Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. Sheriff's officials said Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Maya Angelou told us to rise

The life of Maya Angelou

BORN IN St. Louis in 1928 and raised in Stamps, Ark., Maya Angelou dared to reject the preconceptions of others, choosing instead to define herself. Words were her tools, and she wielded them with expert precision, even when those words came from others.

Her brother discarded her given name, Marguerite, and called her Maya. She polished that name, placed it upon her head and wore it like a crown.

In 1951, she defied societal restrictions to marry a Greek sailor named Enistasious Tosh Angelos. Then she flouted convention once more to pronounce his name in a way that suited her.

[blocktext align=”right”]Maya Angelou dared to reject the preconceptions of others, choosing instead to define herself. Words were her tools, and she wielded them with expert precision. [/blocktext]

“Angelou,” she said. “Maya Angelou,” and the name—a moniker she chose for herself—became synonymous with excellence, and with vision, and with words.

Words, you see were her tools, and when it suited her, she used them sparingly.

As a child she refused to speak for a time. I believe her silence was driven not only by the pain of childhood sexual abuse, which she outlined in her memoir, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” Her refusal to speak was also a reflection of her reverence for words. She understood, even as a child, that words could be as powerful when they were withheld as they were when they were spoken.

The might of Maya Angelou

But oh, what might she shared when she finally decided to speak. She released her pain and her joy, her dreams and aspirations, allowing them to burst forth like rainbows.

[blocktext align=”left”]Maya Angelou, in short, lived and wrote in such a way that her story arc stretched across the sky, splashing vibrant, beautiful colors on a world that wanted to see itself in black and white. [/blocktext]

Her life was the illustration of her poem, Phenomenal Woman. Her resonant voice embodied the hope and pain of her poem, Woman Work. Maya Angelou, in short, lived and wrote in such a way that her story arc stretched across the sky, splashing vibrant, beautiful colors on a world that wanted to see itself in black and white.

She used her words to narrate the struggle for Civil Rights, to become the Poet Laureate, to announce the inauguration of a president, and to push each one of us to succeed.

Maya Angelou wanted us to be more, to reject complacency, to recognize our inner beauty. She breathed life into dreams we didn’t even know we had, and told us, in no uncertain terms, that we ourselves were dreams; that our very existence was hope.

The legacy of Maya Angelou

Her poem, And Still I Rise, was in many ways, her seminal work, because it embodied the pain of struggle and the triumph of the human spirit. In that poem, she told us—all of us—that we are as wide and as deep as anything this world has to offer.

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.”  

Maya Angelou’s words were jewels plucked from the muck and mire of an unforgiving world. She chiseled away the ugliness that made them dull, and found the beauty inside.

Even now, though Maya Angelou is gone, her words rise. And I, and every one of us, rise with them. sj favicon 3

solomon thumbnailSolomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Click here to learn more about Solomon


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Adrianne E.Y Jones

The problem is that most people don’t understand the different cultures that people are raised in. Maya Angelou grew up in a time where people had to fight to break the chains society had placed on an entire people. Now, we must fight to break stereotypes. Donald Sterling is no different than most of the people in his wealthy industry or the poor people that just watch for entertainment. Stereotypes are very real and people will always judge until we all see each other as one.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, sided with Donald Sterling arguing his view as a business man. Most people would disagree with the statement I just made, that’s okay. One major point that stuck out to me was that he would walk on the other side of the street if he saw a black man with a hooded jacket. Then, he decided to play Devil’s Advocate and say that if he saw a bald headed white man with tattoos all over his face, he would do the same. The sad, cruel reality is that in being a black person in America, you ARE walking around with a tattoo on your face. That tattoo is a stamp of inferiority to all people of a closed mind.
What is the difference between a black man wearing his hood on his jacket and a white man with a bald head and tattoos all over his face? I believe the better question is, why is there a difference? I do understand that tattoos represent a “rebel” of some sort. In my opinion, tattoos on the face represent a “REAL rebel”. At the same time, I’m not saying that that person poses any threat. I just can’t help but feel an edge of prejudice because the comparison was so different. Why must a black man be judged for doing something so simple, meanwhile, a white man has to be “extreme” to be looked at as a threat? We are heading into a time of extreme stereotypes, that’s why.
We all have different cultures which lead us to live different lives. Maya Angelou was a strong woman, with an even more powerful mind, who tried to make a change through her words. Those words did not fall on deaf ears, unfortunately, i feel they have fallen on blind times. People believe what they see and never bother to ask why it is being shown. People watch the news and never bother to wonder what else is going on in the world. Not only that, people live their lives and judge others for lives they did not live. Donald Sterling is one of those people, just like most of us.
I, as a young, black woman, do not blame Donald Sterling for his ignorance. Sterling is just one man who got caught. I’m not saying he’s right, I just understand that there is much work to be done. Vanity and insecurity is the constant battle of the human being. I believe that people just want to feel better than other people for whatever reasons they see fit. It is for this reason that we create our own differences and separation occurs. It is in the human spirit to want to be the best and rise above the rest. Unfortunately, many cultures have been broken by this greed.
Maya Angelou spoke of determination. Her poems were written to reignite flames of spirits that were supposed to be broken. Her words had the power to put one’s soul back through life’s fire to come out whole. Maya Angelou had a story to tell. It was the story of many that came before her and everyone else that would come after her, regardless of race, sex or religion. The only problem is that most people refuse to see the vision that’ll lead us all to peace.
The different cultures that we have across the world are the reason we have all of these stereotypes. Your culture is dependent upon your environment. At the the same time, we are all raised different within our cultures. We all have our individual works and purposes. I can only pray that we can all be proud in who we are and humble enough to know who we could have been because we are all one. Together, we’ll rise.

Solomon Jones

I hear you Adrianne. I smile whenever I see your mind on display.