Just like that, the first month of the year has flown by. Maybe it was the three day weekend Cal Poly students had or just a lot going on for the new year, but here we are folks. Welcome to February, or as I like to say…
Welcome to Black History Month.
Since this blog started with my writing after all, today I want to talk about one of my favorite African American women— Maya Angelou. As a voice of many, Angelou was involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1959 as well as the Arab Observer in 1964, the only weekly news set that used the English Language in the Middle East. In the 50’s, she joined the Harlem Writers’ Guild in which she met the likes of James Baldwin who became a mentor and friend later on.
After traveling in Egypt and working in Ghana, she came back to the US and became a professor at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem in 1982, also accepting an appointment of Commission for the International Woman of the Year by Jimmy Carter. Though I wasn’t alive yet, some of you may remember her deliverance of On the Pulse of the Morning at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration in 1993, later meeting former President Obama in 2010 for the Presidential medal of Freedom.
As if that wasn’t enough, she was also the first black woman director in Hollywood. Angelou found herself becoming a bigger part of history than I think she could have ever imagined, as she worked her way across several industries and platforms, sharing her perspective and her voice at every single one. She died in May 4 years ago at the age of eighty six— her words now live on through the pages we keep on our shelves. I know that I’ve got a few.
Speaking of pages, there is one poem I have of hers taped to my wall: Still I Rise. Back in my senior year of high school (back in my day), I performed this poem for my class during our poetry unit. It wasn’t hard to choose. The way her personality exudes throughout the poem, her words of resilience unwavering and incredibly smooth, this was one poem I didn’t mind standing in front of the class to perform. It holds one of my best high school memories and one of the writers who helped pave the way for African American achievement along the path to where we are now. Tonight I want to honor what she has done and the words she left behind.
So without further ado, Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise.
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 living 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 backyard.
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 meeting 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.
Whatever challenges you currently face and anything that stands in your way of success, I hope you can find your way to rise above it. Happy February everyone, have a wonderful weekend. And Welcome to Black History Month.