I am sure by now you will all have heard of the passing of Maya Angelou. Since Wednesday 28th May, the internet has been awash with tributes to a lady who truly was the voice not just of a generation, but of many of our hearts, whatever our age.
In my blog about customer service the other week, I used a quote from Maya Angelou:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
This is so true; reading Maya Angelou’s books made me feel a sense of understanding and connection – quite strange, considering her most famous book, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is about her life as a young black girl growing up in the often racist deep south of America.
Maya Angelou was a truly remarkable woman. Not only was she an acclaimed writer and poet, she was very active in the Civil Rights movement in the US, working with both Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. It would be wrong though, to pigeonhole her as a Civil Rights activist; her writing focuses not just on race but also the themes of family and identity. Her words have touched so many people, including me.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings has become so famous, but it’s the first of seven biographies; each stands alone as a remarkable work of art, telling Angelou’s story as if it were a novel.
So what can we learn from Maya Angelou?
Firstly, don’t be afraid of change. Before becoming a writer, Angelou had numerous different careers, including working as a nightclub dancer, a prostitute, activist, producer, market researcher and coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Whatever she did, she lived it to the fullest and was never afraid to take a chance on doing something different.
And secondly, your past does not define you or limit you. Maya Angelou was a young black woman from Missouri. She was just eight years old when she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and became mute for almost five years after he was then murdered. Who could have known that a small, mute child would grow up into such a loud, commanding and insightful voice?
None of us come from ideal beginnings; Maya Angelou lived a full and varied life without boundaries or limits. Our challenge now is to do the same! Look around you; look at all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences open to you! Which ones will you take?
For me, Maya Angelou’s work is inspirational. She showed us all how we can rise above our problems, our issues, our detractors – not just with strength, but also with class.
I will leave you with this video of Angelou reading one of her most famous poems, Still I Rise