When you walk in the doors of the “Taking the Stage” culture exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Museum in Washington D.C., you will see a moving quote plastered on the wall. It boldly reads, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” These are the words of the legendary and groundbreaking poet, author, dancer, singer, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou. “Still I Rise,” I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and my personal favorite, “Phenomenal Woman,” placed Dr. Angelou in her own category because of her unique writing style and the viewpoint she provided as a proud Black woman in an era when skin color deemed her “inferior.” She worked diligently to gain notoriety and even posthumously, continues to impact future generations with her works.
When she was seven years old, Angelou was placed under the supervision of her mother. During this time, she became a victim of rape by her mother’s boyfriend, and he was jailed for his crime. In turn, Angelou became mute for six years. Years later, after constant application rejections due to her race, Angelou became the first African American woman to work as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco, California. Her experience with racial discrimination and childhood trauma inspired her to publish I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book symbolizes that like a caged bird, we just keeping “singing” until we are met with freedom despite the obstacles that we may face.
The Harlem Writers Guild was founded in the 1950’s by Black writers. Angelou joined the group toward the end of the decade and joined many other Black women and men in the fight for civil rights. She united with Malcolm X as a member of the Organization of African American Unity until his assassination. She understood that despite his assassination the fight was not over, and alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she served as the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her voice was amplified during this era as her works highlighted the Black struggle, civil rights, and womanhood.
Dr. Maya Angelou’s story has inspired me because despite the obstacles she faced, both in her personal life and in society at the time, she prevailed and became a great influence to the generations that not only followed her, but also preceded her. She has taught me that my eloquence can take me farther than I can imagine, and my words are my superpower. Her story has also motivated me to take an interest and stay updated in social action in my community and the welfare of the country. As the powerful, jovial, Black woman that I am today, she uplifts me to strive for better in my community and be the change that I want to see and combat the healthcare disparities that society is facing today, especially within minority communities.