Maizy Brown holds a painting she made of a burger with the phrase “I’m not going to work fast food for the rest of my life” underneath it as motivation while she attended school. Brown now counsels students at Edmonds Community College. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Maizy Brown holds a painting she made of a burger with the phrase “I’m not going to work fast food for the rest of my life” underneath it as motivation while she attended school. Brown now counsels students at Edmonds Community College. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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Viewpoints: The inspiration in a cheeseburger binder

Maizy Brown struggled as a young mom, but found purpose in college and now counsels students like her.

By Jean Hernandez / For The Herald

Maizy Brown is a case manager at Edmonds Community College, supporting and serving students in in a youth re-engagement program. It’s a return, of sorts.

The Edmonds Career Access Program is for students who have not completed their high school diploma, want to attend college, and are 16-21 years of age. When Maizy was a teenager, she was enrolled in a similar program at Shoreline College. This is Maizy’s story, and she believes “Miracles do happen!”

Childhood memories: Born to teenage parents, Maizy’s childhood was filled trauma, including being taken from her parents because “experienced bullying at school and at home.” After attempting suicide, she left her home at 16 to escape physical and drug abuse.

In reflecting on what helped her change her life, Maizy credits her survival to her drive, determination and the many individuals who encouraged her. As a result of her own life transformation, Maizy believes everyone should be given a second chance,

“I try not to judge others and believe people can change,” she said. “People told me I had this spark,” which saved her from her childhood.

One person significant in her life was Maizone. She was a neighbor who helped her leave an abusive relationship. Maizone, she said, was a healer and courageous woman who helped her through a difficult time” In 1996, Maizy became a teenage mom.

Even though she had gotten clean and off drugs, she realized that she needed to give up her daughter, “because I had to heal.” While a painful decision, Maizy realized it was best for her first child and her at that time. “My daughter is now 22 and has a child. I’m a grandmother!” she said. Maizy had her second daughter three years later.

Healing gathering: Maizy was pregnant with her second daughter when she attended a Native American Healing Gathering where she met her spiritual brother. Even though she is Native, she had not practiced the cultural traditions and rituals. Her spiritual brother was the first to tell her that she belonged at the ceremonies and among her people. During one of the ceremonies at the gathering, she was able to “let things go.” She also had struggled with whether or not to keep her second child, and at the gathering she experienced a vision that told her that she was to keep and raise her second daughter.

She received her name, Maizy, as the group was singing “Amazing Grace.” She recalls that she “got a feeling like this is the real me.” It was a turning point in her spiritual and cultural journey.

A lifelong learner: In 2000, she found Everett Community College and its women’s program. At the same time, she got a room at the YWCA’s Pathways for Women in Lynnwood. Her second child was growing, and Maizy didn’t want to be back on the streets. However, commuting by bus from Pathways for Women to Everett and back took almost three hours a day. When Edmonds Community College’s Families at Work did a presentation at Pathways for Women, Maizy saw an easier path; she started classes at EdCC, where Families at Work taught her parenting skills, employed her and trained her in computer skills.

“My first quarter I felt so stupid, and then they connected me with Services for Students with Disabilities, but I had not recognized the trauma” of her childhood. In addition, she was having trouble passing her general education exams and recalls several EdCC faculty who helped her build her self-confidence and ease her fear of making mistakes in the classroom.

One of the ways Maizy engaged with her studies was to participate in the events offered there. In particular, she was glad to be at a college that honored Native American culture and traditions by participating in its Pow Wow Committee and Canoe Journey each year. She credits faculty support and opportunities to acknowledge her cultural heritage for part of her success.

Maizy graduated in 2002 with her GED. She continued taking classes at EdCC and received tremendous support from the faculty. Maizy recalls an essay in her English class, entitled “Swim with the Flow” in which she compared herself to a salmon swimming upstream. She later used the focus of this essay for her application materials to the University of Washington’s Bothell campus.

Being a single working mom made her first year at UN-Bothell more challenging. Driven to succeed, she hired a tutor and made flashcards that were posted all over her apartment. She was feeling like her life was coming together. She also “started to remember all this native language that I had forgotten from my childhood and made a 4.0! I couldn’t wait for class—I did a happy dance.”

As the first person in her family to graduate with a college degree at EdCC, she remains proud of her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from UW-Bothell and talks about how much she loved the intellectual challenges that it provided.

Paying it forward: Now back at EdCC, Maizy consistently strives to “help students with what they needed.” For example, in her position at the TRiO office, which assists first-generation college students, Maizy is intentional about creating a space “where people feel welcomed. We know their names, and we advocate for students.” She also developed alliances across the campus so that she could refer students to the appropriate person in each office, when needed. She was able to take the LEAF School training where she learned strong organizational skills and gained a new appreciation for the environment and her Native American culture.

In her current position she provides wrap around support for students and helps them get the support that they need.

“It looks different for each person,” she said. “I listen to their story and get them into classes, child care, a job, whatever they need. I help them understand how they learn: kinesthetically, visually, and verbally; I walk to where they are, call them by name or … meet them where they are.”

Maizy represents the lives of so many community college students. She knows what it is like to be homeless, struggling to find a job, or seeking a safe place for her child while she is at work. Because of her own journey, she tries to do little extras for her students to brighten their day. For example, she remembers when they have tests so that she can send a message of encouragement, and most importantly—she acknowledges them “for showing up.”

Maizy’s cheeseburger story: There were days when being in college was difficult for Maizy. She had to learn to trust herself.

”I had so much doubt about everything,” she said. “Then I found a way to show up in life.”

She thought about why she was going to college and realized she wanted an education to better her life. She did not want to be working in fast-food places all her life, making minimum wage. She wanted a career in education and knew she needed a two-year degree, initially, and then a bachelor’s degree.

As a visual and creative person, she asked herself what represents “why I am here; my own reason.” She put together a binder with a large cheeseburger on the front and a picture of her daughter. In the binder she added her answers to questions she had asked herself, which also helped her build her self-confidence and kept her focused. The materials in the binder reduced her critical self-talk and emphasized her educational goals.

When working with her students, Maizy often finds that they have been talked down to for so long, their sense of worth has been diminished. When she hears students being critical of themselves, she asks them, “where is that thought coming from? Something from childhood? Something someone said to you?” She is a natural at seeing through the armor some students bring with them, because she understands their feelings of shame, fear and guilt.

She encourages students to create their own “cheeseburger” visual so that they are reminded daily of their self-worth and why they want to finish their college degree or certificate. In addition, through music she helps students find “their snap” with their own playlist of favorite tunes that shift their energy from thinking don’t belong in college to a sense of worth and abundance.

She also has learned that “the hardest thing for a student is to ask for help.” Often, she gets students to set up a code word with her when they need support or resources so that they don’t have to feel embarrassed about asking for support.

If you are inspired by Maizy’s story of her educational journey, maybe your code words could be “Miracles do happen!”

Dr. Jean Hernandez is president emeritus at Edmonds Community College.

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