As I was preparing to write on the Black Feminist Breathing Chorus Meditations #5 inspired by Harriet Tubman ("Harriet Tubman" read by Maya Angelou) and #6 inspired by Anna Julia Cooper, I got the word that Maya Angelou had died.
As an adolescent and teenager, Maya Angelou was one of the Black women writers who saved my life.
Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and Sherley Anne Williams were some of the others.
Not being silenced and being free: that’s what Maya Angelou and her writing taught me. At a time when I was eating my voice every moment of every day to stay alive, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made me pick up my pen and write about my life first in journals, then poems, later stories.
Almost four decades later, I still have those journals. Patricia Bell-Scott convinced me not to destroy them. Every now and then, I pull them out and choose a year to review and to be grateful for the life the words of these women made possible.
Maya Angelou made me unafraid to write and speak without euphemisms. For the rest of my life.
This led me to my life’s purpose of helping others to do the same.
The first time I saw Maya Angelou perform: Took me two hours to get to the venue. The auditorium was packed. When she came out on stage it was magical. Yes, phenomenal. The audience erupted in a standing ovation.
Felt like she looked at all of us and said, thank you, I’m glad you came tonight. Come join me on this journey of living fully, telling stories that tell your truth, our truths.
Grace. Love. Power.
Ancestor. Thank you. I know all too well where I might have ended up had you not broken the silence, had you chosen to forget, had you chosen to eat your voice.
I know that I am not the only one whose life was changed in the 1970s. Or yesterday. Or today.
How do I pay this gift forward?
What must I – we – continue to do to teach our young sisters, daughters, nieces, friends to develop words of fire propelled by love? And our brothers, sons, nephews?
What must we do to empower them to be free, able to live with the consequences of their choices?
What must we do to empower them to be courageous enough to live absolutely free?
Ancestors, send us the answers, please, from the Mothers who keep the Earth’s core turning.
Let us be conscious enough to hear them when they speak.
Let us be wise enough to follow the directions.
[I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings references Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar]