Berkeley Journalism is posting this obituary written by Keonnis Taylor at the request of a member of our beloved alumni community, Shikiri Hightower-Gaskin, Class of 2010. On behalf of our community, we extend our profound condolences to the family for their loss.
On March 15, 2021, heaven welcomed a beautiful and beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, and friend, upon the passing of Maia Keyanna Hightower-Johnson. Maia was born December 16, 1995, in Los Angeles to Keshawn Johnson, Sr. and Shikiri Hightower-Gaskin, and departed this earth at the tender age of 25 in Berkeley, California.
From the moment of inception, Maia’s life was one of wonder and fortitude. Her life was blessed with limitless opportunities and love from her family and friends, which imbued her with self-awareness, infallible confidence, and fearlessness.
From a young age, Maia loved to play soccer and basketball, and she embodied the values of teamwork and dedication, both on and off the field and court. Anyone in her circle of family and friends can attest to Maia’s unfaltering devotion, especially her siblings. Maia loved her tribe with the same vigor in which she lived her life: unbound.
She attended St. Paul’s Episcopal School and Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, and the prestigious Hyde School in Connecticut. Maia had dreams of attending NYU to study film to shine light on the realities of growing up at the intersection of wealth, privilege and racism. Maia wanted to help change the common narratives about Black people portrayed by the media, and held firmly to the principles of diversity, equal opportunity, culture, and community.
Maia was a leader and a healer. She was an avid traveler and writer. She lived her life with bold confidence and unlimited gusto. By age 18, she had resided in six states and attended over 20 schools. She opted to forego college in favor of her eclectic passion projects, which ultimately took her around the world as a collector and entrepreneur. In addition to studying French in Nice, France, and Martinique, Maia traveled throughout The Caribbean, Mexico, Japan, Thailand, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, and many more destinations across the globe. Her easy smile, authenticity, and charisma attracted friends everywhere. Even in her passing, Maia was poetic, departing this life on the fabled Ides of March, like the great Julius Caesar.
Maia’s spirit lives on through the countless lives she touched throughout her life and travels. Maia was preceded in death by her paternal grandmother, Vivian Jessie, and paternal great aunt Robbie Townsend. She is survived by her parents, Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. (Jennifer), Shikiri Hightower-Gaskin (Bela); brothers, Keyshawn Johnson, Jr. and Vance Johnson; sisters, Monique Hightower-Gaskin, Maya Denise Gaskin, London and Shyla Johnson; Grandparents, George and Anna Hightower, and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, and beloved friends.
November 23, 2020
Dear Berkeley Journalism Community, My name is Geeta Anand, and as the new dean of Berkeley Journalism, this is my first quarterly note to you, our devoted community of friends,…