Patriot, Activist, & Literary Genius, Maya Angelou, dies at 86


“They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better.”

– Excerpt from Fallen Trees, By Maya Angelou


We’ve heard a lot of talk in the last weeks about what a patriot is.  The dictionary defines ‘patriot’ as “someone who vigorously supports – and is prepared to die for – her country”.  I believe the definition needs to be expanded to include someone who uplifts her country by placing a mirror before it to compel us to see ourselves, correct ourselves, and be better.

For many decades our country has been influenced by the literary genius of Dr. Maya Angelou one of the most prolific writers and activists of our time.  On Wednesday May 28, 2014 Dr. Angelou passed away in her family home, after 86 years of beautiful life.  Dr. Angelou was indeed a loyal woman of principle and character and the country mourns the loss of a true patriot.  Former President Bill Clinton stated:  “With Maya Angelou’s passing; America has lost a national treasure.”

President Barack Obama offered his condolences from the White House:  “Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time.”  “Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer, but above all, she was a storyteller, and her greatest stories were true.  A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking, but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves.  In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.”

Dr. Angelou begins perhaps her most commonly recited work, “Still I Rise” with the following stanza:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

  But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Undoubtedly, her commitment to uplifting African American women is unparalleled. Dr. Angelou urged women of color, (and all people), to let their voice be heard, recognizing the power of words. In her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Dr. Angelou revealed the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, something unprecedented at the time “Maya Angelou brought about a paradigm shift in American literature and culture” says Joanne Braxton, a professor at the College of William and Mary, “so that the works, the gifts, the talents of women writers, including women writers of color, could be brought to the foreground and appreciated. “She created an audience by her stunning example.”*

Dr. Angelou’s death comes as the nation prepares to commemorate the fiftieth year celebration of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou grew up in a segregated society that she worked to change during the civil rights era. Maya Angelou defied the odds. She was the first female and first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco.   She became the second poet in history to speak at a presidential inauguration when she read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the swearing-in of President Bill Clinton in 1993.  In 2010, Dr. Angelou was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

I had the privilege of being in the audience when Dr. Angelou was at the State Theatre approximately two years ago.  She sat in the center of the stage and shared recollections of her life.  I remember at times forgetting there were several hundred other people in the auditorium with me.  It was as if she was speaking only to me.

Maya Angelou leaves us as one of America’s most inspirational leaders. She is a true patriot. Gone but never forgotten – her legacy lives on in the masses she has inspired.

Velma Korbel, Director

Faith Jackson, 2014 Urban Scholar

*Retrieved From: NPR story, published today: May 29, 2014

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