When I think phenomenal, I think Maya Angelou.
Dr. Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis (go Cards) and raised in Stamps, Arkansas—a place full of stories, many of which I read about during That Time I Should’ve Been Reading Harry Potter (Apparently). I found a couple Maya Angelou books on my mother’s bookshelf and because “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” sounded a bit like a mystery novel, I read it.
It was actually Maya’s autobiography, a book that illustrated the trauma and struggles associated with her life in Stamps—traumas that included sexual abuse and blatant racism—and the triumph of transcending her life in Stamps—transcendence by way of the arts and family.
Maya is a dancer and performer, a reader and a sister, a daughter and a granddaughter, a political activist and many things in between.
In The Heart of a Woman, another Maya Angelou autobiography I took from my mother’s shelf, she recounts a few years of her life in New York City which include volunteering for MLK and Malcolm X, having Billie Holiday sing her son to sleep one evening and marrying an African politician—and those are just the things I remember off the top of my head.
The woman exemplifies her poem “Still I Rise,” making void any and all excuses for not being anything and everything you want to be. Obstacles? She had ‘em. Patience? She had that, too—and not the type of patience that just sits and waits quietly, the type of patience that involved doing what you love in every capacity (for her, getting involved in politics and stage acting) and finding ways to improve in all of the above categories.
A few weeks ago, I picked up a used copy of Maya’s “Letter to My Daughter.” She never had a daughter, but if she did these are some of the things she would’ve told her: that growing up was a continual struggle against surrender, that she believes one can never really leave home and that voices need to be reminded to sing again and again.
Live well and live with meaning.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman