Ma Jaya is charismatic, complex, and controversial. These attributes radiate in her dedication to serving humanity. Ma Jaya is a fearlessly outspoken and unapologetic AIDS and gay rights activist. She unhesitatingly puts her time, artistic efforts, and energy into supporting the disenfranchised. Why? Ma Jaya believes service is the fastest way to know God. Her work is on the streets and in the county homes with unwanted people abandoned by friends and family. Although her service endeavors may partner with established groups, more frequently they operate outside established programs and involve personal contact and commitment.
Early in her public ministry Ma Jaya began blessing spiritual unions between same sex couples. Reb Zalman, noted human rights advocate, agreed with Ma’s belief that love has no gender. This belief led Ma to create her ashram in Florida as a place of refuge for people that others shun, especially people with terminal diseases such as AIDS or with non-heterosexual orientations. Here she decreed people be treated as human beings, not by their labels or illnesses. Her belief that we are all the same underneath surface differences led her to march with a large group of her followers in gay pride parades in New York and Los Angeles. In 1994 Ma Jaya attended the gay rights rally in Washington D.C. She was back in Washington the next year to participate in the candlelight vigil “The Rage against the Dying of the Light.”
When AIDS hit America, Ma Jaya became an avowed advocate of hugs, acceptance, and education. She said she became involved because it was a disease no one wanted to touch. Ma got down and dirty with her “Rounds” programs, visiting those without family or friends in county homes and care facilities throughout Florida, in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City and San Francisco. She contributed her art works to raise money for AIDS research in the U.S. and Europe. Ma spoke at fund raising benefits around the country like supporting Elizabeth Glaser’s efforts in Martha’s Vineyard. Ma gave moving lectures about the need for AIDS education and caring for people with AIDS at the North Carolina Medical School, National AIDS Conferences in Miami, at the Carter Center in Atlanta, and even at Harvard University, among others. Ma took a photo album to her audience with Pope John Paul II, showing him graphic evidence of the plight of AIDS patients. She spearheaded efforts to bring the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Florida and to Capetown, South Africa. Ma Jaya attended the last full display of the Quilt in Washington D.C., accompanied by the senior class of her ashram school.
Open memorials were held on Ma’s ashram for “her people” who had died from AIDS, including a number of infants whose ashes sat unclaimed in a nearby county. After the death of Flordia AIDS activist Bruce Cummings, Ma encouraged the building of a memorial boardwalk whose planks, benches, and railings bear the names of those otherwise unremembered people right alongside the names of ashram residents, friends, family and lovers. Her support of all who had AIDS, their caregivers, friends and family knew no bounds.
Sometimes one will catch Ma Jaya with tears running down her face. She says the tears are for those who suffer from a lack of dignity while they are dying. She trains her followers in the art of detachment, to allow them to selflessly serve, as well as how to meditate, to drink while they pour to avoid burn out. Her ideals have led to assisting efforts in others around the world, like New Rest township outside Capetown, South Africa, helping Father Centurio Olaboro’s work with orphans in Uganda and the Ryland Rural Development Organization’s efforts to train women in HIV/AIDS long-term survival skills, and the Little H.E.A.R.T. Orphanage in India. Most recently she is the driving force behind By the River in Sebastian, Florida, which is dedicated to providing quality residential living for the low-income elderly, again providing dignity for an overlooked population.
Ma Jaya’s humanitarian work has been recognized by diverse groups such as the Gardner’s Syndrome Association with their “Voice of Hope” Nina Award, a United Foundation for AIDS award, the Jefferson Award Certificate of Excellence from the American Institute for Public Service, and awards from Mothers Voices. Ma Jaya was particularly touched to receive the Humanitarian Service Award from the Gandhi Foundation in October of 2007 and to be inducted as a world peacemaker in the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel of Morehouse College in Atlanta. Accolades aside, Ma Jaya serves because it is her life. She believes, “We must love each other, take care of each other and bring love to a world that is in such need of caring where labels have no place whatsoever.”