I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition – about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive.
One downside of the advent of each New Year is the cacophony of discordant voices pushing and shoving their way into nationwide observances of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These ignorant, and insensitive, people brashly assert ownership of his views while blatantly proclaiming a revisionist history of the United States they mistakenly insist is his true vision of America. It’s the only version of the truth they’re comfortable with.
This same faction of malcontents reiterates their firmly held beliefs on the inappropriateness of celebrations highlighting, and promoting, America’s racial diversity. Sadly, the US has always been a reluctant melting pot, rapidly shifting racial demographics nothwithstanding. This year, 2016, as the run-up to Black History Month gets underway, opponents are in full attack mode. They spew both inflammatory invective and lame, limpid rhetoric about an inclusive society they don’t believe in, or accept. They have shown, over and over again an appalling disrespect for President Barack Obama and his family which will come back to viciously haunt them.
I can remember when the history of my people was observed, outside of church, for one week in February, and, in many places, even this concession was hard to come by. I will always be grateful to Dr. Carter G. Woodson for his foresight and tireless efforts to provide a framework and time in which to acknowledge, celebrate, educate, and inform the world about the accomplishments, achievements, and contributions of people of the African diaspora. As it is, we get the shortest month on the calendar. Okay, we get an extra day this year, but when it’s over, it’s over… except for the voices, movements, and physical presence of those, who, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, and memorialized in song,
“…are like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved…”
Dr. Maya Angelou epitomizes, even in death, the pride, fierceness, and resoluteness I feel as a native African-American with Afro-Caribbean, Native American, and Canadian ancestry. My daddy and mama were both born in this country! I’m here and I’m not leaving. And, in honor of the month in which I lift my voice with countless others to celebrate my big hips, ebony skin, flared nostrils, thick lips, and bald head, I offer my tribute to a woman who continues to inspire me, for so many reasons.
She was a formidable presence: tall, chocolate brown, self-assured, and possessed of a lyrical, mellifluous, yet commanding voice. She spoke slowly and precisely, carefully enunciating her words. Evidence of her keen intellect was always on display. She could not – and would not – be ignored. Her transition from the cares of this world to her reward ripped open a void only time can heal. We do her memory, and her influence, a disservice by mourning her loss for she was all about living, being, doing, striving, surviving, and thriving.
The content of her literary legacy suffuses with hope, grit, sassiness, and daring. Dr. Maya Angelou was a woman for all seasons.
…I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, –
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core, But a plea, that
Upward to Heaven he flings – I know why the caged bird sings!
Paul Laurence Dunbar
The dolorous theme of Dunbar’s elegy can be heard – and felt – in the cadences of her indictments. Yet her life was a triumph over tragedy, adversity, and struggle. She chose to share it through prose and poetry, allowing readers the gift of a personal connection. She wasn’t afraid to be herself, to stumble, fall, or lose her way. On the contrary, she reveled in her ability to pick herself up, dust herself off, and keep going. She learned from her experiences and tackled obstacles, transforming them into the scenes, settings, backgrounds, and characters of her narratives. She used her God-given talents to spread love, joy, understanding, and most of all to panegyrize life: hers and ours.
She was a modern-day muse – the tenth sister goddess whose brilliant and witty belles letters, poems, and pithy sayings find their way into post scripts, email signature blocks – mine included – and the current plethora of social media platforms. She remains such an admired woman there are those who attempt to attribute shallow, ubiquitous, and cleverly worded phrases to her.
Dr. Maya Angelou was an erudite, illustrious woman who loved people and understood the terror, torment, promise, and possibilities of our global interconnectedness. She was an unapologetic citizen of the world. Over the years, she spoke out passionately, and forcefully, about the need to love our neighbors, far and near.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
She was a proud, soulful sistah who lauded, raised awareness of, and chronicled Black womanhood through her autobiographical works: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, and A Song Flung Up to Heaven. Collectively, they are a monumental undertaking begun with the publication of her first installment in 1970 and ending with Song, in 2002. Who engages in such an effort? Who shares her life with eloquence, flair, humor, insightfulness, and unflinching candor? Dr. Maya Angelou, of course. She was a woman for all seasons.
Saying farewell, when the good times are so righteous they could go on forever – and nuthin’ else matters – isn’t easy. Walking away while the party is still going strong is hard to do. Letting go – when holding on seems so much safer, and preferable – is selfish and emotionally draining. Despite our best efforts, day melds into night and the cycle of life continues, unchanging, inexorable, and unrelenting. Time passes whether we’re on the mountain top or in the valley. Maya Angelou kept her appointment and met her Creator on the designated day, at the scheduled time. She left behind a body of work ensuring her immortality in perpetuity. She walked and talked with God, knowing she was free to be the woman she became: bold, fearless, shrewd, loving, and pragmatic.
No tribute can, will, or should do her complete justice – rather, together they offer a portrait of a woman who was always evolving, always learning, always doing, always about the business of being – a vibrant and compassionate soul. She was an incredibly gifted raconteur and poet. Her creations will be read, analyzed, discussed, dissected, debated, and quoted for years to come.
Art is the only thing you cannot punch a button for. You must do it the old-fashioned way. Stay up and really burn the midnight oil. There are no compromises.
From Brian Lanker, I Dream A World 
Indeed, she did not alter her standards to fit a given situation. Dr. Maya Angelou was a willing vessel of the Universe – allowing the characters inhabiting her consciousness to see the light of day – to live, breathe, and have their being. She infused life into words whose wisdom speaks to our hearts, minds, and souls. She called us out, challenged and chided while nudging us toward a truer relationship with set and a greater appreciation of the abundance of God’s grace and goodness. Dr. Maya Angelou – a woman for all seasons.
“…Remember me as a sunny day…
Remember me as a sound of laughter…
Remember me as a good thing…”
Lyrics and melody by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson
Quotes in this tribute are taken from:
Newman, Richard, African American Quotations, ©1998, The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ
Powers, Retha, General Editor, Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations, ©2013 by Little, Brown and company, NY, NY.