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For Maia Jaribu Ajanaku Locke, learning was fundamental

Maia Jaribu Ajanaku Locke touched Memphis in myriad ways and with a deep-rooted passion to make it better.

A teacher, licensed barber, and early childhood education entrepreneur, she died at Methodist University Hospital on Aug. 5, 2022. She was 84.

The only child of Frankie Cox Rodgers and Elliot McKinney, she was named Bobbie J. McKinney at birth (August 23, 1938) and grew up in Memphis’ Truse Road community, which was a settlement of African-American homeowners before it gave way to a bustling commercial area of east Memphis.

Bobbie McKinney attended historic Melrose High School, where she graduated in 1957. Determined to be a teacher, she enrolled in Tennessee State University, receiving her B.S. degree on May 29, 1961.

As the nation grappled with desegregation, she settled into Memphis classrooms, including teaching at Southside and White Station in the legacy Memphis City Schools system. Long before many accepted it as part of the curriculum, she found ways to introduce students to their African and African-American heritage. 

An avid reader, her tools included books. She challenged students to read for understanding and labored to teach them to appreciate the value in every word.

Teaching was a way of life for her, whether it was in a classroom, at Gandy’s Barber Shop in South Memphis, a service position at Memphis International Airport, or at the local child services office, where she was a caseworker

Undaunted by change, she subsequently decided to become an entrepreneur in early childhood education and opened the Village Childcare Daycare Center on Airways Blvd. Later, she relocated the center to her home in the Cherokee Heights Subdivision.

Bobbie McKinney married Jother Locke, a military retiree, and they became the parents of a son, Marty Jay Locke.

A burgeoning interest in African American history and culture led her to embark on the self-study of all things African, American, and African-American. The course culminated in her legally changing her name to Maia Jaribu Ajanaku, as well as becoming a member of the Ajanaku Family and its grassroots, community-based research into slavery as an ongoing cultural phenomenon.

Maia Ajanaku opened her home to several African students, who came to Memphis to work and study. She also traveled to the Motherland to broaden her horizon of African culture.

The onset of health challenges eventually led to a change in her active lifestyle. Her then former husband, Jother Locke, continued caring for her until he died on August 11, 2020.

Admirers recall that her endearing traits included a passion for spending quality time with family and friends; and her generosity. Her final expression of generosity was to donate her body to Genesis Legacy Whole Body Donation Foundation and Meharry Medical College.

Along with her son, she also leaves her grandchildren: Ayanna Locke, Adisa Locke, Imani Morgan, Ojo Ajanaku, Nkechi Ajanaku, and Kennedy Lee.

A gathering in her memory has been scheduled on Friday, September 16, at 1 p.m. at the Cherokee Library, 3300 Sharpe Ave.

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