Making a Difference
Her background sparked a passion for justice.
A scholarship empowered her to bring those career goals to life.
Breaking the cycle
Raised in Camden, New Jersey, Maya Pryor has seen the lives of those around her touched by both sides of the criminal justice system.
She has witnessed violence and drug use, a lack of educational opportunities, and the depravity of the educational institutions available — this is where her fascination of why things are the way they are, of wanting to learn and dissect the inner workings of the world around her, was born.
Maya’s interest in juvenile and restorative justice, in particular, stems from the importance she places on changing and reforming the system. “It’s about helping these people before the crimes are committed, before they get stuck in a cycle of violence, crime, and incarcerations,” she says.
Colonel Sharpe — for whom the Colonel Ronald M. Sharpe Memorial Scholarship is named—served with the Pennsylvania State Police for over three decades, and was the first African American commissioner of a statewide police force; the scholarship is presented annually to a minority student majoring in criminal justice. Maya, like Colonel Sharpe did, strives towards disassembling biases to create a better world, one filled with more opportunities for all.
Maya Pryor ’19
Inaugural recipient of the Colonel Ronald M. Sharpe Memorial Scholarship
“We are the future. We need to step up and be the role models for others.” - Maya Pryor
“We are the future. We need to step up and be the role models for others.”
A chance to succeed
Maya got her start at West Chester University through ADP (Academic Development Program), a five-week college preparatory program that saw her flourish and resulted in her acceptance to the University — and financial assistance through the University’s W.W. Smith Scholarship. This experience motivated her to want to impact the lives of people in need and propelled her to confidently dive into her academics as a psychology major.
It quickly became apparent to both Maya and her professors that her real talents were best cultivated in the University’s criminal justice program.
Maya exhibited an intrigue of humanity as viewed through the theoretical lens of nature versus nurture, a perceptiveness and ability to read others, intuitiveness, and an extraordinary passion toward caring for the underprivileged, including those incarcerated who sit, forgotten by society.
She has explored these avenues through her experiences as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as a sorority sister, and through Sisters United.
Maya also took part in an inside-out program affiliated with the State Correctional Institute in Chester, Pennsylvania, a 15-week program where students learn in a classroom setting among the inmates.
“After a couple of weeks, we came to see them as people and not just inmates. We are all people, and we all make mistakes.” She regards it as the most impactful, perception-shattering courses she has taken thus far.
Maya attributes her educational success in part to her ability to connect the theories she learns with her own experiences, and those of the people around her, in Camden. When she contributes to class discussions, she seeks to change the textbook perceptions of inner cities and the people in them, hoping instead to focus on working together to fix the problems that plague these communities.
Maya advocates for a ‘Positive Youth’ approach, calling for the endowment and allocation of more funding for education in the hope of creating environments that will allow for the fostering of safer communities where people can be educated and succeed; these same people can then use their experiences in life to give back and help others, rather than being trapped by them. This belief stems from Maya’s own eagerness to learn and her love of education that—with help and hard work—paved the way for her success at WCU.
A catalyst for change
Maya focused her energy and passion for change in the justice system and educational opportunities for underprivileged youth into her former job at the Chester County Youth Center, where she learned to interact and hold a more open, successful dialogue with children and young adults.
As an intern at the Valley Youth House, she assisted in case work and attended professional ethics training courses. “I love kids, and having the opportunity to speak with and help them,” she notes.
Eventually, Maya would like to earn a master’s degree in administration and work in a detention center, but also entertains an interest in becoming a licensed social worker and traveling to minority communities to treat children with mental health conditions such as PTSD. She would like to start her own practice and work toward cultivating safer communities with better educational opportunities—this model is built upon her honorable stance that change is best served through non-violent means.
With the help of the Colonel Ronald M. Sharpe Memorial Scholarship, Maya was able to graduate in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree and successful completion of her criminal justice program, one step closer to her goal of becoming a Juvenile Probations Officer.