Maya Smith, Scholar and Artist


Home is constantly in flux.

Sometimes Houston, my birthplace, feels like home. Sometimes, New York City, which opened my eyes to the world, is home. Sometimes Seattle, where I've been the last 5 years, becomes home. Sometimes, when I return to the numerous places I've lived (Spain, France, Italy, Senegal, Brazil), I feel at home.


"Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide."

-Maya Angelou, my namesake


Who do you think best embodies Black excellence?


I recently described Black excellence as the following: "Black excellence isn’t just about enduring or merely surviving; it’s about thriving. It’s not necessarily about being respectable or fitting into mainstream notions of greatness; it’s about redefining and owning our own aesthetic and values. It’s about meeting subhuman depictions in society head-on, and doing so with unparalleled style, creativity, power, and joy." Since it is Olympics season, the person who comes to mind is French figure skater Surya Bonaly, who was one of the top competitors in the 1990s. Other than being the person who opened my eyes that there were indeed black people in France, what she did most to embody Black excellence was to skate on her own terms. She was always one of the most powerful skaters whose technical difficulty far eclipsed everyone else, but she was seldom rewarded because she did not fit the image of a figure skater. When she realized the system would never recognize her brilliance, she decided to do her own thing. Her one-footed backflip in the 1998 Olympics was the most stunning thing I'd ever seen on ice. It didn't matter to her that it was an illegal move. She was going to skate on her own terms.