Maya Angelou

On the last day of the You & White Supremacy challenge the question was regarding your commitments. There was the ask for creating a commitment statement to refer back to and to keep you accountable on days you screw up. I haven’t fully been able to put words to that statement. I have pieces; I commit to continuing to educate myself, I commit to feeling and working through the discomfort when confronted with my own racist and sexist behaviors, I commit to supporting women of color. But it isn’t enough. Especially in regards to support. I have failed in supporting this past month in the way I wanted to. I follow many amazing women of color and they have been gracious enough to share powerful things with me via their social media. Showing my support with likes and comments isn’t enough. Especially when one of them introduces me to another wonderful woman, such as Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou, an American Poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. After seeing a post about her a few months ago, I added her to my must read list and eventually I picked up The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Upon reading I immediately realized that my knowledge and understanding of poetry would be changing. Going from “this is a genre I enjoy” to “omg I don’t understand but these words are beautiful and I want to know more about how poetry works”. Many of her poems had me stop and google for a breakdown. The google search always surprised me because I was missing so many important details in the words. It’s poetry written very different from the modern day stuff I have been reading. There’s a strong sense of who Maya Angelou is and how she views women, love, and the world. As I was reading, a beat found it’s why into my head. It felt like many of the poems were words to songs I just didn’t know the tune too. As I turned that last page I found myself deeply wondering more about her. Which lead me to YouTube and this video, in it Oprah Winfrey quotes Mayas poem Phenomenal Woman. That poem struck me when I first read it but hearing it read out loud by Oprah and then later by Maya herself, I personally found it very powerful.

Poetry isn’t for everyone though and what I find powerful might mean nothing to the next person. However reading her words and viewing it next to the poetry I had been exploring, it felt like the complexity of the English language grew. There are so many subtleties that I am missing. Maya Angelou though isn’t just a poet. She is a truly remarkable woman who has done some pretty amazing things. My favorite thing on wikipedia about her is the following

“When I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, Angelou was hailed as a new kind of memoirist, one of the first African-American women who were able to publicly discuss their personal lives. According to scholar Hilton Als, up to that point, black female writers were marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters in the literature they wrote”

I don’t know yet how I can be a better support person and activist. But I do know that I can use this platform to write about amazing women of color out there doing amazing work. While Maya Angelou is no longer with us, her words are. She was constantly challenging herself to learn and help others. Buying her work, supporting others like her, and being kind to others is the least I can do.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
— First Verse of Phenomenal Women by Maya Angelou

Is there anyone you’ve met or learned about recently that has helped shape a new viewpoint for you?