented and well-respected artist, Maybin became an arts and literacy teacher at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland last September.
“I’ve always been involved in a school system since I started my (Project Mayhem) foundation in 2009,” said Maybin, an art major at Penn State who was nicknamed Mayhem during his playing days. “It was just more so an involvement of me, through my foundation, going to schools that had arts and music programs taken out due to lack of funding, and supplementing those programs with my own (money). Obviously, that wasn’t necessarily a sustainable method with so many schools falling under that category over the first couple years.
“Once I made the decision to retire (after a five-year career in professional football, two years each with the Bills, 2009-10, the Jets, 2011-12, and one year with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, 2013) and to do my artwork full-time, I ended up for the first time in my life actually having the amount of time necessary to actually get involved in a more intimate way.
“It started off with me teaching summer school courses at Edgecombe (Circle Elementary School in Baltimore). And after that went well, I made the decision to take the position at Matthew Henson for the fall and spring.”
Splitting the week working on his own art projects and at the school, what does Maybin enjoy most about teaching?
“Actually getting kids excited about their education,” he said. “When I was a kid and really all the way to this point, there’s very few educators that you have that actually gets you excited to come to school every day. Or not even just to come to school, but to actually be in class and to be learning and to be curious about the world around you and not to stigmatize education, literacy and other subjects that is not for kids that look like us.
“I think that being a part of that change of mindset is transformative when you take into account just what most kids in the inner-city are experiencing within their school environment.”
In January, Maybin experienced something that his students had unfortunately experienced for far too long. Because of a lack of heat in the classroom, they were forced to bundle up the best they could. Maybin posted a video of one of his classes on Twitter and wrote – This.Is.Unacceptable.
“This isn’t a new phenomenon; they’ve been going to school in freezing classrooms for years now,” Maybin said. “It’s just ridiculous that a former NFL player showing that same reality becomes a national story when it’s literally something that they deal with every day.”
After people responded to Maybin’s tweet and asked how they could help, an account was created on GoFundMe.com with the original goal to simply purchase space heaters.
“We raised over $85,000 for that effort,” says Maybin. “But it wasn’t just space heaters, we provided winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, feminine care products for our young girls at the middle and the high schools that we service, blankets, clothes for babies and kids and homeless folks that we’ve been able to bless with some of the donations. It’s been a much more comprehensive effort than just space heaters.”
The effort also brought more than warmth to the classrooms.
“The community is the vehicle by which this even became a movement. Obviously, when a kid has gone without something for so long and then all of a sudden out of the blue they get provided with that thing that they’ve been missing, they’re obviously grateful, they’re obviously excited, they obviously feel as though they’re a priority for someone, that they matter, that people care,” Maybin said.
“Too many times, really, they’re given an example upon example upon example of how they either are an afterthought or just a forgotten priority all together in the minds of policymakers and the minds of people with resources and the minds of the average American citizen that doesn’t have to really engage their story on a day-to-day basis.
“This is one of the few times that they’ve had an example of something being wrong and it actually getting the kind of national attention that this got, and actually people stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘If our policymakers and elected officials and everything else won’t step up to fix this problem, then us as citizens, us as individuals who have a platform and have resources, are going to do what’s necessary ourselves.’ I think that that’s a powerful lesson that they’ve been able to take from the experience as a whole.”