Maia Ervin is creating safe spaces for young artists to brainstorm

Maia Ervin’s mission is to create safe spaces for young Black artists to meet, brainstorm and celebrate their art and voices, in hopes she can inspire others her age to fight for their beliefs.

“Words to me are super important,” she told In The Know. “When people think of activists, people think of protests and they think of signing petitions and all those things are great — but for me, my voice has been the biggest thing that has helped me make change.”

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

The 24-year-old, Queens-born activist serves as Chief of Staff for a youth brand marketing consulting agency called JUV Consulting, which was founded in 2016 to “bring awareness to brands about how they’re portraying certain communities.”

“A lot of the people that work at JUV are activists themselves,” she said. “Being around those people that share the same motivation and share the same drive to make change in the world is super empowering.”

Ervin explained that after moving to a predominantly white Pennsylvania suburb from New York following the loss of her stepdad to gun violence, she began experiencing a lot of “microaggressions” at the hands of her peers.

“Backhanded compliments, like, ‘You’re pretty for a Black girl,'” she described. “I knew it felt wrong, like, this is a compliment, but it feels kind of off. But I didn’t really have the language or the knowledge to be like, ‘Hey, this is wrong.'”

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

Amid her struggles with social injustice, Ervin enrolled at Washington & Jefferson College, about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, where a racially motivated incident — in which her senior government president posted a culturally inappropriate Snapchat — prompted her to speak out.

Ervin was spurred to write about the Snapchat incident in a 2017 Public Source article after she found herself questioning how the school could “push” for students to “feel at home” on a campus where “a good portion of students feel uncomfortable and unwelcome and othered.”

The activist wrote at the time that “these types of situations” were so frequent on her predominantly white campus that she initially “felt nothing” upon receiving the Snapchat.

Her article ended up going viral and being read across campus — and her words apparently resonated with others.

“I had a lot of Black alumni from my school reach out and was like, ‘Keep fighting,'” Ervin recalled. “I had trans people connect with me, which was wild to me because I never thought I could reach a different community in that way. Once I saw the amount of people that actually read it, that actually talked about it, I realized that my voice can bring awareness to issues that I care about.”

Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know
Credit: Cyle Suesz for In The Know

Ervin was involved with Cafe Open Mic at the time as a social media manager. The welcoming and “open-arms” group for creatives helped push her out of her comfort zone to write her successful article.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go semi-viral if I didn’t have people in my corner pushing me to write that article,” she recalled.

Ervin ultimately says through her words, her writings and her podcast — where she shares personal experiences and discusses issues like body shaming, LGBTQ+ rights and gun violence — she hopes to pay it forward and inspire other young creatives to challenge the status quo.

“It doesn’t have to be speaking out all the time,” she said. “It can be simple actions. I want to see people empowered to fight for issues that they believe in.”

“Every generation’s youth fought to make change. I don’t want to take that away from other generations,” she continued. “The difference with Gen Z is that it’s not about bringing a seat up to the table — it’s about flipping the damn table. If structures aren’t working for us, we’re not going to do it. We’re going to find something else, where everybody can properly have a seat.”

If you enjoyed this story, check out this teacher’s viral list of children’s books that deal with racism.

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