By: Honey Good
“Try and be a rainbow in someone’s cloud”
Maya Angelou’s real name was Marguerite Johnson. When she became an actress she took her childhood nickname and combined with her husband’s last name though, eventually they did divorce. She was born in 1928 in Missouri and became one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. She was a celebrated poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, dancer and civil rights activist.
She was raised by her paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, who instilled in Maya her unshakable faith and values.
It was the 1930’s. Her grandmother began a business selling hot meals to workers and eventually built the Johnson Grocery Store serving both whites and blacks.
Maya said, “My grandmother taught me Christian principles, love and respect while exhibiting the examples of independence and courage. She was an entrepreneur at a time when blacks owned very little and encouraged me to believe in God, honest work, and family.”
Her life was out of the ordinary. As a teen she won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. She dropped out at fourteen to become San Francisco's first female cable car operator. Later she finished high school, giving birth to a son soon after she graduated. She was a single mother working as a waitress and cook, however her love of music, dance, acting and poetry took center stage.
Her life mirrored the American landscape of the time as she experienced first hand racism, single parenting, overcoming poverty, seeking higher education as a black woman, creating her own wealth, and living and taking an active part in the civil rights movement.
Writing about her life experiences with detail and eloquence, she recorded history through her poetry, children’s books, journalism, biographies and essays; painting a picture of the American landscape for generations to come.
She was a member of the Harlem Writers Guild and began work on her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiography, which received international acclaim and made the best seller’s list. It was banned in many schools become of her honesty about being sexually abused but later became a course adoption at college campuses around the world. Maya Angelou wrote 36 books.
Maya was one of the most fascinating and influential women of our times. She not only wrote but also studied modern dance with Martha Graham; danced with Alvin Alley, and recorded her first album in 1958. She also acted in the historic off-Broadway production, The Blacks.
She was the first African American woman to write and compose the music for Georgia, a screenplay that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She appeared on television in Alex Haley’s Roots, and John Singleton’s Poetic Justice and went on to direct Down in the Delta.
She was capable of singing, dancing and eventually became known for her ability to write lyrics and perform the spoken word. I couldn’t believe she collaborated with Quincy Jones to write lyrics for B.B King's For Love of Ivy, a Sidney Poitier film.
Front and center was her fight for civil rights and her role as an international black ambassador crossing lines of race and culture.
She was asked by President Bill Clinton to compose a poem to read at his inauguration! She read her poem, The Pulse of the Morning that was broadcast worldwide. She penned the poem Amazing Peace for President George W. Bush; delivering the poem at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts and the National Medal of Arts culminating on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, the country’s highest civilian honor in 2010. “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slaves."
Dr. Maya Angelou received over fifty honorary degrees and is revered by all who have followed her poetry and her quotes of inspiration.
A few of her quotes you will enjoy reading: