“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them,” she once said. Though the phrasing of those words is quite simple, the sentiment screams oh, so loudly. That was usually the case with the precious pearls of wisdom that Dr. Maya Angelou imparted. Hers was a journey rife with peaks and valleys, yet she always found a way to weave her experiences into a beautiful tapestry. She drew us into her world and made us think and hope and imagine and dream. That was her gift, to the world.
Once upon a time and for many years before she penned her seminal debut, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Dr. Angelou had lived quite a life – a fewlives, in fact. Born Marguerite Johnson and later, nicknamed “Maya” by her older brother, she was a dancer, a singer, a model, a social activist and also, a teenage mother. She traveled the globe, with her son by her side, and during the time that we fought for civil rights, she had her sights set on joining forces with both Malcolm and Martin. Sadly, those plans would not come to be when both leaders were assassinated – Malcolm was first, followed by Martin, who would lose his life on the fourth day of April 1968, Maya’s 40thbirthday.
At times, her experiences were tough and disappointing, other times they were rich and beautiful. But no matter, she poured her heart and soul into her work. We read her stories and recited her words. We were captivated by Maya Angelou’s journey. We still are. Her artistry had no bounds. Along with her literary work, which includes over 30 bestsellers, she took her talents to the big and small screens with roles in Roots as well as Poetic Justice and Madea’s Family Reunion. As a screenwriter, she penned the screenplay and composed the score for the 1972 film, Georgia, Georgia, for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Then in 1996, she took a seat the director’s seat for the feature film, Down in the Delta.
Along the way, she served on two presidential committees and was invited by President Clinton to craft and recite the poem, On the Pulse of Morning, for his 1993 inauguration. When President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, we were in awe of her all over again. Maya Angelou never ceased to amaze us.
She shared her words with the world and she also extended her hand to those in need. By leading the steering committee of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, which is housed at Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine, she shifted her focus to helping find solutions to the inequities of quality health care. “By serving the minority community, it must be known that the entire community is served,” she said about the organization’s mission. “A healthy minority community bodes for a healthy majority community – one hand washes the other.”
From the click of her heels, to the bend of her hair, Dr. Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman, indeed. She will be missed, but we will always have her treasure of words and the fruits of her labor to remind us. For that, I am forever grateful and thank her ever-so kindly.