Fifteen Maya Angelou high school students were surprised with a framed quarter in honor of the woman their school is named after. Maya Angelou students and Chase staff were the first to hold the quarter. (Ja'Mon Jackson/ The Washington Informer)

Though banks are expected to circulate newly-minted Dr. Maya Angelou quarters within the next few weeks, a group of youth counted among the first to receive the coinage during a private ceremony that commemorated their participation in a financial literacy program. 

On Thursday, March 3, officials at Skyland Town Center’s Chase Innovative Branch honored 15 students from Maya Angelou Public Charter School with quarters bearing Angelou’s likeness. 

The hour-long ceremony brought together students, educators, bankers and elected officials, many of whom spoke about the importance of financial well-being.

Students from Maya Angelou High School hold up the Dr. Maya Angelou coin. The new quarter is part of the American Women’s Quarter (AWQ) program. (Ja’Mon Jackson/ The Washington Informer)

 In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, more than a dozen students from Maya Angelou Public Charter School [PCS] visited Chase Innovative Branch, located on Good Hope Road in Southeast, where they learned the basics of budgeting, goal setting and building credit. These lessons augmented their coursework in Maya Angelou PCS’ Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. 

“After receiving the quarter, I’m proud and inspired to move forward. For me, that means being whatever I want no matter what,” said Erica Evans, a ninth grader at Maya Angelou PCS who read Angelou’s Still I Rise poem during the program. 

“I’ve learned how to work well with others [whereas] before I was mostly trying to do things on my own,” Erica said. “When you want big things in your life you have to work for it and manage the money you earn to get what you need.” 

Erica counted among several speakers including See Forever Foundation/Maya Angelou Schools CEO Dr. Clarisse Mendoza-Davis and Councilmembers Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8). In their comments, they touched on the significance of Angelou’s legacy, highlighted the need for community economic development and encouraged students to pursue roles as entrepreneurs and powerbrokers. 

Students later took photos with their brand new, encased coins with the council members, JPMorgan Chase Regional Director for Banking and Wealth Management Alfonso Guzman and Brian Atkins, Chase community manager and vice president.  

Toward the end of last year, Chase solidified a relationship with students enrolled in the school’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism where they learned how to develop budgets and balance checkbooks, among other financial literacy skills. In the coming months, they’ll return to the Chase Innovative Branch to review their budgets. 

With any luck, the collaboration will expand into Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings Youth Development Center within the next few months. 

“We use currency every day and it’s important to budget for any realm of life,” Atkins said. “Credit’s one of those things that’s important and youth who aren’t aware don’t know the power it possesses. I try to make the series as interactive as possible [and ask them] if purchases came from their needs or wants.” 

The Maya Angelou quarter counts as the first installment in the U.S. Mint’s American Women’s Quarters Program. One side bears President George Washington’s portrait while the other has Angelou with her arms lifted, a bird and the sun behind her. 

In the decades leading up to her 2014 death, Angelou published seven autobiographies, three collections of essays and several books of poetry. She has also been credited with plays, movies and television shows spanning half a century. 

Her 1969 autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” brought Angelou to international prominence. In 1993, she became the first Black woman to present a poem at a presidential inauguration. 

Years later, David Domenici and James Forman, Jr. founded Maya Angelou Public Charter School. It has since expanded to become See Forever Foundation Maya Angelou Schools which includes a high school, young adult learning center and an academy at New Beginnings Youth Development Center. 

Throughout Maya Angelou PCS’ existence, Angelou and her son, the late Guy Johnson, often visited the school and spoke with students. 

To this day, young people at Maya Angelou PCS’ continue to be exposed to the works of their school’s namesake in addition to specialized coursework intended to boost college and career readiness. In the Hospitality and Tourism program for instance, students like Antonio Newton often meet industry leaders and gain hands-on experience through worksite tours, job shadowing and high-level internships. 

After receiving a commemorative Maya Angelou quarter, Antonio shared his excitement.  

“I feel accomplished. We’ve come a long way,” said Antonio, a senior at Maya Angelou PCS. 

“It’s pretty good the way my school incorporates Dr. Angelou’s memory in everything from poems, books, movies and just learning more about her life. The lesson for young people is to keep going, no matter how hard it gets,” Antonio said. 


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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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