In 2010 in Charlotte, NC, I had the good fortune to hear and see Maya Angelou speak at “Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon”, which raised and still raises money for the United Negro College Fund. The photo on the lower left is a fuzzy image of Ms. Angelou. Unfortunately, the throw away camera I used that day did not capture this giant of an amazing woman. She is my shero because she speaks and spoke for all of us humans in such an eloquent and loving way. She is my kind of woman leader, and she lived values that I embrace. The peach color hat in the right corner was the one I wore that day I saw her. What a privilege that was to finally see and hear her distinctive, captivating voice, live!
At the Manchester School of Technology Adult Education Center, where I worked in Manchester, NH, I first became acquainted with Maya Angelou and heard her name when my boss, Sandra, who came from Virginia and whose daughter went to Wake Forest University, spoke about her. That was about 1993. The first time I tried to see Maya Angelou was when I wanted to get her book autographed in Boston. There were so many people at the bookstore, that I could not get “The Heart of a Woman” autographed for myself and my boss. I was did not fully understand that book until a few years later, when I finally woke up as a white woman to the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had not corrected all of the everyday, systemic injustices, and ignorance that were still a real part of the lives of people of African Americans, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and Asians in this country.
My love for Maya Angelou grew as a teacher when I taught excerpts from “I Know How the Caged Bird Sings” to American children. When I bought my own copy, and I finally read the entire book, she spoke for me, too. Through the years, I would watch her on “Oprah” when it was still on ABC and hang on her every word. Ms. Angelou encourages me from the grave to keep writing with:
“You may not think you can reach it. CLIMB ANYWAY. You may not think you’ll be heard. SPEAK ANYWAY. You may not think you can change things. TRY ANYWAY”
– Maya Angelou from “Words of HOPE and COURAGE.”
Her life was a testament of Courage and HOPE. She was a singer, writer, poet, thinker, dancer, professor, and social activist. She was a single mother, like I am. She befriended many of the greatest thinkers of the 20 th Century: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, and had to overcome and forgive that her friends were gunned down as young men and fathers. Her poems, such as “And I Still Rise”, raise all of us humans and tell us a true story of our past and present. See her perform it.
Maya Angelou’s last project was completed the year she died. “Caged Bird Songs”. She performed the vocals and, naturally, wrote the lyrics. Her first song “Human Family” honors all of us humans. I love the refrain:
“We are more alike, my friend, than we are unlike.”
Take a listen to her:
Until the end of her life, Maya Angelou was trying to help heal our planet and the division between us humans. Thank you so much, Ms. Angelou, for leaving us your words of WISDOM, my SHERO. I know Maya Angelou’s words will keep inspiring me to try to bring all of us humans together. I hope they touch your hearts, too.