On the night that Hillary Clinton lost the Presidential election, a friend posted a video on Instagram of Maya Angelou reading her poem “And Still I Rise.” I was overwhelmed with emotion when I watched it. I was so devastated about what had just happened in America but Maya’s words washed over me and I was cleansed, if only for a moment. That is what Maya Angelou has been for me. She’s more than an inspiration. She’s a god-like figure in my world of non-religious belief. For me, her words are as powerful as a passage in the Bible is for some.
When I recently heard about the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise I lost my mind with excitement. For those of you who have never heard of Maya Angelou (small group I surmise), it is an in-depth look at the life of one of the most influential writers, poets, directors, dancers, and advocates the world has ever seen. It recounts the stories of when she marched with Martin Luther King Jr., when she became the first women to be inducted into the Director’s Guild of America and when she told Tupac Shakur to stop swearing so much.
Throughout all her work and advocacy portrayed in the film, one of the most powerful moments was when she wrote and read out a poem for Bill Clinton’s inauguration – “The Rock”.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. But if faced with courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon this day that is breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream. Women, children, men, take it into the palm of your hand. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Scalp it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your heart, each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.”
In front of millions of people, her words echoed over them as she talked of prosperity and purpose. Her words healed people in 1993, her words healed again when I listened to her voice on that Instagram post in November 2016.
Another moment that shook me to my core was when she told the story of becoming mute. After being raped at the age of seven and eventually telling someone about it, the man who raped her was killed. She thought because she told someone about the rape that he died because of her. She didn’t utter a single word for five years after that. In her years of mutism, she read every book she could get her hands on. She became empowered by education. So eventually, when she spoke again, she had something to say. How poignant and important it is to remember that over the past nine decades of her life, her words have saved people not hurt them.
She went through the most horrific of circumstances that life could offer – poverty, rape, racism, sexism, inequality, and abandonment. She turned her impoverished life as a child into something rich in value for the rest of the world to see and learn from and grow from.
Since her death in 2014 I often think how lucky I am to have walked the Earth at the same time she did. And although my footprints will one day disappear, her’s will remain, etched into the soul of the soil, until the sun swallows the Earth.