What Would Maya Angelou Do?


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.

Maya Angelou reading in her dressing room before a performance at  Village Vanguard in New York City.(photo- G. Marshall Wilson)

Maya Angelou reading in her dressing room before a performance at Village Vanguard in New York City. (photo- G. Marshall Wilson)

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?’

Dr Angelou during celebrations for her 83rd birthday.

Dr Angelou during celebrations for her 83rd birthday.

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.”

Maya's books on my bookshelf at the time of her passing. (photo-worklondonstyle)

Maya’s books on my bookshelf at the time of her passing. (photo-worklondonstyle)

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.”

Dr Angelou with her mother Vivian Baxter about whom she wrote: 'Mum and me and mum' (photo-curtesy Maya Angelou)

Dr Angelou with her mother Vivian Baxter about whom she wrote: ‘Mom & Me & Mom.'(photo-curtesy Maya Angelou)

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.

Dr Angelou reciting her poem 'And Still I Rise' at the inauguration of president Bill Clinton in 1993.

Dr Angelou reciting her poem ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993.

Combining the two things she loved best, writing and cooking, she published her first cookbook in 2004.

The jacket cover of her fist cookbook: 'hallelujah! The welcome table'.

The jacket cover of her fist cookbook: ‘hallelujah! The welcome table’. (photo-Brian Lanker)

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.”

2 responses to “What Would Maya Angelou Do?

  1. Deep respect to Dr. Maya’s Family in their time of loss. Thank you so much for sharing this Amazing Lady’s wisdom – those who are fortunate to study her teachings will benefit from them regardless of where they are at in Life…

  2. So beautifully written. I can see many of her same strengths in you. So blessed to call you my friend ❤

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