Some months, I am not quite sure which of the amazing women to feature because there are so many that are great role models. This time, it was a no-brainer.
I was in high school when I was first introduced to Maya Angelou. My high school English teacher had gotten to meet her at one of her speaking engagements and raved about her. Somehow, she got permission for us to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It’s written beautifully, but it’s Maya’s story that really hits home. If you haven’t read it before, go pick up a copy. I rarely say that a book is life changing, but this one might be one of those that does.
It wasn’t until my teacher took us to hear Ms. Angelou speak that I fell in love. She has one of the most beautiful voices that you will ever hear in your life. She was funny and witty. I had felt uncomfortable and awkward with myself as a female at that point, but Maya Angelou’s poetry and her dictation of it made me feel empowered. I can still, all these years later, hear her read it each and every time I read “Phenomenal Woman.”
Maya Angelou grew up as a young girl in Arkansas and Missouri. At a young age, she became mute for several years after sexual abuse. In her teen years, she was the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. At the age of 17, she became a single teen mother.
She raised her son while working as a waitress and a cook. She was soon able to turn her talents to song and dance, touring Europe, recording an album, and dancing on variety shows. In 1960, she moved to Egypt to edit an English newspaper there. She also learned French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, and a West African language, Fanti.
She met and worked with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. She worked in television and film. In 1993, she recited a poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s Inauguration. She won Pulitzer Prize nominations, Grammy Awards, Tony Award nominations, and over 50 honorary degrees.
I am in awe of what an amazing woman Dr. Angelou was, how she made her life into something amazing, how many people she touched, what a part of history she was! She lived her life out loud. She paved the way for so many of us, and with such grace and beauty. A light went out in the world when she passed on May 28th.
Rest In Peace, Dr. Angelou.