We are thrilled to announce that Maya Enista Smith, currently our Director of Impact and Operations, will now be the first Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation! Maya has been an integral part in growing the Born This Way Foundation and is committed to working towards making sure the world is a braver and kinder place. Get to know Maya better below!
On Thursday, I was driving my almost four-year- old to school and we passed a skunk on the side of the road. Immediately, the car filled with the skunk stench and I could see him in the rear view mirror, pinching his nose and sticking out his tongue. I opened his window, let the fresh air in and averted the potential, stinky crisis.
As we continued down the road, he asked, “Mama, why do skunks make stinky smells?” He’s at the age where most of his questions about which planet is the biggest or about the canals on Lake Eerie require me to ask Siri but this one, I knew. I explained to him that skunks spray that smell to protect themselves or when they are scared.
He thought about my answer for a moment and then followed up; “Mama, how do people protect us?”
His question came to me, ten days after the unspeakable tragedy in Orlando, on the morning of another movie theater shooting in Viernheim, Germany, while living in a country divided and confused by a vitriolic political debate, and driving my four-year-old to a school that has (thankfully) taught my toddler what to do if there is an active shooter on a campus. All this led me to the realization that I did not have a good answer for him.
With tears streaming down my face, I told him that our protection is the use of our words. I told him that when one of our buddies (our word for friends he hasn’t met yet) does something to us that we do not like or that hurts us, we use our words and ask them to stop.
We are fortunate enough to have words, unlike the skunk, to communicate with others and for others to communicate with us. I told him that not everyone remembers how to use their words anymore but that doesn’t mean we should stop.
I sat in the parking lot of his school after dropping him off, reflecting on our conversation and how important the message of kindness is and the power of our words, as well as our actions. I chose the work that I do because of a choice my parents made for their children, immigrating to a democracy to give us rights and opportunities that they had never had.
I continue to do the work that I do because of my own children and all of their buddies across the world. I need to continue to believe that the potential, opportunity and idealism that led my parents to give up everything they had and come here, is real and can be available to everyone who wants and needs it.
I am so proud to work for an organization that shares that aspirational vision and today, I’m honored to be writing this blog as the new Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation.
Born This Way Foundation is dedicated to the wellness of young people, the flourishing of our communities and, ultimately, to the creation of a kinder and braver world. In the four years that I have been with Born This Way Foundation, we have connected with, convened and supported millions of young people across the world. We’ve invited them to share their stories, collaborate with one another, realize the power of their voice and leverage their many online and offline communities to promote the wellness of themselves and each other.
Moving forward, Born This Way Foundation will continue to do this important work. We will be informed by the best scientific research available and collaborate with the best likeminded organizations operating today to connect young people with the real stories that will inspire them and the resources that will empower them to thrive. Over the coming months, we will launch new programming focused on catalyzing action and creating real change in schools, communities, and online.
We will focus on the root causes of so many issues that our young people – and our country – are facing. We will work to equip youth with the tools they need to thrive mentally and emotionally, understanding that raising healthy children means considering the whole picture.
We will work to foster kindness, compassion, and hope in our communities, fighting back against the tide of hate that divides us.
And – perhaps most importantly – we’ll work with young people themselves to ensure that they have a seat at the table and a voice in this conversation.
I ended my conversation with my son last week by telling him that sometimes, people don’t listen to our words and that makes us sad. But when that happens, we act as an example of the kindness and respect with which we want to be treated and we hope that they notice, and change their behavior. I told him that he can be an example of kindness that others can learn from and that he can also learn from the kind actions and words of other people. He told me he’d stop poking his little sister in the face, and I agreed that would be a great place to start.
As both a mother and as Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, I invite you to join us as we build a kinder and braver world.