In many ways, Trapeta B. Mayson exemplifies a lot of what makes Germantown a notable neighborhood: its cultural diversity, its many dedicated community activists, and a good splash of the arts.
Just two weeks into her job as Historic Germantown’s new executive director, she spoke with NewsWorks about her transition and her plans for the organization.
“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “I really am in awe of the remarkable work that’s been done already and the foundation that’s been laid.”
She said that for her, the biggest appeal of the job was Historic Germantown’s rare position as an organization whose mission is to ensure sustainability through collaboration between many different sites.
From Monrovia to Germantown
Mayson was born in Monrovia, Liberia, and came to the United States with her family in 1975, when she was eight years old.
“My family has always been a very proud, struggling family, even in Liberia, wanting a better opportunity, and then deciding that coming [to the U.S.] would represent a chance at a good education,” she said.
Over the course of a few years in the 1970s, her mother, father, and siblings all settled in North Philadelphia. When Mayson was a teenager, the family relocated to Germantown.
She got her undergraduate degree in political science from Temple (becoming a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority along the way), and then earned her master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr. She began working as a licensed clinical social worker in the 1990s.
Since then, her career has also included supervising social work services for Veterans Affairs and a stint as the vice president of education at the Please Touch Museum. Now, in addition to helming Historic Germantown, Mayson is also working towards an executive MBA from Villanova, which she is on track to finish next year.
“Villanova has a great program where the business school consults with nonprofit organizations,” she noted, adding that she hopes to bring that approach and those connections to her role at Historic Germantown.
Poetry as a way of life
On top of all that, Mayson is also a literary artist. She’s lived at the Greene Street Artist Co-op for five years, and has won many grants and awards for her work, including a Pew Fellowship in 2002.
“I’m a poet, and that is more than just being an artist to me, that is a way of life,” she said. “It’s as much as a part of me as my skin.”
She likes to capture a first-person, “everyday voice” perspective in her poems, which often focus on social issues like immigration, mental illness, and gender and racial issues. She’s currently working on a collection of poems about immigration based on her own experience.
“Although it’s coming from personal stories…no matter where people are from in the world, they can relate,” Mayson said.
Remembering a reading she did for Latino women’s gathering, she said: “The women came up to me and said, you just told my mother’s story, or my aunt’s story.”
Currently, Mayson is also involved in small pilot program for children in Southwest Philadelphia which will explore literary arts, song and dance in the Liberian cultural tradition.
Goals for Historic Germantown
As for her mission with Historic Germantown, Mayson said increasing the 16 member sites’ opportunities for collaboration and communication will be key, in addition to small and large-scale fundraising that will help sustain each site, as well as the Historic Germantown umbrella.
“Historic Germantown won’t survive if all of our members are not surviving,” she said. She also hopes to eventually increase Germantown sites’ regional and national exposure.
Another important part of that, for Mayson, is “really growing our youth base, and encouraging and fostering intergenerational engagement.”
She said issues of accessibility in a very diverse community are also at the fore.
“I’m particularly sensitive to things like access and difference, but I also know it’s a two-sided door,” she explained. “I think that we sometimes do a very good job of opening that door… [but] people don’t always enter, and I want to explore why.”
To that end, she’s committed to partnering with local groups like the Germantown Artists Roundtable and the Germantown United CDC.
“Diversity doesn’t always come without conflict,” she added. “I see differences, but I also see people reaching over and across, as they always have.”
She wants to look out for unique opportunities to connect and practice what she preaches.
“We can all be contributing to our community in a very useful way, and it could be very small, but you don’t know what kind of impact you’re leaving.”