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Rising Stars: Meet Mariah Roady

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mariah Roady. 

Hi Mariah, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
From Marilyn Monroe photo ops to nonprofit leadership, my path has been anything but linear. Like many things, the story of how I got where I am today is a series of happenstance and wanderlust. 

If asked what the future would have in store for this Midwest overachiever 10 years ago, my response would have most likely included a career in the arts or something simple like changing the world along with my ride or die – my beagle, Bagel. And that sorta happened…. but let’s start from the beginning! 

Growing up in the bootheel of Missouri, diversity existed in the shade of blonde my high school friends and I dyed our hair and the variations of twang in our Midwestern/Southern accents. It certainly did not exist in the diversity of the community or beliefs shared. I was drawn to a different environment and expanded view of the world compared to many of my classmates and family members. This desire was further fueled by my love for the arts. 

I lived at the edge of a stage ever since I can remember. As a daughter of a high school theatre teacher and voracious reader, I loved watching stories transcend from pages and brought to life. What I found most compelling was how theatre could be a vehicle for so many things; entertainment, education, history, fantasy, awareness, and even social change. 

For me, creative expression also flourished through visual arts and music. The arts eventually led me to the best place on earth and the place I call home: Kansas City! 

In pursuit of a bachelor’s degree of fine arts, I instantly fell in love with this city and the artists that made it so vibrant – one of them later becoming my husband! 

During college, I landed an education internship with a local theatre company and discovered the nonprofit world. For me, this magical intersection of storytelling and empathy for others paired beautifully. Aside from a successful stint in sales, nonprofit work has navigated my professional career. 

From leading a team of teen activists in delivering dating violence prevention and education for a domestic violence shelter to producing free professional Shakespeare in the park for an arts organization, I have had diverse opportunities to engage the community for incredible causes. These experiences prepared me for the leadership role I currently have at EarlystART, an early learning and family development center. 

These chapters have also allowed my personal interests and hunger for knowledge to collide and propel wonder into action. One example being my involvement in a case for a wrongfully convicted man and now friend. Upon seeing a play (starring my wildly talented husband!) about a true story where a man and four others were convicted of crimes they did not commit, my curiosity peaked and anger erupted. I joined the legal defense efforts and immersed myself in the case. From investigative reporting to witness testimony preparation, I championed for justice along with an incredible committee of trailblazers. Eventually, my friend was released from prison after 22 long years. Ultimately, I’ve always been captivated by what I don’t know and my ambition to do what I feel is right. 

While I am an artist by training and an advocate by personal mission, everything I do is inspired by my role as “Mama” to my three (almost four) year-old daughter. Creating a brighter and more just future for her drives my decisions and fuels my fire. My greatest desire is that my daughter, and all children, realize the indelible power they hold to influence change and possibility. 

My work, personally and professionally, is motivated by this sense of purpose and the belief a brighter and more equitable future is within reach. As a parent leader, I believe in building partnership with the community in order to create a world where all children and families not only survive but thrive. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Anxiety has always been both my rose and thorn. 

While I credit my anxiety for provoking a strong work ethic and exceptional success in many things I’ve attempted, I also blame it for yielding unbearable pressure and unrealistic personal expectations. For that’s when self-doubt creeps in. And when that happens, it often brings along fear of failure. This squelches confidence and sabotages creativity. It’s truly the worst version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” there is. 

That being said, this obstacle is a part of my story. And every obstacle offers opportunity for growth and resilience. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
As Director of Development for EarlystART (formerly United Inner-City Services), I work with great enthusiasm to engage the broader community through support and advocacy for accessible high-quality early education and family resources. 

Serving a capacity of more than 300 students and welcoming all families (Head Start, scholarship assisted, and tuition-based), EarlystART is recognized as one of Kansas City’s leading early learning programs in the region. Our team of educators and staff empowers each child in reaching their inherent potential in the classroom and at home through an arts-focused curriculum and robust family engagement. 

Campaigning for change and accessible high-quality early childcare education is critical to my position and personal mission. I believe access to education is everything, especially during the earliest years. 

Children are born innately curious. 90% of the brain develops by age five. By this age, children form millions of connections that will inform the rest of their lives. Because of this, children’s earliest experiences and relationships in their first five years are critical for healthy development. Consequently, high-quality early childhood education programs are essential. They help children gain the necessary academic, emotional, and social skills and confidence to flourish in school and in life. 

Unfortunately, high-quality early childhood education is inaccessible for most parents/caregivers in Kansas City. For every child that has the benefit of a high-quality early education, there are two more that do not. That number has significantly increased with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While child care deserts existed in the Kansas City metro long before the pandemic, new closures of over 200 childcare providers exacerbated the issue and intensified the outstanding need for this industry and early educators. Over 5,000 childcare spaces were permanently lost, affecting workforce development and becoming a separating factor for success. 

This lack of access to programs, the staffing shortage crisis in early childhood education, and the incredible need for these supports creates a perfect catastrophic storm. 

I believe inherently that education is an agent for change and our community must create coalition around creating a lifetime of opportunity for our littlest learners and ensuring their zip codes don’t become a determinant future success. This starts by investing in the systems and individuals that prepare the next generation for success: our early educators. For they are creative muses, parent partners, collaborators, artists, advocates, playmates, and ultimately heroes that impact futures. 

Being a mother is what advances my professional and personal agendas. My daughter is a person that will change the world. She’s certainly changed mine. Her sense of wonder will be the ripple that create waves of change and promise for the future. My work grants me the privilege of modeling leadership and cementing the belief that she deserves a seat at tables where decisions are made. The investment we, as a collective community, make in her and all of the littlest learners will shape the world we dream it to be: diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

What would you say has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
Someone once told me, “Perfection is the thief of joy.” I know this. I vehemently believe this. You probably do too. So why do we prescribe unrelenting disappointment to our imperfect lives? Instead of looking how far we’ve come, we often look bleakly at the long and distant road ahead and those who beat us to the finish line. 

So much light in my life has been robbed due to this insatiable idea of perfection and comparison to others. And here’s the secret: perfection doesn’t exist! We are all flawed and carry childhood trauma/baggage that permeates throughout our lives. The good, bad, and everything in between makes us who we are. We share solidarity in our differences and imperfections. 

I’ve learned/am learning to embrace chaos and color outside the lines every once in a while. Perfect is boring. 

My light always blazes brighter when I remember this. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Michelle Schultz

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1 Comment

  1. Mick Paulus

    May 9, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    I’ve watched Mariah from middle school on through high school as she developed into this most inspirational leader and mother. GREAT article , Mariah. So VERY proud of you–Mr.P.

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