Maia McFarlin: Mindfulness and Sustainable Success

“I think it's a myth that Black people are very one-dimensional or all kinds of the same. Seeing all these different people with all of these other interests from diverse backgrounds encouraged me to step out of the box I put myself in.”

We caught up with current Howard School of Law first year earlier to hear about her journey to law school, her growing passion for yoga, and how important mindfulness has become to her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jamie: Hey Maia, it's great to talk with you! We've been excited to learn more about you and hear your story. Let's jump right in: who is Maia?

Maia: Hi! Maia is an Indianapolis girl who always dreamed of getting out. I was blessed to have a family that had the means to travel as a kid. Every time I left Indianapolis, I realized there was so much to see. When I went to college, I made a conscious decision: I wanted to go to a Historically Black College, and I didn't want to go to the closest one. I wanted the real "down South" HBCU experience, so I chose Prairie View A&M (PV). Coming into PV, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was blessed to be a part of the Crump Law Camp in 2015 at Howard University School of Law. Because of that camp, I realized that I wanted to do this. My aunt is a judge, so I shadowed her and learned more about law practice. Since then, I've just been pursuing that dream. In my free time, I practice yoga, play the bass guitar, play the piano, and collect records.

Jared: That's great! What motivated you to pursue law?

Maia: Growing up, I was the kid that would be under my sheets with a flashlight reading. I enjoyed reading and writing and wanted to pursue a career where I could use that. Prairie View fueled my passion for the law because Prairie View is in Waller County, which has a long history of voter suppression. I remember hearing about my peers registering to vote our first year and essentially being turned away. And it was so obviously because we were Black. It made me want to understand further how the laws shape society, how these things can happen, and be in places where I can ensure that people are treated fairly.

Jared: Yeah, that makes sense. So on that topic, can you talk about your interest in intellectual property law? Where does that come from?

Maia: My family is very musical; I play the piano and the guitar. So, my interest in IP comes from being able to protect Black creators because, historically, we have been consistently ripped off for the things we create. We must support Black creators because they're responsible for putting joy in the hearts of so many people, you know? From the music we listen to, to the games we play on our phones, to know that these people are not adequately compensated is infuriating.

Jamie: That's amazing. How has your HBCU and PV experience specifically shaped all the different aspects of yourself and your interests into what they are today?

Maia: Coming to PV, I didn't know that many people since I was from out of state. I was a bit shy at first, but I was soon able to see just how diverse Black people are. I think it's a myth that Black people are very one-dimensional or all kinds of the same. Seeing all these different people with all of these other interests from diverse backgrounds encouraged me to step out of the box I put myself in. I stopped thinking there were things that I "had to" be interested in, that I had to like this kind of music, I had to wear these kinds of clothes, have this kind of style. I was really loved on in a way that I wouldn't have gotten at a PWI. My professors got to know me. They know me by name, and they know what I'm doing. They know where I'm from. They are personally invested in my success. They didn't mind taking up extra time to help me. That's made all the difference in my experience.

Jamie: It's impressive to see all the stuff you've been able to accomplish during the global pandemic. How do you feel reflecting on these accomplishments during the pandemic?

Maia: My first thought is just feeling robbed. I was supposed to study abroad in Senegal and had other travel plans. The pandemic completely halted everything. In my junior year, there were no in-person student events; it was all virtual. But looking back on it, it taught me to be flexible and resilient, and for that, I'm grateful. Nothing happens by accident. If the pandemic hadn't happened, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to intern with the senator's office. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to intern with Natalie Chavis, Esquire, who's one of my mentors now. That happened for a reason. I believe in grieving things, but you know, keep it moving.

Jared: That's powerful. I saw that you got into a bunch of great law schools! I was hoping you could help me understand the thought process for picking Howard out of all your options.

Maia: Okay, so I'll tell you a story. I love Scandal. And this is a little bit embarrassing, but I'll admit it now: I watched the show when I was about 15, and she went to Georgetown. I told myself that I wanted to go to Georgetown. So that was where my first inkling came from. The more I researched it, the more I wanted to go. If I'm being frank, I felt like if I wanted to be "legitimate" in the legal field, my HBCU degree was not enough. I would have to get a prestigious PWI Law Degree to be seen as reputable. Until March of this year, I kept telling myself, "I'm going to Georgetown. I'm going to Georgetown". And I got in. At that point, however, I decided to take a step back to ensure I was making the right decision.

Within the last two years at Georgetown, a professor spoke negatively about all the Blacks performing at the bottom of her class. Another professor had made racist comments about Justice Kentaji Brown Jackson. Students were protesting against affirmative action, and the school did nothing. I had to ask myself if this was the environment where I would not only have to go through the rigorous curriculum of attaining a JD, but have to fight to prove myself every day. Will I have to walk into class and wonder, "is this professor judging me unfairly because I have braids in my hair or because I'm Black?" I realized that Howard would be the better choice for me. Already coming from an HBCU experience, I knew that I would get the nurture, love, & community from Howard that helps me to shine as a student. I want to learn the law in a way that doesn’t sugarcoat the social justice undertones, & I am confident that I will get that at Howard. I knew I would feel comfortable and be valued there and graded fairly. And the network is just incomparable. So when I weighed everything out, I chose Howard.

Jamie: Well, it sounds like you made the right choice. I'd like to ask about your time at the PPIA Junior Summer Institute at UC Berkeley. What did you do there?

Maia: In that program, we had the opportunity to pick our research topic. I chose to look at transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people's access to transition-related medical care. I didn't realize before I started the research the numerous barriers to care. Even people with insurance and everything can struggle to cover the costs alone. It affects not only their physical health, but these treatments or lack thereof impact mental health. I did a lot of research identifying potential policy routes to remedy the situation by incentivizing insurance companies to cover these procedures.

Jared: That's very, very important work. Is that work something that interests you in the future? Or are you going to get a stick of IP and entertainment law?

Maia: I am interested in it, but a person like me, I'm interested in so many things. So I will have to see how things pan out in law school and the opportunities I get moving forward.

Jared: Totally understand that. You talked about music, yoga, reading, and some of your hobbies earlier. It's clear that you have a wide range of interests outside of school but still managed to graduate with a 4.0! How did you balance all of your interests?

Maia: I definitely had to grow and get out of my comfort zone. Coming into Prairie View my first year, I was set on getting a 4.0. I buckled down and got to the books immediately. I didn't take a lot of time for myself. I saw that there was a yoga class at school every Tuesday, and I had never been to yoga before. I went to the class, and I immediately fell in love. And that was the one thing I would do every Tuesday; I made time for that. But outside of that, I didn't set time aside to journal and ensure I was okay mentally. One program that made a difference for me is not on my resume. I was a part of the Reese, Brooks, Gilbert cohort with The Lighthouse Black Girl Projects. They're located in Jackson, Mississippi. I did the program the summer before my sophomore year. We took this tour of all these different landmarks throughout Mississippi and Georgia. They took the time to teach us not only about Black feminism but also about self-care, how to journal, how not to judge your feelings, how to accept them, and how to work through them instead of just suppressing them. That made a huge difference in my life. Since being a part of that program, I have prioritized self-care. When I know a given project has to be done, I tell myself I'm not going to work all day. I'm going to stop and take a nap if I'm tired. I will watch Ozark if that's what I want to do. I've also grown to enjoy yoga. It's a method of mindfulness, of being aware. It's not just about the physical aspect. It's about teaching myself to be mindful throughout my day. I'm much more aware now. One day I want to get my teacher certification and start a yoga nonprofit to teach yoga to low-income minority communities.

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