Maurice Mays has always been a shy kid, choosing to focus on his love of art, creative writing and photography. He mostly takes pictures of flowers, and portraits of people.
The Opa-locka native, 16, loves photography so much that he even sent an Instagram message to "Jenny," his favorite photographer — @shetookthat from Athens, Greece — on how to improve his craft.
Maurice's mom, Keema Jordan, wanted him to overcome his shyness, socialize more with other boys his age, and prepare him for the college experience early on. Five years ago, she enrolled him in Florida Memorial University's Black Male College Explorers (BMCE) program. He's been an Explorer ever since.
On July 2, the Explorers visited Pérez Art Museum Miami in downtown, where Maurice and his friends met museum director Franklin Sirmans.
"I was so happy," said Maurice, a Miami Central High student who never dreamed he would get to meet an art museum director. "I told him about all my interests and he told me to never drop any of my creative activities."
Now, Maurice is thinking of asking Sirmans whether he could be an intern at PAMM.
Opal Comfort, Florida Memorial's communications and marketing director, said that without the Explorers program, boys like Maurice would probably never have these kinds of opportunities.
"I love my job" Comfort said. "I meet young people every day, and doing this makes me feel that I'm making a difference in their lives."
Comfort met Maurice a few weeks ago, when he offered to help fix her old film camera. She asked him what he was interested in studying and he told her fine arts. She then set up the Explorers' visit to PAMM. Maurice and about 30 of his friends took the museum tour.
The Explorers group is tasked with increasing the number of black male students graduating from high school, helping them in the college admissions process, and increasing their chances of earning college degrees, according to its website.
During the school year, the young Explorers get tutoring lessons, take etiquette classes and are introduced to different career options through seminars.
In the summer months, the boys live on the university campus, where professors teach them STEM subjects. The youngsters also complete community service, have spelling bees and do science-related outdoor activities.
Explorers program director Shaun Davis and his staff try to reach their goals by making sure the boys stay until high school graduation, so that they can maintain a support system.
Said Mark Pinnock, 15, a second-year Explorer who goes to Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High in Northeast Miami-Dade: "My favorite things are learning how to be a better person, getting advice from the counselors, and having them look out for me."
For more information about the Black Male College Explorers program, visit https://hrld.us/2N7ir2B.