We all most likely have some memory of studying Maya Angelou, whether it was in high school or college. We skimmed through her words, wrote papers, memorized speeches, but did we really let her words sink in? Now is the time for reflection; this incredible American author, poet and civil rights activist has died at 86. She was found Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.
A little about her life: Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Mo. Angelou attended high school in San Francisco, and studied dance and drama. At the age of 14, she dropped out of school and became the city’s first African-American, female street car conductor. She later graduated and gave birth to her son, Guy, soon after. While in Ghana, Angelou met Malcolm X and, in 1964, returned to America with him to help form his Organization of African American Unity.
Despite being a high school dropout, Dr. Angelou became a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Dr. Angelou was truly an amazing person. She defied labels. She was a walking encyclopedia of careers and passions, trying careers in all sorts of fields. She wrote 36 books. In all, Angelou produced more than 30 best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction. She was an actress, director, playwright, composer, singer and dancer. She even worked once as a madam in a brothel and as the first female and first black street car conductor in San Francisco.
Dr. Angelou accomplished so much in her 86 years. Her most notable work includes her debut memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which remains widely read in schools. The scope of her influence reached famous figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Oprah Winfrey (who would throw Dr. Angelou elaborate birthday parties). She was recognized in 2000 and received the Presidential Medal of Arts and, in 2008, the Lincoln Medal. In 2010, President Obama awarded Dr. Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Angelou has also won three Grammy Awards for her spoken-word albuDr.
The last thing she tweeted was highly appropriate, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
If you have the chance, read some of her amazing poems from the library or wherever you have the opportunity. Until you do, however, reflect on a few of her beautiful words and honor her memory today.
- “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
- “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
- “I believe that each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.”
- “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
- “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.”
- “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
- “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
- “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
- “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
- “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
- “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
- “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
- “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
- “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
- “I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.”
- “During bad circumstances, which is the human inheritance, you must decide not to be reduced. You have your humanity, and you must not allow anything to reduce that. We are obliged to know we are global citizens. Disasters remind us we are world citizens, whether we like it or not.”
- “We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay – and rise!”
- “Of course, there are those critics – New York critics as a rule – who say, ‘Well, Maya Angelou has a new book out and of course it’s good but then she’s a natural writer.’ Those are the ones I want to grab by the throat and wrestle to the floor because it takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.”
- “If you’re serious, you really understand that it’s important that you laugh as much as possible and admit that you’re the funniest person you ever met. You have to laugh. Admit that you’re funny. Otherwise, you die in solemnity.”
- “We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”
- “I am a Woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman, that’s me.”
Thank you for your words and wisdom, Dr. Angelou. May you rest in peace, and may your memory be honored.