A black woman born when women and blacks both had little rights, she died with President Clinton, First Lady Obama, and Oprah Winfrey at her memorial. She became symbol of triumph for many since she rose from meager beginnings to a world renowned author with her autobiography I Know Why Caged Birds Sing about growing up a black woman in America. She reminds us anything is possible when you believe in yourself and continue to look for the rainbow, even as it storms.
Her most important message for me is to find our own voice, not the one that makes everyone else comfortable. As First Lady Michele Obama stated at Maya’s memorial, “She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said, each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory. She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.”
I often urge breaking free of the roles we all box ourselves into over the years. Maya Angelou is a great model for us all in knowing we can have, do and be anything we want and more than one thing in a single lifetime. Here are some of the things she did:
- Authored numerous books (seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry)
- Became a single mother at 17
- Became San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor
- Danced at a strip joint
- Was a prostitute
- Worked as a fry cook
- Sang on records
- Was an actress, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs
- Acted alongside James Earl Jones
- Earned a Tony nomination for her work on Broadway
- Wrote music
- Played music
- Received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the 1970s TV miniseries “Roots”
- Danced with Alvin Ailey.
- Worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- Lived for years in Egypt and Ghana as a journalist
- Met South African liberation pioneer Nelson Mandela
- Helped Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tennessee where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.
- Wrote plays, movies, and television shows
- Earned 30 honorary doctoral degrees
- taught American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The next time you feel resigned to stay where you are, doing what you do even though you feel uninspired and unfulfilled — because it is what you do, remember Maya Angelou. Find you voice, pick something you are passionate about and announce it to the world with all the confidence of one who has wisps of glory trailing from them! And know you can change your mind later and pick something anew!
Thank you for all the inspiration you gave to so many Maya Angelou!