By Nikonie Brown-McManus
Maya Packer is a sophomore public relations major at the University of Southern California (USC) where she serves as the editor of Black., a vertical of Annenberg Media that focuses on Black student stories. She is also the PR & Brand Manager for The Cardinal Divas of SC, the first and only majorette team at USC.
She learned about philanthropy from her parents – entrepreneur Nina Packer and filmmaker Will Packer – and has been interested in it ever since. Her mother’s work in the nonprofit sector and her father’s focus on service and giving back inspired her. And what started as a graduation gift from her mother is growing into a fruitful legacy.
Maya is very passionate about juvenile justice and helping youth affected by the justice system. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States. While the youth incarceration rate in Georgia went down 59% between 1997 and 2013, many youths are still in juvenile facilities.
As a senior at Woodward Academy, Maya completed a research project for her public policy debate class, arguing that America should abolish juvenile life without parole sentences. After researching to make a compelling argument, she learned that youth are more likely to deal with peer pressure and not understand the consequences of their decisions. Learning how one’s environment can contribute to a bad situation has made her more compassionate and understanding. After finishing high school, Maya’s mother created the Maya S. Packer Philanthropic Fund as a graduation gift in 2022.
Maya’s first grant went to youthSpark, an Atlanta nonprofit focused on providing solutions for children and families affected by courts. “I supported youthSpark because they provide the support and resources that will help kids turn things around,” she said.
A fundraising event – held on June 1- featured a panel discussion with Deana Holiday Ingraham, East Point Mayor and former Juvenile Court Director in Fulton County, Carey Y. Cook-Hawkins, principal probation officer with Dekalb County Juvenile Court, and Jennifer Swain and Anita Copeland of youthSpark. Some of her peers attended the event and Maya found it inspiring and heartwarming to see other young Black people be genuinely interested in her work with youthSpark.
Maya advises other young people to know they can give back in many ways, regardless of their interests: “You don’t have to have a fund. You can give a few dollars to someone or volunteer and give back at your school to help impact your peers. Listen to what you’re passionate about and what your heart feels called to. You can still touch a life, give back and make an impact.”
Maya envisions her fund growing as she grows: “In the future, when people are discussing me or my work, I hope that philanthropy and service are involved in the conversation. I’ve always wanted that to play a large role in my life. I also hope that I’ll be able to build something meaningful that builds a legacy of its own with its impact.”