I was first exposed to Maya Angelou’s poems and books in my early teen years. I was fascinated with this woman who in her childhood had stopped talking for 6 years. She believed the power of her words were the reason for a man’s death, a man that had raped her, and while working this out in her childhood mind, she stopped speaking. It was during these years that she developed her love for poetry and the arts. After reading ‘I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ I became intrigued by this woman and began to read more of her poetry and learn about her as an activist.
Maya Angelou became for me, as she did for many other black teen girls, a symbol of strength. Not only was she a talented poet, but she was an activist who had made a significant contribution to our society. Her poems spoke the truths of struggles as well as the truths of love. Her words could be used as guideposts to fulfilling lifestyles. She once said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” These words are as true as true gets and words that I try hard to live by daily.
Thanks to my mother’s desire to always expose me to ‘phenomenal woman’ I had the pleasure of hearing her speak live in my teenage years. I can still see her sitting in a long red dress, wearing dark glasses, in the middle of the stage at the National Arts Center in Ottawa, Canada. She spoke and recited her poetry with such ease and confidence and in a way that connected her with each and every individual in her audience.
Oprah Winfrey describes Maya Angelo as her ‘mentor, mother/sister and friend.’ I can only imagine how rewarding this relationship must have been, because I know how important my ‘mentor, mother/sister and friend’ relationships are to me. In her statement this week she shared that,
"She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken; it's how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakable calm, confidence and a fierce grace.”
I believe that it is the unshakable calm; confidence and fierce grace that conjured many to experience feelings of admiration and respect for Maya Angelou. In the weeks to come we will see many tributes to Maya Angelou. There is no doubt that her work and legacy will live on for an eternity. As my daughter Maya gets older, I will look forward to exposing her to the words of the inspirational woman whose name she shares.