Dr. Maya Angelou renowned poet, professor, singer, dancer, novelist and actress; passed away at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina today. She was 86, but the woman I first met in her book ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, was timeless. A peer of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and friend of Malcolm X, her voice transcended manmade barriers. Having never been to college, she received more than 30 honorary degrees. In 2011 president Barak Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.
I credit Dr. Angelou for installing in me the belief that courage is the most important human trait. She also said; “Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself” and “To know the end; look at the beginning.”
In times of great distress or challenges I would often ask: ‘What would Maya Angelou do?’
Oprah Winfrey said: “I consider it God’s gift to me – a Blessing Incarnate – to witness and experience Maya’s grand, open heart. Her willingness to serve.”
I awaited eagerly each new instalment of her autobiography and took pleasure and instruction from her profound wisdom and spirit of dignity, grace, courage, determination, integrity and generosity.
She would say, “Don’t bring the negative to my door.” She projected attention to the positive and highlighted common ground in order to unite. I can hear her say: “In the Eye of the Storm, in the Heat of the Flame, say Thank You – for your faith that deliverance is coming.”
Born on 4 April 1928, Maya grew up between St. Louis and the then racially-segregated Stamps, Arkansas. She had a difficult childhood surviving rape at the age of 7 and giving birth to her son, the writer Guy Johnson at age 17, a few weeks after her graduation from high school. She toured Europe in the mid-1950’s in the opera production of “Porgy and Bess” and in 1957 recorded the album “Calypso Lady”. She joined the Harlem Writers Guild in New York in 1958.
Combining the two things she loved best, writing and cooking, she published her first cookbook in 2004.
Maya spent time working as a newspaper editor in Egypt and Ghana. She spoke six languages. It was here that she wrote the first part of her autobiography. Her son says: “I was raised as an only child, but because of my mother I have many brothers and sisters. I share her easily because one cannot own the dew, the snow, the wind , the rain. It is a force of nature.”
Maya, I am passing on your instruction to me; “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”