b.f. maiz: A voice for the voiceless

With classes starting to get busy, students might be looking for places around campus to study. A popular location to study is Eberly Library, but what students may not know is what lies behind a set of double doors in the north wing: the b.f. maiz Center for Poetry and Biblical Justice.

b.f. maiz was close personal friends with Chancellor Timothy Thyreen, former President of Waynesburg University, and his wife Carolyn Thyreen. He was a poet and activist of biblical justice.

“The best thing you could say about him: he was a voice for the voiceless,” Chancellor Thyreen said.

Before coming to Waynesburg University, b.f. maiz spent time in Texas doing prison ministry. In the 80’s, maiz transitioned to college campuses and later City Missions in Cleveland in the 90’s. 

“He had already been at several college campuses before us [Waynesburg],” Chancellor Thyreen said.

During one of his visits to Waynesburg University, Bonner scholars brought maiz to visit grade school students that they were mentoring. These younger students were made up of mostly white, financially deprived children. The goal of the Bonner students was to give them the resources needed for change.

“He [maiz] was really anguished,” Chancellor Thyreen said, recalling the visit and conversation with maiz afterwards. “He said, ‘They’re the same as the black kids I work with back in Cleveland. They’re identical, they’re the same issues.”

“His life was one of activism,” Carolyn Thyreen said, “but not in a destructive way. It was activism because he cared about the whole person. And he understood, he understood the healing power of poetry and there isn’t anything that he had written, or spoken, that isn’t that.”

b.f. maiz understood and agreed with the ideas that Waynesburg University was founded upon and practiced: that we are all children of God. 

“From ‘94 on, until he died, he was sharing Waynesburg with the rest of the higher education community,” Chancellor Thyreen said.

Recordings of maiz’s poetry are stored within the b.f. maiz Center, available for students to listen to whenever they wish.

“You would never have him read his own poetry,” Chancellor Thyreen said.

maiz would memorize his poetry and perform it in front of audiences. During one performance at Waynesburg University, he had a ballerina from Case Western dance while a pianist played as he spoke his poetry. Chancellor Thyreen described his words to be powerful and resonating, saying that maiz had a “voice like God.”

When asked if the Thyreens had a specific word of maiz that they liked, Carolyn Thyreen said, “It’s not a specific word, because there were many words, many poems.” She later added, “There was always love in his words and a real compassion for people … Mercy, and compassion, and love. I mean it was just- that’s just who he embodied,” Carolyn Thyreen said.

In August of 2021, Professor Rea Redd, the director of the Eberly Library, received a call from a pastor that maiz worked with during his prison ministry in Texas. Redd said that the pastor had heard about the b.f. maiz Center from online and had several handwritten poems, letters, and photographs that had belonged to maiz.

“In the b.f. maiz room, we have all of his DVDs, and there’s only like two of them, and his audio CDs. Spoken word, just him and a mic,” Redd said.

The pastor sent the items to Waynesburg University, which were then added to the b.f. maiz archives.

b.f. maiz passed away in May of 2004, and in his honor, the b.f. maiz Center for Poetry and Biblical Justice was dedicated in May of 2008. 

“We would hope it would be a resource for conversations today,” Carolyn Thyreen said, “and for students learning today.”

“It should be more than a room,” Chancellor Thyreen added. “That’s not just a room up there. That’s a celebration of a life that celebrated God, but also celebrated that everyone should be able to have the opportunity to live a life in a democracy.”