The History of Celebrate! Maya Project

Who We Are

Our first celebration of Maya Angelou’s life and legacy’ was held in Stamps, Arkansas – the place she called home during much of her childhood. In partnership with the city of Stamps, Arkansas, the first and only recognition of her life and her passing was held at the Lafayette County High School on October 18, 2014. The Celebration was co-chaired by Stamps Mayor David Bright and Celebrate! Maya President Janis F. Kearney.

In January 2015, the group applied for and became a certified exempt non-profit organization. The organization promotes Maya Angelou’s life and legacy through public forums, writing, poetry and history workshops, and creative arts competitions. We seek to partner with schools throughout the state with a special emphasis on the Arkansas Delta regions, and feel it critical to enhance Arkansans’ knowledge of their native daughter by sharing information about her half-century of works.

Realizing that Maya Angelou is one of Arkansas and America’s most renowned poets, teachers and authors, and a daughter of the Arkansas Delta, we believe it is important to take Maya Angelou’s life messages into the schools and the communities to help youth see themselves in her. As chronicled in her first memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” her childhood was rife with racial and social challenges. In spite of her hardships, however, she ‘rose,’ beyond her surroundings. The children of the Arkansas Delta must do no less.

How We Serve

Since its inception in 2014, the Celebrate! Maya Project continues to promote the life, contributions and history of Dr. Angelou, and to research and document her global contributions to share with the state of Arkansas. Most importantly, the Project continues to seek ways to educate Arkansas’ youth about the ways in which this literary and humanities advocate continues to impact the country, the world, and the state of Arkansas. The Celebrate! Maya Project is committed to helping preserve and promote the idea of service to our fellow human (i.e., humanity); and teach the history of literary icon Maya Angelou. We continue to seek partnerships with Arkansas schools, communities, and other nonprofit organizations to help bring this legend to life, and by doing so – to take the humanities and the arts into the schools and communities.

Out of this revelation of taking Maya to Arkansas’ Delta Communities, we named one of our first initiatives: The Still I Rise Delta Voices initiative. This community + schools initiative is our effort to broaden the perspectives of community learning. We strongly advocate that it takes a village for our children to experience success in learning, and in life. We also believe that “Taking Maya to Arkansas Schools and Communities,” will help youth and adults understand the continued relevance of this literary icon.

Who We Serve

Our over-arching focus is youth throughout the state of Arkansas, we are especially attentive to the needs of youth in the Arkansas delta region, where youth and their families remain most in need – economically, socially and educationally. We work with parents, community leaders, school leaders and educators, as well as other nonprofit organizations in the region. Our interest in serving the Delta is in response to the decades-long studies that tell us the student populations in America’s Mississippi- Arkansas Delta regions are likely to be poorer, and have far less access to quality education, health and social services. This results far too often in students being less motivated to graduate from school, or to enter college.

Another component of our project is to find ways to address the fact that most often, these students are less likely to be exposed to historical and inspirational figures such as Dr. Maya Angelou, and others who look like them, and who can inspire them to reach beyond their day to day realities.

A secondary mission of taking Maya to Arkansas Schools and Communities, is to have public conversations, to help communities learn about Arkansas’ great history, and for youth to understand that in addition to a quality education, personal dreams and hopes are prerequisites for life successes. We know that where there is poverty, there is a scarcity of dreams, and hopes. When youth are exposed to the stories and the history of men and women whose childhoods also represented obstacles, they are more likely to have hope and dream that they, too, can succeed in life.

Our programs and initiatives mirror our mission. We seek to share Maya with the children of the Delta, helping them realize their own propensity for success, teaching them the power of service –while Dr. Angelou was a poet, author, actress and singer; she spent her life advocating for civil and social humanity. Our group seeks opportunities to share Maya’s message for life with students and the villages that nurture them – schools, churches, parents, communities. This project is our opportunity to serve, assist and become a member of the villages of Arkansas.

We seek partnerships with Arkansas Delta schools and communities to help promote the appreciation and understanding of global icon Maya Angelou, whose roots are in Arkansas, but whose humanity, teaching and words span the globe. Together, we believe, we can help youth imagine the world they seek. Maya Angelou’s iconic “Still I Rise,” will be used as a blueprint for success throughout this project. Through an immersion in, and discussion of Angelou’s poem, our goal is to show students that success is possible, in spite of their odds; a prime example being Angelou’s success in scaling seemingly unreachable heights, and ignoring the boundaries set by others as she continued her life journey.

Meet our Amazing Executive and Advisory Board Members!

Celebrate! Maya Project Executive Board

Janis F. Kearney, President/Founder Little Rock, AR

Brenda Johnson, Pine Bluff, AR

Cheryl Stuart, Stamps, AR

Janetta Kearney, Hot Springs, AR

Ana Hunt, Little Rock, AR

Emily Kearns, Little Rock, AR

Juanita Burton, Little Rock, AR

Tanja Enoch, Little Rock, AR

Joyce Willis, Little Rock, AR

Carolyn Allen, Fayetteville, AR

Vincent Tolliver, Atlanta/LA

Celebrate! Maya Project Advisory Board

Cheryl Batts, Hot Springs 

Woodie Davis, Hot Springs

Adele Holmes, Benton, AR

Betty DeLoach, Eudora, AR

Ethan Dunbar, Lewisville, AR

Erma Toney, Eudora, AR

Kelli Kamanga, Little Rock, AR

Lori Ducey, Little Rock, AR

Sydne Hayman, Little Rock, AR

Alberta Dunbar, Eudora, AR

Kelli Kamanga, Little Rock, AR

Victoria Mays, Little Rock, AR

International Advisors

Lencola Sullivan, The Netherlands

Eartha Dunston, Washington, DC

Donna Champ Banks, Richmond, VA

Tracy Chiles McGhee, Washington, DC


Janis F. Kearney

Passionate about literacy, children, writing, creating stories, history, teaching, coaching and sharing new stories with the world.

Meet the Founder

Janis F. Kearney is an author, book publisher, and writing instructor. Born to southeast Arkansas cotton sharecroppers, Janis attended Gould Public Schools, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a B.A. in Journalism. Her career includes publishing the historical Arkansas State Press newspaper founded by her mentor and shero Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband LC Bates; and serving as personal diarist to President William J. Clinton for five of his eight years as President. In 2014, after Maya Angelou’s death, Janis invited women around the state to join her in founding the Celebrate! Maya Project. Its mission is to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou throughout Arkansas’ communities and schools.