Am I late? I’m late on purpose as I look to avoid the too easy to jump on bandwagon of saying all the cliche things for clicks bandwagon that is the mourning of a celebrity/famous/notable on social media.
And here’s where I want to start singing “Maya, Maya, Maya, Maya” like Minnie Riperton, except nah…I can’t hit those keys. Because that’s the kind of feeling I get when thinking about what Dr. Maya Angelou means to me. Just a genuine love, a life changing love. I remember reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a teenager. I remember thinking that if she can come from this, I don’t have to worry about what my parents don’t have, it’s not the totality of my journey. I felt a part of me in her story and that book shaped my life story more than the have-nots. It inspired me to read all the African-American fiction books in the library. Thankfully this was before the age of street fiction, where street-lit was Iceberg Slim’s extensive autobiography Pimp . Maya, Maya, Maya…inspired me to re-consider Shakespeare and realize that I could relate to his stories even when my school plays made me feel like none of the characters could ever look like me.
I knew that within the reach of my arm I could grab a hold of any dream and make it a reality. That with the curl of my lip I could tell my story how I wanted my story to be told and people would listen. That for every room I walk into I carry the reality that I created and that’s how people shall treat me. That the fire in my eyes resonated a passion that few would understand but there was no need to worry, because the joy it would bring me, would be the joy in my feet that carry to me new levels down roads less traveled. I could be phenomenally me and so could every other woman and being who walked this Earth, just as Maya…Maya, Maya, Maya…had told me in And Still I Rise.
Maya’s unabashedness about the life she lived, even with the facts of her life that some would consider a mistake, remind that I can live with no regrets. I can pick myself up from any fall and come back from any blunder. My body is my body and how I choice to use it, explore it, take ownership of it is my own journey that is not privy to your opinion.
In the end, what I think is more poignant to take from Maya’s legacy is that she taught to be so good with you that you could be accepting of all others. As the greats of our lifetime pass on, it’s easy to gloss over their lives in order to make them seem pristine. They all convened and got along in the good ole days right? Maya came about in the tumultuous era of Civil Rights in America, moved to Ghana shortly after their independence and in the heat of the decolonization of Africa, all periods of fight for great change in thought amongst cultures. And as Cecily Tyson noted at her funeral, she met Maya…later to become Dr. Angelou, “challenging someone or something and it scared the daylights out of me .” “She spoke her mind no matter what the situation,” I’m sure Maya bumped heads and turned heads as she confronted societal norms that folks like to brush under and over. I’m sure noses were turned and side eyes were cut as people attempted to dismiss Maya. I’m sure that even amongst her peers who were and are equally great in their legacy, there was misunderstandings and dislike and disdain, mixed among them*, but I also know that Maya took the time to learn from her life experiences and from others, as she’s experienced in her words that we all often quote. And through out she realized the humaness of her own existence and was so cool with her own being that no ones being could challenge her own, acceptance. Acceptance because she was not insecure about the differences in others, the different beats that everyone walks to. Acceptance and respect. Maya, Maya, Maya, Maya…thank you for the world of women, especially the world of young Brown girls, who you let know it was okay to be themselves, okay to be different and still accept their sisters. Thank you for letting us hear the caged bird sing and setting her free to share herself with others.
Watch her funeral service, where Oprah, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Cicely Tyson all share the inspirations that Dr. Maya Angelou imparted on them.
*She was good friends with James Baldwin, another strong personality of great legacy...I'm tickled thinking about how they got along and fell out and got back along again. [Image Source]