A void filled my heart when I awoke to Maya Angelou’s face on my television screen this week. With the story of her death making headlines, tears immediately flooded my eyes, and I knew I had to call the one person who would understand. My mother. I ended our call, left her in astonishment and proceeded to phone my father. When he answered, I began to thank him relentlessly for taking me at the not-so-sweet age of 16 to hear Maya Angelou speak.
As we spoke I projected the image that had been filed neatly away in my maze of a brain, and watched it beautifully emerge in the mirror of my bathroom. Dr. Angelou, sitting in the center of an auditorium. Perhaps there were 20 or 200, maybe 500 people seated around me, yet she is the only one I see. Caramel skinned with a slight smile, cloaked in colors, reflecting the dim spotlight that shone around her. Her words were flawless, she was fluid in motion and calm in style. Dr. Angelou had the characteristics of your wisest grandmother and most hilarious great-auntie. In front of me sat the ideal mentor of a woman who could captivate an audience with her intelligence, grace, and class.
I question myself, growing into womanhood now – how did a woman with a past of pain, speak of survival with such ease?
“Being a woman is hard work. Not without joy and even ecstasy, but still relentless, unending work…and the woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory.” – Maya Angelou.
Rape, death, unplanned pregnancy and failed loves are all dignified reasons to throw oneself into a deep emotional pit, while refusing to find your way out of it. Maya was able to see her own spirit through her life injustices. She took her role as a woman to an extremity, finding a balance of strength and sensitivity. Through her own testimonials of travel, experience, and her willingness to be open, she instills a piece of delicate womanhood that is vital to those trying to figure out their path.
As human nature would have it, you can only assume that she had short comings, yet she does not portray or embrace the role of victim. She is an empowered woman, clothed in strength and dignity. If a woman has become broken (which is not uncanny, as we are not hard-wired to be hardened), at what point does she take a fond, inward look at herself say, I want you to be good. I want you to be fixed. My experience with Ms. Angelou is not a personal one, but rather an extension of self. Through her poetry and writing she has blessed me. She presented me wisdom that is nonjudgmental, empowering me with the ability to see myself as good and deserving. The strength of woman and spirit she often speaks of, in some ways cannot be taught, but simply only found through self-reflection. Dr. Angelou reminds us of a life-long journey that not only women, but society, should look to take.
“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength…racial peculiarities do exist but beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally, we are more alike my friend, than we are unalike.” – Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou has lived and loved through 86 years, yet it still astounds me how she was able to manifest such a life, that touched a copious amount of people. While she was rubbing elbows with those of fame, she got gloriously dirty in normality. Dr. Angelou is a gift, exactly the type that keeps on giving through her legacy. This woman was able to see race and define it without pretense, without sheltering the minds of those she wanted to inspire, and she has given the people in this world an opportunity to open their eyes. Blurred lines of color are unstoppable and Maya was a part of a century that was able to introduce and accept this new concept of coloring outside the lines.
She was married to a Greek, lived in Egypt, spoke a multitude of languages including: French, Arabic, and Fanti. She was a well-traveled woman, intelligent and cultured. Maya was ahead of her time in the acceptance realm and her love of other cultures was evident. This lesson of gaining freedom for our own selves, while still understanding and respecting what we as Negro-Americans went through in the past, has been shown through her. In respect, it is not about rejecting our heritage, but about embracing ourselves as a black society, while embracing others, too. Maya helped to open the lines of communication by spreading the story of black history but by also fueling the concept of a mixed future.
On May 28, 2014 death took a legend and champion of poetic justice, however her writing remains a stamp of an ageless pursuit and like her spirit, it shall not fade. Marguerite Annie Johnson Maya Angelou was, and is an imprint of our history. And no matter where our future lies, still, like air…we’ll rise.