Maya Angelou’s death was quite unexpected to me. As a journalist, writer, and woman, she has been such an inspiration to me that I never thought of a world without her physical presence. Her passing is probably one that you will remember where you were when you heard about it.
I was on an elevator on my way to a meeting when news of her passing flashed across the elevator’s tiny little television screen. I was so stunned that when the elevator opened on floor 26, I forgot to get off. On the way back down from the 30th floor, I began to reflect on what her literary and life’s work has meant to me.
Later that day, I surfed some of the social media sites to see what effects her passing was having on others. I even talked to people about their reaction. At times, I found myself interrupting others conversations about Maya to share my own thoughts.
Ezimma, a 23-year old poet shared with deep sorrow and overwhelming affection, that “Even though we never met, losing Maya is like losing a beloved aunt.”
Without hesitation, she sprouted off her favorite Angelou quotes, words I govern myself by: “If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”
In doing Street Beat, I encountered a few Austin and West Garfield residents who also had a lot to share.
“I definitely think [Angelou] paved the path for a lot of poets and a lot of people who want to go further,” said Tantania English. “She showed that regardless of any trial or tribulation, you can go and do what your heart desires.”
“Phenomenal Woman” is her favorite poem. English recited her favorite line: “Pretty women has wondered where my secret lies. I’m not cute built to suit a fashion model’s size,’ that’s it for me,” she added.
Nadia Hill was inspired by Angelou’s legacy and said, “I believe Ms. Angelou set the standard for literacy and literature as far as understanding how to express your feelings and how to be able to connect with a diverse group of audiences and not to be afraid to break the barriers and set the tone of how you do something, your delivery.” Her favorite poem is “Still I Rise.'”
Although Angelou often worked on and wrote about women’s issues, she also had a profound effect on men. Joel Mitchell said he was saddened because Angelou was one of our great matriarchs and heroines of the Civil Rights Movement. With enthusiasm and exuberance, Mitchell spoke of his favorite book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
“It talks about the illustration of seeing a caged bird and hearing it sing,” Mitchell said. “You would think it was just chirping out of glee and out of joy, but actually it was singing because it was fighting against these bars oppressing it,” he said.
“It was hurting its wings; it was hurting its breast. I think the last line in the poem says that it was actually a plea, a cry up to heaven for God to hear [Maya’s] prayer about fighting against the oppression,” Mitchell added.
Derrick O’Neal, another male admirer, of his reading of Angelou’s I wouldn’t take anything for My Journey, said, “What I love so much is the story she writes about spirituality. She said people often label themselves as Buddhists, Muslims, and Christian. She said she always had one question she would ask them: ‘Already?” And people would look at her in astonishment.
“She said to be Buddhist, Christ-like, or Muhammad-like is a lifelong mission that one should try to acquire and again she said, I’d ask the question, ‘Already?'”
Angelou has contributed and deposited so much into my life as a writer and journalist. I like so many others, feel the extreme loss over Angelou’s passing. I never met her, but she was and will continue to be the voice of truth, humanity, and love that I use to measure the quality of the stories I capture and write to share with the world. I have no one favorite Angelou literary piece because each offering is a continuation of a soul wide opened to share life’s experiences over an incredible life’s journey. Angelou, “Maya,” I say with affection, will continue to rise as she is discovered by each new reader, writer, and humanitarian to come. Thanks to one phenomenal woman, Maya Angelou.