On the Shoulders of a Pioneer-Maya Angelou

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” -Maya Angelou

Upon hearing from my mother about the passing of Maya Angelou, my thoughts immediately went back to 1985 when as a nervous eighteen year old college freshman I had my first and only opportunity to meet this gracious poetic pioneer.

As a student studying Broadcast Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, my roommate and many others who loved her work petitioned the university about allowing Dr. Maya Angelou to come and speak at our Black History program that year. After a time of testing the university finally approved our request. I still remember vividly how my roommate, who professed to be Dr. Angelou’s #1 fan, would cite “Still I Rise” from sunup to sundown. I will say that my roommate was blessed because I loved poetry just as much as she did otherwise, I would have probably been looking for a new roommate.

As the newly elected president over the Gospel Choir, I was asked by the Black Student Union officers to prepare the song selections for the upcoming program. I went to the choir and we took a vote and chose two songs and immediately began rehearsing twice a week.

When the big day finally arrived, we all wore the traditional black bottoms and white blouses. You would think I was singing a solo by all of my nervousness. By the time it was our turn to sing, I was ready to pass out from all of the built up excitement.

When we finished our first song selection titled “Do Not Pass Me By” and prepared to go into the next selection, Dr. Angelou hollered out “sang children! I want to hear that one again! We sung an encore and then took our seats. With our performance officially over we were then able to sit back and listen to what was going to be imparted into the parched spirits of those assembled.

After the conclusion of the program, as student upon student went up to meet and shake hands with Dr. Angelou, my turn finally came. However when I was introduced, my thoughts went blank as I completely forgot the words I had rehearsed in my mind. Way too slow on my thinking feet she finally spoke up and said, “I really enjoyed the choir. You all really blessed me with that good singing.” She then hugged me and I walked away humbled at the opportunity the Father granted me.

Later that night after returning to our room, my roommate and I were both silent as we reflected on the evening’s events. As young writers and poets we had finally met our #1 most favorite poet of all time. Truly it was a day that was orchestrated by God in order for our paths to cross with such an extraordinary and gracious woman.

Dr. Maya Angelou, thank you for allowing your life to be a living epistle among men. As an acclaimed author, actress, civil rights activist, dancer, educator, lecturer, poet, producer, and scribe you are a true example of the Father’s love, grace and mercy as expressed through the spoken and written poetic word.


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