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If ever there has been an American who represented the pulse of the country, who understood behavior and motivation of people, who taught about struggles and victory and love, it is Maya Angelou.
Angelou’s contribution to America reaches far and influences many, and it will continue to do so for a long time.
Born in St. Louis in 1928, Angelou had traumatic experiences as a young person. In her adulthood she worked in a number of jobs, including dancer, singer, actress and eventually poet, essayist, lecturer, activist, playwright, autobiographer and teacher. With such a range of experience, she grew wise, developed her craft as a writer and boldly shared her thoughts with the world.
She was not a quitter; she persevered and wrote and loved her life and left the rest of us her work that continues to sustain us. She is, in the minds of many, a national treasure.
One of her most famous works is “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which some people call autobiographical fiction. This work reflects some of the struggles of her youth and demonstrate perseverance and strength.
Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton on Jan. 20, 1993, and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama in 2011, two high honors.
She served for many years as professor of American studies at Wake Forest University, teaching and encouraging students to write.
A member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Winston-Salem for 30 years, Angelou made her contribution to the state until her death in 2014 at the age of 86. A memorial service for her was held at Wake Forest University.
She was in the process of writing another book up until her death.
Angelou referred to herself a “a teacher who writes,” always willing to share and pass along her thoughts to young and old people everywhere.
One of her strongest messages is the power of love, as is reflected in these famous quotations from her work.
“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry, to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
“I know for sure that love saves me and that it is there to save us all.”
“What I would really like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound, it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings.”
Her ideas about life in general and her advice to others are worth our consideration.
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
“All great achievements require time.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.”
And finally, “Life loves to be taken by the shoulder and told: ‘I’m with you, kid. Let’s go.”
Remember Maya Angelou during Black History Month, and be thankful for the love and wisdom that she left to all of us.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute in Wilson County. Her column focuses on charms and ideas for a fuller life. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.