“You Have a Light About You”: Meet Wave-Maker Jamaya Walker
by Sheryl Kaskowitz
When asked to trace the source of her strength and success, Jamaya Walker (12th Wave) immediately thinks of her mother: “My mom is like superwoman. I can’t afford to disappoint her because she sacrificed so much for me to get where I am.” Jamaya also points to pillars of support and mentorship that she found within a network of Black teachers and staff at Making Waves, many of whom have become leaders at Making Waves Academy (MWA) and at Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, CAP.
When Jamaya was 12, she received the tragic news that her father, who had been another pillar of support, was murdered. She recalls, “My dad was a drug dealer. He was very smart, but he felt like that was his only option to provide for the family.” Reflecting on that time, she says, “When my father was killed, I wouldn’t say I was on a bad path, but I was very angry and very hurt. I think people at Making Waves can testify to that—I had a very bright future, but I had a very bad attitude, and I was so angry.”
Around this time, Jamaya participated in a poetry workshop at Making Waves Academy and found her passion for the spoken word. “That’s when I fell in love with poetry and creative writing and just my ability to express myself,” she says. “Poetry saved my life.” The workshop was led by RAW Talent, an arts and writing project that began within the Making Waves Education Program and has since become part of the RYSE Center’s Media, Arts & Culture program, currently led by Wave-Maker Ciera-Jevae Gordon (9th Wave).
From the time that she was ten, Jamaya had a vision for herself and her community that was grounded in art and advocacy. Today, she creates healing spaces for girls and women to address their trauma.kassandre harper-cotton
director of academic instruction for the humanities
making waves academy
As a member of MWA’s first graduating class, Jamaya had her heart set on attending a historically Black college or university (HBCU). When she earned her B.A. in English with a minor in social work from Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), she became the first person in her family to receive a college degree and the first MWA Wave-Maker to graduate from an HBCU. While taking a full course load, Jamaya published her first book, Unspoken Words from a Daddyless Daughter. She also founded an organization to help other “daddyless daughters”—girls and women who have lost their fathers in both the literal and figurative sense. She is now in her final year of a Master of Social Work program at the University of Houston. She says that the title of her next book, a writing and reflection journal for daddyless daughters, comes directly out of her experience discovering poetry at Making Waves: “My new book is called Pain, Pen, Power,” she explains. “I had pain, and RAW Talent gave me a pen, and then I became this very powerful being.”
Black Mentors at Making Waves
Recent studies demonstrate that teachers of color provide significant benefits to all students and particularly to students of color, boosting academic performance, graduation rates, and college aspirations, as well as social-emotional impacts such as lower rates of absenteeism and suspensions. The support that Jamaya received from Black educators at MWA and CAP shows how powerful it can be for students of color to have role models in whom they can see themselves.
“I love Ms. Harper-Cotton! She’s so loving and so selfless.” When Jamaya started in Making Waves Academy’s first class of 5th-grade students, Director of Academic Instruction for the Humanities Kassandre Harper-Cotton then worked in the school office, made lunches, and served as a class substitute. Later, as a student in Ms. Harper-Cotton’s middle school English class, Jamaya remembers, “She used to say, ‘We’re going to have a real talk, Jamaya. Because you’re not like everybody else. You have a light about you.’ I think she was the first person to tell me that—that I have a light.” Ms. Harper-Cotton reflects, “When I think about Jamaya Walker, I swell with awe and pride. From the time that she was ten, she had a vision for herself and her community that was grounded in art and advocacy. Today, she creates healing spaces for girls and women to address their trauma. Jamaya is a visionary and an agent of change.”
Jamaya also remembers receiving support from Dean of Students Eric Mingo, who was then her middle school social studies teacher. “Mr. Mingo was so hard on me, and he used to make me so angry,” she says now. “But Mr. Mingo was also just so caring and so loving. He saw the me I am now when I was in 7th grade. I didn’t see that [I was] going to go to college, that [I was] going to be successful. But he did. I hope Mr. Mingo forgives me for my 7th-grade attitude!” Today, Mr. Mingo echoes what Jamaya sensed about his belief in her, noting, “When I look at Jamaya’s success as an adult, it’s not surprising! Her gift for relationship development and management, in addition to her academic acuity and emotional intelligence, were present at a very young age. I am extremely proud of what Jamaya has accomplished and am looking forward to seeing what she does next!”
Jamaya points to Senior School Director Dr. Evangelia Ward-Jackson, who began her career at MWA as dean of academic instruction, as another role model. Admiring the fact that she earned two doctoral degrees and a master’s degree, Jamaya says, “Dr. Ward-Jackson makes me want to go get more degrees!” For her part, Dr. Ward-Jackson finds Jamaya “truly inspiring.” She notes, “Despite the traumatic events and challenges that she has endured, Jamaya is such a beacon of light, charisma, and genuine joy. It has been amazing to witness her grow, achieve her goals, and make such significant difference.”
Jamaya has blossomed into an amazing writer and an advocate for others who have grown up in her community and have expereinced similar life situations. It’s been inspiring for me to be part of her life and journey.Dr. Krisitna Wright CAp
coaching services manager
making waves foundation
Once she graduated from Making Waves Academy and left California for college at PVAMU in Texas, Jamaya became a part of CAP, Making Waves’ college success program. During college, she received one-on-one support from her CAP coach, Dr. Kristina Wright, a Richmond native who worked at the Making Waves Education Program when Jamaya’s older brother was in the 9th Wave. “She literally watched me grow up,” Jamaya reminisces. “Being able to talk to her was more like having a second mom or an auntie who could be extremely real with me. If I was being too blunt or too outspoken, she would say, ‘Okay, Jamaya, we’re going to teach you how to refrain from being so blunt but stay true to who you are.’ I can’t love her enough because she’s so supportive but also gives me that tough love.” Dr. Wright, who now serves as coaching services manager at CAP, reflects, “Jamaya has blossomed into an amazing writer and an advocate for others who have grown up in her community and have experienced similar life situations. It’s been inspiring for me to be part of her life and her journey. I am extremely fortunate to have continued our relationship during her graduate years and am excited about witnessing her graduate with her master’s degree in the coming months!”
Recycling Her Success
While in graduate school, Jamaya has been recognized by the University of Houston for her work at an emergency shelter for at-risk youth. She currently holds an internship at the Prism Center, an independent counseling center where she has been asked to create and lead a father-daughter therapy program after she graduates. Looking ahead, she says, “My dream is to help thousands of women and create centers for private practice called Changing My Destiny, where girls can come in to get individual and family therapy, group therapy, and father-daughter therapy. And, because poetry saved my life, the program will also involve a writing workshop.”
Since she graduated from Making Waves Academy, Jamaya has continued to give back by returning to campus to work with middle school students, drawing on her relationships with her mentors. As Ms. Harper-Cotton describes, “She taught my students poetry, talked candidly about her experiences as a Wave-Maker and alumna, and always shared what she learned—and learned about herself—in college.” She adds that when Jamaya published her first book, “I made sure to add several copies to the class library and gifted them to students who were moved by her visit or who asked for literature that reflected their circumstances.” Jamaya explains how she also connects with Mr. Mingo on these campus visits: “Mr. Mingo will pick out a group of girls that he sees as similar to who I was in 7th grade. I tell them, ‘I’m not coming to you like I’m picture-perfect. You can go ask the same teachers who are teaching you now—I was the smart–mouth attitude, who–you–talking–to, I–do–what–I–want–to girl. And at some point, you just have to shift. And once you shift, it’s better on the other side.” She reflects, “I think through my experience I’ve inspired a lot of the African American population at Making Waves.”
I used to be resistant to the Wave-Maker affirmation, but I’ve blossomed into the exact thing that the affirmation is: ‘I am a Wave-maker. I am an agent of change. I wil recycle my success.’jamaya walker
For Dr. Ward-Jackson, “Jamaya evidences the truth in our Wave-Maker Affirmation, which states that ‘success is achieved through hard work and perseverance.’” Jamaya also thinks back to the words that she recited so often as a student at MWA. “I used to be resistant to that affirmation,” she admits, “but I’ve blossomed into the exact thing that the Wave-Maker Affirmation is. The line that sticks out to me is, ‘I am a Wave-Maker. I am an agent of change. I will recycle my success.’ I am an agent of change, not just for my community, but for a bigger population of daddyless daughters that I want to serve.” Jamaya’s words of encouragement echo in the introduction of Unspoken Words from a Daddyless Daughter. “Keep your head up Queen,” she writes. “You can still make a masterpiece with the scraps you were given!”
For more information about Jamaya’s organization, Daddyless Daughter, visit ddcmd.com.