Yesterday, the world lost one of its greatest poets: Dr. Maya Angelou. The first poem of Maya Angelou I came across was “Phenomenal Woman,” which really resonated with me. It was read at a bridal shower I attended in Harlem, and I just loved every single word of it. Before that, I had read Maya Angelou’s first book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and also watched the movie. Maya Angelou’s life was not easy: she was raped at age 7, a teenage mother at age 17, a restaurant cook, a prostitute, and a pimp. She turned her life around, was a professional dancer, singer, actress, and a journalist in Egypt and Ghana. She won several Grammy awards. She walked with the greats of this world: Malcolm X whom she met while in Ghana and was going to work with before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Billie Holiday, Oprah Winfrey, and so many others. President Bill Clinton asked her to read a poem at his inauguration ceremony in 1993, making her the second poet in American history to do so. Her reading of that poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” won a Grammy award. President Obama presented her with the presidential medal of freedom in 2011. She was a professor at Wake Forest University.
To think that this woman never went to college, never had a PhD, and yet she was a bestselling author, and a professor at a major university. Billie Holiday once told Maya Angelou that she would be known in this world, but not for her music. Indeed, Maya Angelou was known throughout the world, definitely not for her music, but for her writings, and particularly for her poetry. Her life is a testament to truth, and passion: live your passion, do what you are most passionate about, and it does not matter where you come from, or how many degrees you have, you will excel and touch countless lives. Here is one of my favorite of Maya Angelou’s poems: “Still I Rise.”
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread 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’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it 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 nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.