BALTIMORE, Md. (WTAJ)– Aaron Maybin was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland as a creative kid with a heart for expressing himself through painting, writing and playing sports.
At a young age, he was diagnosed with borderline attention-deficit disorder but says creative expression helped him cope with ADD and other struggles that came with growing up in an impoverished community.
Maybin was a quick learner in school and loved to read. He was given books written by famous authors like Mark Twain and says he loved the stories but couldn’t connect with the characters. This prompted him to search for books he felt he could relate to. This led Maybin to literature about Black history and Black American figures who have done amazing things for the country but were overlooked in society.
While attending Mount Hebron High School, Maybin excelled on the football field leading him to take his athletic career to the next level in college. Maybin received over 40 college offers before choosing to attend Penn State University, playing for the Nittany Lions under Joe Paterno. He became an All American and first-team all-Big Ten selection.
“As soon as I got there, they made sure they let me know…Like, look, man, go to class, Joe’s gonna have people check-in and if you’re not in the first couple rows of class when they come to check, it’s gonna be a problem,” he said.
Again, Maybin excelled on the field during his time at Penn State, launching his career as a linebacker and defensive end. In August of 2009, he was drafted to the Buffalo Bills and then went on to play for the New York Jets in 2011. In 2013, he was released by the team and signed to the Cincinnati Bengals. After being released by the Bengals, he signed with the Toronto Argonauts. He retired in 2014.
“From a very early age, I saw myself as more than an athlete,” he said. “I said if I were to drop dead tomorrow and the greatest thing somebody could say about me is that he was a damn good football player then I wasted a lot of time in my life.”
He traded in his helmet and cleats to go back to doing what he loved, painting, writing and creating in general.
In 2009, Maybin founded the charitable organization, “Project Mayhem,” helping underprivileged and at-risk youth. Maybin decided to make those youth his target audience for his creations. He wanted to do more than help them; he wanted to inspire them.
He used his artistic talents to show Black children that they aren’t what society has made them out to be.
“When you talk about reforming or changing any society it starts with our youth. It starts with the investment that we’re making in our youth,” he noted.
Maybin began educating in classrooms as well. He’s created workbooks and coloring books that reflect the students reading them.
“I always wanted my work to be something that little kids who grew up where I grew up that look like me saw themselves reflected and saw their complexions, saw their hairstyles, saw their history reflected back at them,” explained Maybin.
But he wanted to do more than show them something — he wanted to do something.
Through Project Mayhem, Maybin raised more than $82,000 to help Baltimore public schools afford heating systems. He says these students are constantly in damaged or abandoned environments.
“Some of my students are not even in 3rd or 4th grade, but they’re in charge of getting 4 or 5 of their young siblings to school every day,” he added. “You know when you’re walking through the projects, through open-air drug markets at the crack of dawn, people get robbed, people get stabbed, people get shot. It happens every day.”
To this day, Maybin’s artistic tapestry continues to expand beyond the boundaries of Baltimore. His workbooks are being shared in more than 2 dozen school districts across the country.
“So many of the parts of our educational process invalidate our kids’ livelihoods, invalidate their living experiences, and invalidates their humanity,” Maybin explained.
To Maybin, representation is extremely important in the Black community because of what kids watch and see on television, read in books and find on their devices. He wants Black people to value themselves and he wants society to value black people and children instead of seeing them as “threatening or someone who needs to be ‘dealt’ with.”
As Maybin continues his artistic career, he implements these lessons in his own children. He has 3 of what he calls “beautiful Black children” and he just welcomed a newborn in December 2020.
He says he makes sure he reads to his kids, teaches them their history and educates them about their culture. Retirement from the NFL, he says, has allowed him to be physically there for his kids for as long as he can.