“There is a difference between being convinced and being stubborn. I’m not certain what the difference is, but I do know that if you butt your head against a stone wall long enough, at some point you realize the wall is stone and that your head is flesh and blood.” The stubbornness or convincingness to be a great poet, civil rights activist, producer, singer, and writer and to rise up from the poverty and discrimination into which she was born is what gave us the “Phenomenal Woman” that we know today as Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson, on April 4, 1925 to parents Bailey J and Vivian Baxter Johnson. Her brother Bailey Jr. and she were sent to live with her grandmother in Stamp Arkansas when Maya was only three years old. It was Bailey who gave Maya her nickname. He initially called her “My” which was short for my sister, but after reading a book on the Mayan Indians began to call her Maya.
Angelou’s voice was silenced for a while as a child when she was molested at a young age. Maya told of her assault and as a result the man who had molested her was killed. Maya felt that her speaking out had contributed to the man’s death and she did not speak for five years. As a teenager Maya began to blossom again. She loved dance and the arts and earned a scholarship to San Francisco Labor School for Dance and Drama. Maya however left school to become the first female African American cable conductor but eventually returned and graduated before giving birth to her only son Guy.
Throughout the mid 1950’s 1960’s Angelou spent much time abroad studying, writing, singing and acting. In 1964 she returned to the United States with the hopes of helping her friend Malcolm X build his new organization of African American Unity. Sadly Malcolm was assassinated shortly after Angelou arrived back in the U.S., and a few years later she lost another dear friend in Martin Luther King Jr. Angelou found peace in writing and in 1970 she published her first book, “I Know why the caged Bird sings.” This tells the story of her childhood and went on to become the first non-fiction best seller by an African American Woman.
In 1972, Angelou wrote a screenplay and composed the score to “Georgia”. “Georgia” was the first screenplay by and African American woman to be filmed. It was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Angelou has gone on to serve on two presidential committees, she has written over 30 best – selling titles. She has received over 50 honorary degrees, and was asked by President Bill Clinton to write a poem for his Inauguration speech in 1993 which was broadcast live on the radio on the day of the inauguration. In 2010, Angelou received the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Who would have thought that a small little black girl from St. Louis Missouri who remained silent for five years would give the world so much verse and prose and grow up to be such a fine leader? Not me. Her story inspires me to reach for the stars even though the world tells me it's impossible. It also encourages me to break barriers and to be comfortable with who I am as a young lady.
So Mrs. Angelou, we thank you for being either convinced or stubborn enough to not give up your dream or passion to become the phenomenal woman and poet that you are and for sharing so much of your experiences with each of us.