I was sad all day yesterday. It was only in the moment of hearing the news of Dr. Maya Angelou’s death that I realized how much her living had meant to me. I never met Dr. Angelou, but like so many of us, when we heard this news, I felt like I had lost a beloved sister, aunt, neighbor, or mentor.
I was 13 when I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I was in 8th grade in Ogden, Utah. I was white and Mormon in my overwhelmingly white and Mormon public school. I had nothing in common with the young Maya, except to be ignited by the ghastly inhumanity of the overt and abhorrent racism that was the hallmark of her young life. My outrage, stoked by my youth, distanced me from my family and community. It clearly wouldn’t be the last time.
Dr. Angelou walked the talk of justice and freedom. Yes, she supported LGBTQ equality, but even more than that, she relentlessly was voice to the voiceless and eloquently urged us all to find our own voice. There can be no better blueprint for standing tall, strong, and fierce than perhaps my favorite Dr. Angelou poem—”And Still I Rise.” I write this having just heard Dr. Angelou recite the poem while listening to the NPR tribute to her life. You must not just read the poem. You must hear her read it. I laughed, I cried, and I felt just a little bit less sad.
Rest in peace Dr. Angelou. You were family to millions you never met.