Founder. Digital Communications Professional. Image Activist.
Maya Carr is no stranger to social impact. The Camden, NJ native is the founder and CEO of Around the Way Girl, Inc., a grassroots nonprofit defying the odds for young women and girls from marginalized communities. Maya has committed her life’s work to philanthropy and empowerment by providing educational access, self-care resources, and everyday tools of survival for girls who are often overlooked.
Read more of Maya’s story in her own words.
Tyler Young: Your Instagram bio says “from the slums.” How did your past experiences shape you into the woman that you are today?
My Instagram bio stating that I am from the slums is very intentional. Often times the stereotypes and stigmas relating to people from the slums or the “hood” is so overpowering that the world, black/brown people included, begin to believe in those very limited and often times oppressive narratives. People from the slums also internalize those messages. I was one of those people. My vision for myself was very limited. Now that I had/have the audacity to reclaim my narrative, my life has progressed and shifted in many ways. I share where I am from, unapologetically because my life is a testament that you can come from poor, drug-infested, underserved, marginalized communities and still be able to pursue a life that is rooted in peace and goodness.
Tyler: What led you to start your own nonprofit?
When I was in college, I attended a huge fair and had the opportunity to network with over 30 nonprofits in the South Jersey area which is where I am from. At the time, my friends and I would use our meal plans to purchase to-go lunches, pack them up, and catch a bus from our campus to my old neighborhood and feed the homeless. During the fair, it blew my mind that so many “huge” nonprofits existed yet my community never benefited from their services. I then realized that black plight was so widespread that we needed as many people as possible willing to serve and give back.
I started my nonprofit because I wanted to do work specifically in poor, vulnerable communities. I wanted to create a space where I could have power over who comes to speak and teach our girls. I wanted to make sure that representation, love, understanding and revolutionary agendas were at the forefront, not just grant money and cool articles in the paper. When I started my first big project, “Queen Things” a feminine hygiene school tour, I wanted to make sure that not only were we discussing topics that were critically important for these teen girls who aren’t fortunate enough to learn about hygiene in their homes because their parents might be overworked, battling trauma, drug addicts, or in jail. I also wanted to make sure that these black/brown girls saw a gynecologist, dermatologist, and dental hygienist who look like them. I started my nonprofit because I wanted to make sure that community service in marginalized communities is intentional.
Lastly, I wanted to live out the old adage, “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” -I saw many nonprofits coming in with the same agenda for us poor black people, give us turkey baskets on Thanksgiving and gifts on Christmas, all things that matter and are so important, but I wanted to teach through our nonprofit.
Our team is made up of majority women who come from these communities so we all know first-hand what is needed to help positively impact the lives of the young women we aim to teach and serve.
Tyler: What is the significance of the name, “Around the Way Girl”?
The significance of the name is loaded.
In short, I decided to name our nonprofit “Around the Way Girl” because I wanted to be unapologetic about where we come from while dethroning stereotypes. I wanted every girl from “around the way” to have the audacity to reclaim their narrative while never forgetting where they come from. The world has an entire song about the “Around the Way Girl” from the male perspective and it’s very limiting. So much so that the world puts so much value on material things when we think about “hood” girls – for example, bamboo earrings, fresh kicks, and dope hairstyles. That is the last thing that should represent us girls from around the way. Strip away the bamboo earrings and fancy clothes and you’ll see the unconditional human value. Girls from around the way are truly gifted, brave, and capable. All we ever needed was access and resources.
I remembering introducing myself to people in college my senior year and people thought that I was joking when I said that I was from Camden. They’d say, “I see the bamboo earrings, but your voice, you speak so well. Like a white girl.” This would come from white and black people. When black women would say that to me, I started to see how dangerous these false and limited narratives about us were because we too internalized them. Instances like that made we want to own where I was from and built a desire in me to empower girls that come from where I come from.
Tyler: Tell us about your day-to-day at ATWG Inc.
Our day-to-day consist of strategy, research, and relationship building. This is the bulk of our work. We develop our own curriculum or set the guidelines for those who we desire to serve with. Our team is constantly finding new and creative ways to teach young women about the intersection of black female history, self-love, healing, and college/career readiness. We are a grassroots, millennial led nonprofit, so our day-to-day is also comprised of perfecting our service strategies.
Tyler: I read a recent interview where you speak openly about your faith. How has your belief in God helped further your mission to uplift young women in underserved communities?
My faith is rooted in LOVE. Love for self and love for others. My belief in God and the transformative powers of LOVE has shaped the entire mission of my nonprofit. I believe that teaching self-love is the first step to healing girls from marginalized communities. I believe that throughout the process of teaching young girls to learn how to love themselves, we are helping them build armor. That armor will be a layer of protection from the harsh circumstance that these young women face and endure in their communities.
Tyler: Tell us about your tribe. Who are the women that keep you motivated and accountable?
Our tribe is made up of majority women, who come from “around the way.” These women are image activists, therapists, higher-education professionals, and so much more. Each of them knows first-hand what is needed to help positively impact the lives of the young women we aim to teach and serve, so it’s safe to say that ATWG is in good care. ATWG is going to new heights because of their individual passion for the mission. Before ATWG, they were already doing the work. Without them, this nonprofit would struggle greatly. I am so blessed to have them by my side.
Tyler: Tell us about the most defining moment of your career.
The most defining moment of my career was building a team for ATWG! I truly believe in village work. This work is not done by my work and passion alone. We thrive because of our team. When I reached out to each and every member of ATWG, they responded YES and each time I was filled with joy.
Tyler: Where do you derive your source of strength when you’re feeling defeated?
When I am feeling defeated I pray to God for strength. In those moments when I am feeling defeated, God reminds me of Harriet Tubman. When she found freedom, she went back to show others the way and trained them to do the same freedom work. She did not give up when someone died or too afraid to fight for their own freedom, she stayed true to her mission. Harriet Tubman is truly where I draw up my source of strength.
Tyler: What is the last book you read?
The last book I read was by Sisters of the Yam Bell Hooks.
Tyler: What tools, outlets, and resources do you utilize to grow your knowledge and influence as a community leader?
I would say that books have been my greatest tool to help grow my knowledge as a community leader. Coupled with that has been seminars and conferences around community activism and civil rights.
Tyler: What current projects are you working on?
We are currently working on the launch of our 2 new programs that centered around healing and radical self-love for teen girls in June 2018 and college and career readiness in September 2018.
Tyler: Where can we follow your moves and support your work?
You can stay-in-touch with us via Instagram @atwgirl or subscribe to our newsletter on www.atwgirl.org