IN JANUARY, when Aaron Maybin posted a Twitter video calling attention to young students and their teacher shivering without heat at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School in West Baltimore, the former NFL defensive end knew the subject better than most. He was the teacher, and those were his students.
Through his foundation, Project Mayhem, which he launched in 2009 after he was drafted 11th overall, Maybin has brought arts education and accompanying donations to all corners of Baltimore, and after retiring in 2014, he devoted himself entirely to art and activism. This school year, he has taught creative arts and literacy three days a week to pre-K through fifth-grade students.
Maybin's video helped raise more than $80,000 online for space heaters, winter clothes and other supplies, but the school system's problems remain immense. "We have very few computers, lead in the drinking fountains, rat infestations, asbestos leaks...." And then there are the stresses on his students at home. "Until you really are sitting at a table with the kid who's telling you how he saw his father get murdered by a police officer and has a mother struggling with drug addiction, or the kid who's being physically and sexually abused but can't leave because he has siblings that he feels responsible for, you can't know what that's like."
So Maybin does his best to connect with his pupils, to learn from them. "I'm as demanding as any teacher in this building," he says, "but I want my classroom to be an oasis for them."