Through art and activism, former NFL player Aaron Maybin tackles some of the city's biggest injustices.
By Ryan Jones,
On the first Thursday in January, Aaron Maybin emerges from a bitter, blustery afternoon into the calm and warmth of Teavolve, a spacious, low-key cafe in Harbor East. He settles into a corner table in the restaurant's rear, the effect of his lean, but imposing, 6-foot-4-inch frame softened by his casual manner. A three-hour conversation over tea and sandwiches offers a respite from the Arctic blast, but not from the storm of attention that Maybin has recently helped create.
Barely 24 hours earlier, he had tweeted a 45-second video in which he's seated in front of a gaggle of grade-school kids.
What's the day been like today? he asks the room. The answer is an immediate, echoing chorus of young voices:
Cold. Cold! Very very very very very very cold.
The setting was the library at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore, one of many rooms at Henson that had no heat on a day when temperatures in the city topped out at 30 degrees. "It's the same school Freddie Gray went to," Maybin says, "which gives some context to what the dynamics are." Thanks to Maybin's nearly 27,000 Twitter followers, the video -- along with a GoFundMe page he promoted that raised more than $80,000 to purchase space heaters for the school and winter gear and other much-needed items for its students -- quickly went viral. Over the coming days, similar heating issues were reported at as many as 60 city schools. "Baltimore teachers have been talking about these issues for years," Maybin says, "but it took somebody that used to play in the NFL to put a video out there of kids sharing how they feel."
Maybin's perspective resonates because he is both -- a former first-round NFL draft pick and a teacher, among a handful of other identifiers. Those kids at Matthew A. Henson were his kids, students in the art classes he teaches three days a week. He is unique in having the platform of a celebrity and the insight of an insider; on that frigid January day, he felt compelled to use both. "I don't think he came to work that day to make a statement," says G. Travis Miller, the school's principal. "He's from this area, so he has a connection to this school. He's a guy that is successful, and he's part of this community. It makes him much more of an asset."
Photo Credit: Brian Schneider/Baltimore magazine