Today I was saddened to hear the news of Maya Angelou’s untimely death. She was an incredible poet, author and entertainer. She was simply a strong woman. A strong black woman. She helped me love and appreciate the curves in my hips when I read “Phenomenal Woman”. She helped me see that the pain that I held when I couldn’t forgive folks kept me caged like a bird and she taught me that the best revenge is simply to rise and be heard. To stand up and show the world that they aren’t hurting me. To move past the pain.
She told me in her poem that haters will hate, but still I rise. She taught me to not let them see me being down trodden. Rise. She taught me that just because I’m a woman and poor doesn’t mean that I can’t reinvent myself. She did and accomplished so many things in her life that it is a shame that some will never know how deep her footprints in the sand of life really are. Incredible. Talented. Phenomenal. Strong. Able. Those are just some of the words that I would use to describe her.
The poem “Still I Rise” was the defining moment in my life that I truly learned to love and appreciate the blackness of my skin. I learned to appreciate and love being a woman and I learned to move past the injustices that were done to me. You see it wasn’t Amiri Baraka with his words of rage that had me raising my fist in solidarity of my people, but it was in the love of the words that spoke to someone who got up and got over the heartaches of this world.
There are very few people that have influenced my life in such a profound way that I have not personally met. Few people that have helped lay the foundation and appreciation for my racial pride. She was one of the reasons that I became an English major. Her writing inspired and awakened me in the rooms of my college dorm and in the classroom where I found my literary voice. A voice each day that I’m learning to use.
So, for folks who don’t know this poem, “Still I Rise”, I’ve shared it below.
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my livin’ room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meetings of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.