‘All American: Homecoming’ Star Geffri Maya Is Leaning Into Her Purpose

The CW spinoff of “All American” stars Los Angeles native Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, who begins a new journey at a historically Black college called Bringston University.
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"All American: Homecoming" follows Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, a teen mother and tennis star from Los Angeles who heads to Atlanta to begin college. The series premieres Monday on the CW.
"All American: Homecoming" follows Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, a teen mother and tennis star from Los Angeles who heads to Atlanta to begin college. The series premieres Monday on the CW.
Ser Baffo/The CW

Television audiences first met Geffri Maya as a high schooler portraying Maya Bennett on “Private Practice” in 2007. Since then, Maya has landed roles in “Black-ish,” “Snowfall” and, notably, the CW’s hit drama series “All American.” In the show’s upcoming spinoff, Maya will be reprising her college days through the lens of a character who, like Maya once did, ventures from Los Angeles to begin her academic career at a historically Black college in Georgia.

Maya, who hails from South Los Angeles, recalls reading the Los Angeles Times on her grandfather’s lap, training at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and watching child actors on her television. Shows such as “Barney,” “Zoom” and “Out of the Box” ignited a spark in her to pursue entertainment. She performed in “The Lion King” on Broadway when she was just 7 or 8 years old, she said, and has loved creating art ever since those early roles.

“I would just be like, ‘Why can’t I go there? Like, Mom, what’s up? I’m trying to be in these places with these kids,’” Maya said. “And she didn’t really understand what I meant when I was saying that. Now, as I’m older and I’m doing what it is that I want to do and letting my art lead me, it made more sense to her now. Like, ‘Oh, you’ve always just wanted to be on the screen in these places.’”

In high school, Maya played Maya Bennett on "Private Practice," the spinoff of "Grey's Anatomy" that ran for six seasons, from 2007 to 2013.
In high school, Maya played Maya Bennett on "Private Practice," the spinoff of "Grey's Anatomy" that ran for six seasons, from 2007 to 2013.
Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Maya said she grew up in a lower-middle-class family, raised by a single mother while maintaining a relationship with her father. Her mother, Stephanie Renee Hightower, and her grandmother fostered and supported Maya’s aspirations. Hightower sent her to Hamilton High School, where Maya was enrolled in the magnet program, and signed her up for extracurricular activities to enrich her experiences, keep her engaged and propel her to strive.

Maya said, “Hollywood was not in reach. It was like a 45-minute-to-an-hour drive just to get to auditions, depending on the circumstance. My mom was always pushing me to want more out of my life. That’s not to say that South-Central L.A. didn’t have its gems. It has everything to do with South-Central being a stepping stone for me. I wouldn’t be who I am without being where I’m from. I think beyond that, what my mother instilled in me was to always dream bigger, want more.”

Now Hollywood is not only in reach, but Maya is blazing a path there that is uniquely her own and that amplifies the presence of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on screen. She stars as Simone Hicks in the CW’s “All American: Homecoming,” which premieres at 9 p.m. EST Monday.

The cast of "All American: Homecoming" includes Mitchell Edwards (left) as Cam Watkins, Cory Hardrict as Coach Marcus Turner, Camille Hyde as Thea Mays, Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, Peyton Alex Smith as Damon Sims, Netta Walker as Keisha McCalla, Kelly Jenrette as Amara Patterson and Sylvester Powell as JR.
The cast of "All American: Homecoming" includes Mitchell Edwards (left) as Cam Watkins, Cory Hardrict as Coach Marcus Turner, Camille Hyde as Thea Mays, Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks, Peyton Alex Smith as Damon Sims, Netta Walker as Keisha McCalla, Kelly Jenrette as Amara Patterson and Sylvester Powell as JR.
Matt Sayles/The CW

The backdoor pilot aired on July 5, 2021, during Season 3 of “All American.” The spinoff follows Hicks as she heads to Bringston University, a historically Black college in Atlanta, against her prestige-chasing mother’s wishes. However, with the support of her aunt and Bringston professor Amara Patterson (Kelly Jenrette), the teen mother and burgeoning tennis star embarks on a journey toward adulthood and self-discovery.

Similar to Hicks, that desire to spread her wings led 17-year-old Maya to decide to attend college across the country. She had always wanted to go to school outside California, but her mother, like any cautious parent, dissuaded her. Maya said, “One thing my mom was not playing about was you were not about to leave this house and act a fool.”

Originally, the plan was to attend Fordham University in New York with her best friend and pursue dance in college. While Fordham offered her admission, Maya declined and changed her trajectory. She attributed it to “probably just me trying to rebel,” but by turning down Fordham, Maya said it led her to make the best decision of her life. A friend suggested the next stop: Atlanta.

Against her prestige-chasing mother's wishes, Hicks chooses to attend Bringston University, a historically Black college in Atlanta where aunt serves as a faculty member in the journalism department.
Against her prestige-chasing mother's wishes, Hicks chooses to attend Bringston University, a historically Black college in Atlanta where aunt serves as a faculty member in the journalism department.
Ser Baffo/The CW

“I was like, ‘Girl, I’ve never been to Georgia in my life.’ Then we went to a Black college expo. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, this is different.’ The culture is just so prevalent, and there’s no need for any adjustments or readjusting in this space. I can fully, wholeheartedly be myself, and with me being myself, my Black experience is enough. That’s kind of what kept me interested, so I applied to Clark Atlanta and I got in. It was the best decision I ever made.”

At Clark Atlanta University, Maya studied mass communications and journalism. She knew that she loved talking and exchanging stories with new people, but something was still gnawing at her. As much as she respects journalists and their craft, Maya recalled, she “didn’t feel at home” dedicating so much of her time to that. She prayed: “If I’m meant to act again, please just let it come to me in a different kind of way. Let my passion and my diligence be different than what it was.”

“When you’re a child actor, it’s fun and you’re good at what you do, but you don’t really know yourself when you’re a child, especially in Hollywood spaces. You’re kind of directed to be this person, be that person. I had to deal with rejection so early for things that I couldn’t control.”

“It’s way more than ‘I got a show about me.’ It’s more than that, because it’s not about me. It’s for the generations to come. ... How are you able to represent people that come from where you come from? I truly just wholeheartedly believe it’s not about where you come from, but it’s about what’s in you and how you go about fulfilling that purpose. Purpose is everything. Passion is everything, and that will carry you.”

- Geffri Maya

She recalled how she felt auditioning for and booking a recurring role on an ABC show — and how her heart sank when she got a call from a director that they had gone in a different direction.

“That was like the first moment for me that stood out. That made me be like, ‘OK, I will never believe anything in Hollywood until I see it.’ It’s a running joke that I have with the producers at ‘Homecoming.’ I’m like, I’m not on ‘Homecoming’ until it comes out Feb. 21. Because at that age, that was what stuck with me.”

After graduating from college in 2016, Maya started working odd jobs to make money: nannying, hosting and going through the motions of living at home with her mother, brother and grandmother. Although she was auditioning, nothing quite stuck — until 2019. Prior to booking the role of Hicks, she auditioned for “All American” two times: first for Kia, who plays Spencer’s ex-girlfriend, and then Rochelle, who was Spencer’s quasi-manager.

"I can fully, wholeheartedly be myself, and with me being myself, my Black experience is enough. That’s kind of what kept me interested, so I applied to Clark Atlanta and I got in. It was the best decision I ever made," "All American" star Geffri Maya said of attending an HBCU.
"I can fully, wholeheartedly be myself, and with me being myself, my Black experience is enough. That’s kind of what kept me interested, so I applied to Clark Atlanta and I got in. It was the best decision I ever made," "All American" star Geffri Maya said of attending an HBCU.
Ser Baffo/The CW

When Maya was expecting only a recurring guest role and a brief three-episode arc, showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll’s call came through, shattering her expectations.

“Me and NK talked, and she was like, ‘I knew I wanted to do a spinoff, and I just feel like this is the most appropriate route to go in terms of Black female leads and Black athleticism.’ I want to continue to push that narrative of not just what you’re good at, but just who you are, the contribution that you give just being a Black person,” Maya said. “We give so much more than we’re credited for. It’s not just about what we tangibly can do or what we have historically done, but us as a people. It’s way more than ‘I got a show about me.’ It’s more than that, because it’s not about me. It’s for the generations to come.

“I’m still in a space of wanting to give back to my family and also figuring out what it means to give back to the communities that I was raised in. The most important aspect of that is, what are you doing now that your life is different?” Maya added. “How are you able to represent people that come from where you come from? I truly just wholeheartedly believe it’s not about where you come from, but it’s about what’s in you and how you go about fulfilling that purpose. Purpose is everything. Passion is everything, and that will carry you.”

Maya said her overarching, bigger agenda is to propel future talent, future leaders and future artists to focus on what matters. As an HBCU graduate, she wants this show to be a homage to the myriad ways that Black people exist and to tell stories that represent the diversity of the Black experience.

Through this series, Maya said she hopes to normalize various depictions of healthy Black relationships, show the depth and variety of Black experiences, and open doors for future Black artists.
Through this series, Maya said she hopes to normalize various depictions of healthy Black relationships, show the depth and variety of Black experiences, and open doors for future Black artists.
Troy Harvey/The CW

While an athletic scandal is merely a footnote of the drama in the series, Maya hopes that through “All American: Homecoming,” she can help normalize and depict larger motifs: healthy Black friendships, chosen family in Black communities, emotional awareness in Black men and more.

“I hope that we just continue to create stories that represent Black people in all of our forms, in all the ways that we exist — from being brown-skinned with straight hair, being brown-skinned with natural curly hair, being dark-skinned with short hair. I just want to create a space artistically where it’s not so geared towards a look or what we think people want to see, but just what exists.”

She continued, “I feel like it does start with giving shows like this an opportunity to grow and to tell stories that, again, represent what exactly it is that we look like, that we feel like, how we move, how we breathe. I just want people to feel seen. We just got a job to do, and it’s a big responsibility. It’s tough, but we got to start somewhere. If we can genuinely start with shows on a network like the CW and support them, then I think it will continue to just be a domino effect on these networks, on these creatives.”

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