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Maya Penn is a 16 year old award-winning eco-designer, artist, philanthropist, activist, entrepreneur, animated filmmaker, coder, illustrator, writer and author of You Got This! She has been featured in countless publications such as Forbes, Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine, Cosmopolitan, The View, NPR,CNN, TIME, Essence Magazine, CBS This Morning with Gayle King, O Magazine, The Steve Harvey Show, Entrepreneur Magazine, Ebony, Black Enterprise, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and many, many more. Maya has given three TEDTalks and her latest TEDWomen Talk has gone viral worldwide and with almost 2 million views and growing. She is known as the youngest female to do two back-to-back official TEDTalks. Maya has been chosen by Oprah Winfrey as one of her Supersoul 100 influencers. Google has partnered with Maya to speak to girls about coding and computer science at their Made With Code events. Magic Johnson chose Maya to be featured in his 32 Under 32 article series.


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Friday, May 6, 2016

My Mother's Day Story (A Love Letter to My Mom)



My mother always instilled in me at a very early age: love, acceptance, and appreciation for all of my inner and outer features. Specifically, one of my most vivid early memories are of my mother expressing to me how beautiful my natural hair is. Note that this was in the early 2000's, so the natural hair movement was just starting to grow into how big it is today. Representations of natural hair styles were few and far between. But I was so young at the time, and I didn't think much of it. I just knew my hair was beautiful just the way it was.

When I was 8 years old, my mom, dad, and I moved into a new house, and a new neighborhood. The difference between this neighborhood and my old one, was that this one had way more kids on each block. Being home schooled, this gave me more opportunity to make new friends and socialize with other kids my age, and while I did make friends (some of whom I still talk to today), I started having new perspectives thrown at me about my appearance. Especially my hair.

Still rocking my curly, coily, fro, kids would ask me with a condescending grin "What's wrong with your hair?". I would sometimes hear their questions and quips echo in my head and ask myself "What IS wrong with my hair?". That was the first time a sort of odd-one-out self-awareness bubbled up. Fortunately I knew how to immediately squash those feelings by remembering my mothers loving words. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time I was faced with prejudice.

My mom comes from a family of musicians and artists. In the 80's, she and her sisters had started an all female rock group called Siren. Record companies would hear their work and adore it, but once they saw the sisters in person and saw that they were an all African American group, they turned them down. Told they wouldn't know how the public would react, and that they didn't match the music they played. Shunned from playing rock and roll, a genre actually born from an extensive combination of African-American genres. 

All of this is why it was so important to my mom for me to have a rock solid confidence in my own black girl magic as I entered a world where it isn't always recognized.

Thank you mom, for giving me a space where I can let my light shine, and providing me access to creative outlets and support through all of my endeavors. Thank you for everything you've taught me and the lessons I have yet to learn. The knowledge and advice you've given me is too valuable, more precious and sought after than any jewel known to man. The fact that you've decided to bestow this upon me leaves me in awe. And although I may not always seem appreciative, or take your advice at first, it always in some way shapes me to be my best self, and I know that. I always have. And I will carry these lessons with me for the rest of my years. The love you've shown me is bountiful. You have the ability to make me feel more dazzling than a sunrise, and my heart feel full, and I thank you for that.

Thank you for always being there for me, when I wasn't always there for myself.


Thank you to all of the nurturing spirits of the sisterhood of amazing women (and girls) who I have met over the years in my travels, and even online. Women who have prayed over me, prayed for me and with me, the warm hugs and the support, the beautiful messages of encouragement, the high fives, The "You go girl", and the "keep doing what you're doing". It has meant so much, and I appreciate it with all of my heart.

For those of you who are reading this and your mother is no longer with you, rejoice in the gift that they have left you. And for those of you who have struggled to have a supportive mother figure, if you look closely you'll notice you still have a mother figure in your life whether you've realized it or not. Whether it be an aunt, a grandmother, a sister, a friend, a teacher, or a co-worker. A motherly figure who can not only fill that void, but who's nurturing and supportive, who lifts you up and wants the best for you in life.


Happy Mother's Day.

Blessing and Love,

Maya Penn


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