Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A few words on & by Dr. Maya Angelou


I was sitting in a gorgeous little cafe on Dundonald Street when I found out Maya Angelou had passed away. Normally when I find out someone has died I stick my nose in my wifi capable device and I read every single article and thinkpiece about what they’ve accomplished. I’m not going to pretend I was Dr. Angelou’s biggest fan growing up; the little I knew of her seemed to be the stuff of Hallmark cards and inspirational plaques on walls.

But when I was gifted ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ when I was perhaps 17, "I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And the worst part of my awareness was that I didn't know what I was aware of.” It struck me deeply even if I didn’t truly understand many of the racial aspects of the book until a few years later. (“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” )

Maya Angelou was a lovely poet, a fierce activist, and a beautiful person. She was awarded over thirty (!!!) doctoral degrees, and was a journalist and a professor as well as San Francisco’s first woman African-American streetcar conductor as I just learned today.

So when I found out about Dr. Angelou’s death I remembered what she said about autonomy, about structural racism, about voicelessness, and ran to grab I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (where all of these quotes are from) which is actually surprisingly both easy and not that easy in Bermuda. I ended up missing my bus, I sat in my favourite park in Hamilton, and I read it, not front to back but I took a few moments to try to suss out all of the parts that struck me so many years ago.

“If you're for the right thing, you do it without thinking.” 

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