By Lisa Snowden-McCray, Special to the AFRO
Last week, when primary voting at Patapsco Elementary was moved due to fears that the building was infested with fleas and mice, former NFL linebacker, artist and Baltimore City Schools teacher Aaron Maybin had some thoughts.
“Crazy thing about this story isn’t that they shut down and moved this polling location. It’s the fact that this school has been open all year and nobody cared about the fleas, mice and other issues while our babies were in school,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Seems like the right time to re-evaluate how we are prioritizing the health, safety, and emotional well being of our youth in the educational system.”
Former NFL linebacker, artist and Baltimore City Schools teacher Aaron Maybin. (Courtesy Photo)
It wasn’t the first time that he’d voiced concerns about conditions at local schools.
Maybin spent four years in the NFL, playing for both the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. Now, he’s a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary, assigned to the school through the youth arts nonprofit Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center. He made national news this past winter when he began tweeting about issues with heating at many local schools. A video he posted online of children in his classroom bundled up in coats and hoodies garnered over 160,000 views.
“I started tweeting about the power going in and out, the classrooms being freezing, about every kid not necessarily having coats and jackets, how they are not able to keep warm,” he remembers.
Maybin says both politicians and citizens wanted to point fingers instead of solving the problem. Some blamed the mayor, some blamed the governor, some blamed the City Council – but he wanted action.
“People are hearing me but they’re not listening, he says. “So I said, ‘there is no way that these people, even as ignorant as they may be, could actually see what my kids are going through right now. See how they are feeling, hear their voices as they’re telling me how freezing they are, some of them telling me that they thought they had frostbite. How they couldn’t feel their hands or their toes. There’s no way they could actually see that and still be talking in that way.’”
He and two students at Morgan State University started a GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising money for space heaters and outerwear for the kids. They were able to raise over $80,000 and used the money to buy outerwear, space heaters, feminine care products, and more for kids at over 50 schools in the city.
Despite its success, Maybin shrugs off congratulations for the campaign.
“It’s cool but I don’t like when people make it seem like it’s a bigger deal than what it really is,” he says. “Most of the schools, once the winter left and the summer came, were 90 degree classrooms instead of 30 degree classrooms. My school has gotten a new heating system offered to them by some generous folks that I was able to partner up with…but on a large scale we’re talking about the equivalent of a ripple. We’re not even talking about a huge wave that will ultimately end up making our environment for our kids safer.”
Maybin published a book called Art Activism last year, which features his art, photography, and poetry. Now that school is out, he’s working to promote it, along with a coloring book that he recently completed. That’s in addition to his work with various summer camps and youth programs around the city.
“I don’t see myself ever not involved in the schools,” he told the AFRO. “Ultimately I want to be in charge of making sure that arts and arts therapy and arts enrichment is a part of every school curriculum in Baltimore and I want to be a big part of determining what curriculum looks like.”
He says that when kids know that someone cares, and that person is invested in meeting them where they are, the results are immeasurable.
“When a kid actually can tell that a person is trying to reach them, that a person is trying to do what they can to meet them where they are and not chastise them or make them feel inferior because they don’t learn necessarily the same way I think that there is no amount of value that you can put on that because you’re talking about something that will make an entire city of kids not just critical thinkers but elevators, change makers.”