On May 28, 2014, at the age of 86, Maya Angelou passed away. I say passed away and not died, because Maya Angelou will continue to live through the legacy she left us of what an individual can do to survive, and overcome, the hardships that life may throw in our path.
Maya Angelou’s road through life rose from the dusty roads of the Jim Crow South through being raped as a 7-year old child, to not speaking for five years because she felt her words had caused the death of a man. Her love of words led her to be a voracious reader. Not speaking led her to putting her words down on paper. Her mother guided her past her trauma and as time went by, the world would turn to her to hear what she had to say and to read what she had written. But before that, the road was to be filled with more lifetimes than many of us have not, or will ever, live in ours.
In moving from the South she became a cook, calypso singer, single mother, a street car conductor (the first women to ever do so) a dancer, a prostitute and a madam, a Tony nominated actress, an author of many books, and a poet. She was the poet at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, reciting a poem “On the Pulse of Morning” which she wrote. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was a highly acclaimed memoir of her life. A moving book that is very worth while for every one to read. It will shake the beliefs of many into the reality of a world that many of us were fortunate enough not have lived. But, it also puts us into a world that helps us to know that we have it within ourselves, if we want to, to rise above what we may see as insurmountable.
Maya Angelou was an inspirational woman who would not let circumstance form her future. From an impoverished home in Jim Crow South to the President’s poet and to the Freedom Medal and along the way touching the lives of millions. From the child who would not speak for five years to becoming the voice for so many and the uplifting light for those who might have given up hope. Maya Angelou, will never die. Her words, and inspirational life, will continue to live, and will continue to carry many forward. It is only proper to give Maya Angelou the last word.
”Still I Rise”
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust I’ll rise
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
“Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like tear drops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take if awful hard
“Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind the nights of terror
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.