Maya Angelou: Generous heart, formidable strength
Julianne Malveaux | 6/9/2014, 2:14 p.m.
Mid-reception, a man attempted to get everyone’s attention (and with a room with Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni and others, you can imagine how difficult it was). The gentleman whistled and Angelou gathered herself to full height, chided the man with a rebuke and also an impromptu poem. “You will not whistle at Black women,” she said. “We had enough of that when we were chattel. You will respect us as the women that we are.” She went on and by the time she was finished, not a word was uttered by anyone else.
“We have already been paid for,” she frequently said, recounting the horror of slave ships, the harsh conditions of slavery, the inequalities of Jim Crow, and contemporary instances of inequality. She spoke so vividly that you could see the people crowded into a ship, with not even enough room or facilities to attend to bodily functions. She frequently quoted Paul Lawrence Dunbar: “I know why the caged bird sings.”
The last time I heard the song was at dinner with San Francisco’s Rev. Cecil Williams, and his wife and poetess, Jan Mirikatini. We loved up on each other and told stories, released and enjoyed the conversational flow. We ended the evening with laugher and fellowship. It was the kind of evening in which we reveled. Good food, good talk, good friends.
As I got my walk on the next morning, I was flooded with appreciation and memories. I was in a rich space and I had been fed. I paused to appreciate Angelou. I was so very grateful to know her, not as an icon, but as a friend.
At the end of her life, Angelou was frail. “Getting old ain’t for sissies,” she said. As Blame Bayne wrote on my Facebook page, “No longer caged, she forever sings.” Ache Auntie Maya, Ache.