I’m not sure when I first became aware of the greatness that was Dr. Maya Angelou. What I do know is that I immediately fell in love with her gravely voice. It wasn’t dainty like so many other women that I had come into contact with. It was of the heavy nature that commanded attention when you heard it. The type of voice that I had, but hadn’t learned to love just yet. It seemed only natural that I would then fall in love with this woman as a whole. As a poet, as a leader, as a woman. She wouldn’t replace the women in my family, but she certainly would become that “aunt” that I had, and looked up to for encouraging words.
Lots of people who have learned to love Maya Angelou sometimes glaze over the fact that she was raped as an 8 year old girl, or gave birth to her first child at the age of 17. Things like this usually hold people back, and create individuals who fall deep within themselves, that the world can’t save them. However, as she has shown time and time again, she was a fighter. Even with not speaking for five years because she thought her voice killed her rapist, she became one of the most profound orators in current history.
She found her voice.
I’m grateful that she did. I’m grateful that she didn’t let her circumstances dictate her actions. I’m grateful that she didn’t allow the shame of society create someone who was bitter and unwilling to share herself with others. I’m grateful that she wrote. That she sang. That she danced. I’m grateful that she shared.
I’m not sure how many people remember Maya Angelou on the Arsenio Hall Show reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s A Negro Love Song, but when she started with “Seen my lady home last night” and went into a spectacular flow that was joined with clapping from the audience, it caused my eyes to grow wide with wonder. Here it was, this lady that was definitely old enough to be my grandmother, going into lyrical verse so easily that it resonated with every single member in that audience. She made poetry fun, and while I doubt that I would ever be as profound as she was to this generation, I try every single time I write something from my heart. I want to connect with the people who read my writing, and I want it to be a genuine one. It may not cause sparks at first, but there will be something there that may ignite in later years.
Between her poems Phenomenal Woman and Still I Rise, I’m not sure which I would pick as a favorite. I’m not sure that I COULD pick a favorite. All I know is that when I hear the beginning of each, my gait gets a little stronger. I stand straighter, and I’m proud to be a woman in every sense of the word. The soft parts, the strong parts, the weak parts, the hardened parts.
She shared so much, yet there is still so much of her to hear. I can truly understand why Oprah was enamored. I can. I could see it years ago when she would bring her to her talk show, and just…talk. Listening to the wisdom of someone who by all means shouldn’t have been as profound and as encouraging as she was. Someone who had a RIGHT to be mean, and hateful and embittered towards the world, but chose to love instead.
The world will miss you Maya, especially that little girl that you inspired way back in the 90’s with your cool rendition of A Negros Love Song.