“I have written a poem for a woman who rides a bus in New York City. She’s a maid, she has two shopping bags. When the bus stops abruptly, she laughs. If the bus stops slowly, she laughs. I thought, ‘Mmm, a-ha.’ Now, if you don’t know black features, you may think she’s laughing. But she wasn’t laughing. She was simply extending her lips and making a sound. I said, ‘Oh, I see.’ That’s that survival apparatus. Now, let me write about that to honor this woman who helps us to survive.” Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016) dir. Rita Coburn & Bob Hercules
Briar is a 2 month old American pit bull/boxer mix. A Good Samaritan found her abandoned next to a dumpster in late December and brought her into the shelter. She only weighed 2 pounds and was so weak that she could barely hold herself up long enough to eat. After fostering her for less than a month I officially adopted this angel who is now living the life that she deserves.
As an African-American woman in America, I can tell you how our country was founded. But when I was much younger, I didn’t know where my black roots came from. What I could tell you, though, was that according to the Constitution, I was once considered 3/5 of a person. Growing up, outside my household, I struggled with not feeling represented in the classroom and history books. This caused me to struggle to piece together my identity as a young, black woman navigating my formative years. To fill this void, I turned to author and poet #MayaAngelou for answers.
As a pre-teen, I was interested in the literature my mother read in her African-American studies college courses. On Sunday mornings, while she and I set out to style my hair for the week ahead, I would peek at what she was reading. When I read “Caged Bird” for the first time, I fell in love with the way Angelou used her negative life experiences to create something beautiful, raw, and honest. Although the words expressed a deep sense of loneliness, they provided the outlet I needed in my monotonous suburban life.
My mother continued to share Angelou’s poems with me, and reading them allowed me to bridge the gap and form my own opinion of what it means to be a black American. It was through “Still I Rise” that I was taught to fight through adversity and recognize that although slavery is a part of my history, that’s not where my family’s story began. My culture is full of nuances that aren’t confined to the characterization of slaves. This blighted, painful part of history has allowed creatives like Angelou to create works of art that teach others and allow us to heal.
Through Maya Angelou, I’ve learned to embrace my blackness and use my voice to tell stories. Women like her have lit a fire in this generation—we’re not afraid to speak our minds and share why our pain as a collective is substantial. We have also proven that we can blaze past that pain in how we portray our narrative. You could say Maya Angelou taught me about #blackgirlmagic even before I knew I had it in me. — Allanah Dykes
Many consider Maya Angelou (1928–2014) a U.S. national treasure. A writer, activist, filmmaker, actor, and lecturer well into her eighties, Angelou transcended her humble upbringing in deeply racist Arkansas to create a vast body of work that helped to change the landscape of American culture. After a traumatic childhood event that she would later chronicle in her game-changing memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou became extraordinarily gifted in arts and literature and earned a scholarship to a San Francisco high school. As a teen, she became the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She became a mom at sixteen and married a Greek aspiring musician, flouting the existing laws forbidding interracial marriage. Angelou studied dance with legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey and became a staple on the calypso music and dance scene as a performer. She also toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. After meeting novelist John Oliver Killens in 1959, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and published her first written work. She became a civil rights activist and worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Angelou would go on to write thirty-six books, earning the honor of both being on the banned books list and holding the record for the longest-running nonfiction book on The New York Times’ bestseller list.
In addition to roles in producing, writing, and directing film and television, Angelou became the first African-American woman to pen a screenplay that was actually made into a film, the Pulitzer Prize–nominated Georgia, Georgia. She won three Grammys for her spoken word albums, served on two presidential committees, and became the first female poet to compose and recite a poem for a presidential inauguration (President Bill Clinton’s in 1993). Showered with accolades at the end of her life, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2010. Angelou was fittingly recognized in her lifetime for her work that opened America’s hearts and minds.