Author. Leader. Visionary. Activist. These are just some of the titles that come to mind when I think about Dr. Maya Angelou.
Her life and legacy is well-respected not only among the African-American community, but around the entire world. As a civil rights activist, Dr. Angelou worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to fight for equality for African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. As a creative genius, she received dozens of awards, more than 50 honorary degrees and is best known for autobiographies that focus on her childhood and early adult life. As a woman, she is known for being strong, resilient, and inspirational. Although Maya Angelou is no longer with us today, her legacy lives on through her artistic accomplishments and life achievements. This Black History Month, let’s revisit some of her accolades and remember why her legacy is one that will never be forgotten.
Born Marguerite Johnson, Maya Angelou didn’t have an easy childhood. She was sexually abused at the age of eight and because of the incident, became a mute for almost five years. As a young adult, she worked a series of odd jobs, from a fry cook to a nightclub dancer to a sex worker. It wasn’t until she landed a role in the opera Porgy and Bess that she began to fall in love with theater and the arts.
Following her stint in theater, she started a full-time writing career, penning screenplays, poems and short stories. She went on to become good friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and joined both leaders during their civil rights protests in the 1960s. It wasn’t until after Dr. King’s death that Maya Angelou was inspired to write her first autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which brought her international recognition and catapulted her writing career to the next level.
As Dr. Angelou continued to advance, she went on to accomplish more in a few short years than many hoped to achieve in one lifetime. She worked as an actress, composer, producer and songwriter, wrote articles, short stories, TV scripts and documentaries, and was even named a visiting professor for various colleges. She continued her theatrical work and produced many projects, including Georgia, Georgia, the first screenplay written by a Black woman. Not only did she develop the screenplay, she also wrote the film’s soundtrack.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration, making her the first poet to speak at an inauguration since John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. This recitation resulted in even more recognition, and even earned her her first Grammy Award.
Most recently, Dr. Angelou campaigned for the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election, supporting Former President Barack Obama. In 2013, at the age of 85, she wrote and published her seventh and last autobiography, Mom & Me & Mom, which delves into her relationship with her mother.
Dr. Maya Angelou died in 2014 and left behind a legacy that is admired and respected across the world. Her work is a collection of timeless literature that is thought-provoking and profound and will speak to generations to come. Now, we honor Dr. Maya Angelou’s legacy by remembering her achievements and using her success as the blueprint for our lives. She is the true definition of a strong Black woman; she was able to overcome life’s hardships and transform failures into immense success.
What does Maya Angelou’s legacy mean to you?
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WORDS from Sheilah Belle