Memories of Dr. Maya Angelou

Memories of Dr. Maya Angelou

By Dr. Barbara Reynolds

 

 

 

– Dr. Maya Angelou’s prose sounded like music and her poems sounded like words in flight soaring on the wings of butterflies. That was the magic, the mystique of her gift and of course the blessing. Her prose and poems are treasures.As I join the national and world spotlighting her life and poetry in light of her death this week, I feel honored that on several occasions she shared that gift with me. Dr. Angelou, who declared upon the death of Nelsen Mandela, “No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn,” died at her Winston, Salem, N. C. home May 28 at the age of 86.“When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that ‘No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.’ Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman,” declared President Barack Obama upon her death. “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.”{{more}}I concur with President Obama and join him and millions remembering her words and – moreover – her life. Earlier this month, we talked by phone about how she missed her friend Coretta Scott King. They thought of each other as sisters. By phone I could hear that she was directing a flurry of activity at her home in Winston Salem, NC. Another phone was ringing, she also had visitors, but she interrupted her schedule to talk with me. She invited me to call back in a few weeks for an uninterrupted chat talk. Sadly, that conversation would be our last.But I still have the memories of earlier conversations that inspired and motivated me as a much younger journalist to keep moving in mainstream journalism, where I was never really wanted.In 1985, she gave me permission to use the name of one of her most inspiring poems, “And Still I Rise,” and change the “I in the title to We,” which resulted in a book I wrote entitled: “And Still We Rise: Interviews with 50 Black Role Models.”In interviews for the book, she sat with me and shared some of her views that are timeless.On some of the changes she has witnessed in the South, she said, “Black and White children go to school together now, stare in the same shopping mall windows, and walk together on field trips. The mystery between the races is not as prevalent as it was in my day when I really thought that White people were not real. I thought we were people but White folks were ‘White folk’. And that if you put a hand on a ‘White folk’ your hand would go right through them. They were so mysterious to me. I just couldn’t believe that White folk had livers and hearts and all this that we had inside of us. It is a different world entirely. Not that racism isn’t still prevalent. It is as prevalent in the South as in the North. As it is often said, Savannah, Georgia Is down South and New York City is Up South.”Dr. Angelou encouraged young people—both Whites and Blacks – to know the history of Blacks in the United States:“Young Black men and women need to be informed about our history. Dreams fulfilled and those deferred; promises, achieved and broken – that’s for the voting Black people,” she said. “The young White people desperately need to be informed about Black American history. Only equals can be friends. If not; they will topple. They will be paternalistic, materialistic and philanthropic relationships. You cannot make friends from those unequal positions. If White students knew Black American history and knew how the struggle had been waged and the achievements, they could look at young Black people in an informed light. Then it would be easier to make friends, and out of friendship comes support.Reflecting upon her life and how she wanted to be remembered it was significant that she did not mention her acting career, her novels her receiving the presidential Medal of Freedom. It was all about the power to love.“What I really would like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it President Barack Obama awards the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Maya Angelou in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House February 15, 2011. PHOTO: Lawrence Jackson/The White Houseencourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings. I would like to be remembered as a person who dared to love and as a very religious woman. I pray a lot. I am convinced that I am a child of God. And that everybody is a child of God. I try to address each person as a fellow child of God. Now I blow it a lot. I am not proud of that. But I do forgive myself and try to ameliorate my actions.”About her friend, Coretta Scott King, she applauded her for her tireless commitment and leadership. “Coretta showed us her womanliness not just her humaneness. On one level it is very possible to become an old female who lives long enough by managing not to get run over by a truck. Then there is a female who takes responsibility for creating something better in the time she has and the space she had to occupy and that is true greatness And Coretta did that.”The same must be said about Dr. Maya Angelou. In her own phenomenal style and passion, she created something better that is universal, unique and timeless.President Obama concluded his remarks this week by paraphrasing the title of her sixth autobiography: “With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.First Lady Michelle Obama echoed the sentiments of millions: “Maya Angelou teaches us that it’s not enough merely to seek greatness for ourselves. We must help others discover the greatness within themselves. We need to reach down and reach out, and give back, and lift others the way Maya has lifted us. That is how we can most truly honor our friend Maya Angelou – by how we live our lives … by striving every day to embody the wisdom, and generosity, and radiant love with which she has graced our world.”