Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou

For as long as I can remember, Maya Angelou has been a literary giant in my life. Her books and poems have inspired me. It was when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that I learned of Maya’s hardships and disappointments during her early years. But she never used them as excuses. She was like Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego (Daniel 3) who were thrown in the fiery furnace and sustained by the presence of the Son of God--without even a trace of smoke. She was an overcomer.

Too many people are quick to blame their failures on their mothers, their fathers, poverty, and even the “system.” Maya said,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.”

I loved to hear Maya talk. She played music with her words as she dragged and dropped her lyrics in your ears. The last time I saw Maya on television was in a video clip of her speaking to Detroit Public School teachers and staff at the 2013 Back To School Teaching and Learning Symposium. I suspected her health was failing her because she wore dark glasses and sat in a wheel chair. I remembered admiring her tenacity and compassion because she didn’t allow her age to limit her desire and expression. Again, Maya inspired me with her words of encouragement to educators: “I know and you know that many of the children who come through you have been abused and are being abused one way or another or sometimes in several ways. But they come to you for release for liberation, so you can help them to liberate themselves from their ignorance. My Lord, what a blessing” (as cited in WDIV, 2013) 

In an attempt to get my students to write beyond the classroom walls, I would read to them passages from Maya’s recipe book Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. Maya included the stories behind the recipes in this book. It made the recipes come alive as she invited you to learn who cooked them, why they cooked them, and who ate them. What an awesome way to preserve family recipes!

Today I skimmed through Maya’s Facebook page. Her compassion for others radiated like a pebble tossed into a stream. She began with goodwill toward one, and it overflowed to many others. On May 11th, her Mother’s Day wish went beyond mothers: “Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, the family and everyone you love and everyone who loves you.

On March 20th, Maya reminded us to look beyond ourselves: “When we decide to be happy we accept the responsibility to bring happiness to someone else. Some decide that happiness and glee are the same thing, they are not. When we choose happiness we accept the responsibility to lighten the load of someone else and to be a light on the path to another who may be walking in darkness. #happyacts”

When I think of Maya, I think of the story of the bumble bee I heard many times as a child. Because of the weight of the bumble bee’s body compared to its delicate, sheer wings, it should not be able to fly--but no one ever told the bumble bee he cannot fly. So he flies. The weight of Maya’s humble beginnings did not keep her from flying. She became a renowned writer, educator, actress, dancer, civil rights activist, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and so much more. Maya’s life, words, and actions are worth pondering. May we learn to appreciate them. 

Maya Angelou, we salute you as you make your transition.
               Leaving behind nights of terror and fear 
               I rise
               Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
               I rise
               Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
               I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
               I rise
               I rise
               I rise (excerpt from "And Still I Rise," 1978)

Who has been an inspiration to you? This is the story in you. Share it.


Angelou, M. (1978). And still I rise. New York, NY: Random House
Cassimy, E. (August 22, 2013). ClickonDetroit. Retrieved from

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