“Life is a gift. Our responsibility is to untie the bow and share our gift with the world.”
By KIM MEYER-WEBB | Photography by MEREDITH MELODY
Maya Angelou is a daughter of the delta. Despite a childhood in Southeast Arkansas defined by racial and social obstacles, she became one of our country’s most beloved poets. Celebrate! Maya Project honors the life and legacy of this literary icon. As the organization embarks on a campaign to make a permanent home to commemorate this continued mission fulfillment work, Celebrate Maya! Project President Janis F. Kearney shares insight and inspiration.
Janis recalls “A Day of Remembrance” that brought Celebrate! Maya Project into finite focus. “When Dr. Maya Angelou passed in 2014, I found that no one else was recognizing her here in Arkansas, though people all over the world were doing just that.” The organization exists to celebrate the transformative power knowledge and service. “Her poetry, humanitarianism and passion for civil rights represent a personal story of rising from a childhood of pain to become an amazing human being. We use her story as a mirror for Arkansas children to realize their own potential.”
Celebrate! Maya Project partners with Arkansas schools and communities to bring this narrative to life. “Through our service to children in their ‘villages’ throughout the state – we create writing, art, poetry and history curricula for students.” This experience with literacy and the humanities reflects not only her work in academia, but also Dr. Angelou as a beacon for equity. “The children we serve need to see success that looks like them.” Janis reiterates programming in the Arkansas Delta, where communities are underserved and impoverished, is critical. “It makes all the difference in the world when a poor child sees someone successful whose story aligns with theirs.”
As Janis recounts her own life’s journey from Southeast Arkansas to the White House and back to the Capital City, she realizes her family’s commitment to education and faith facilitated an alternative to dire poverty. “I grew up within a ‘village’ where everyone took our safety and security personally.” That remains motivation for her work. “What that ‘village’ did was, not only make a difference in our present lives, but it laid the foundation for our future lives.” This kind of community is invested in the welfare of neighbors who become friends. And that is what Celebrate! Maya Project offers to student across Arkansas.
Plans to renovate a turn of the century home in the Central High School Historic District will provide a place for Celebrate! Maya Project to create a Dr. Maya Angelou House. “It’s a living, breathing space for youth and the community to come experience.” It will make the resources and inspiration for personal success more accessible in a place where this vision is tangible. “We believe there is something magical about children sharing their stories and learning others’ stories. In addition to the literacy and artistic expression, Celebrate! Maya Project offers children Maya Angelou. Her story helps children see their