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.
– Dr. Maya Angelou
One who will never be forgotten is “Miss” Maya Angelou. Her life and legacy will continue because the mark that she made upon humanity cannot be undone. Even if one has never read one of her numerous books or heard her melodious voice as she spoke or read her own prose or poetry, the name Maya Angelou is known throughout the world. It is not because she walked with Kings and Queens of nations or hobnobbed with the rich and powerful. No. It is because of how she made people feel when they were in her presence. If you ever had the privilege to actually sit with Miss Maya, you know how “special” she made you feel. We all felt as though we were the most important person in the room whenever she spoke. The most amazing thing is that she could accomplish that in small intimate settings just as easily as in a massive and austere concert hall. She drew us in and made us recognize the frailty and the potency of our very humanity. That was the very, very special and extraordinary thing about Dr. Maya Angelou.
The loss of a great teacher is difficult but, because she was so great, what she has left in her wake is a mountain of teachers that makes the impact of her teaching exponentially greater. And in order for that greatness to be birthed to the fullness of its potential, Miss Maya, the teacher, had to go. Her work was done and the ones who have been taught must now rise to even greater heights and speak even more potent truths. The world has lost an author, activist, artist, and scholar, and though we mourn her passing, we must celebrate the life that she lived and the gifts that she gave to us. She included us—all of us. Her generosity made us feel that the impossible could be possible if only we would muster up the courage to educate ourselves, and then stand for what we know is right not only when others stand with us, but especially when they don’t. One of the beliefs Dr. Angelou held most dear was that, “Courage is the most important virtue because without it nothing else can be accomplished.” She would always say, “We must stand up for ourselves so that we can stand up for others. The humanity in you must take up for itself and not allow itself to be assaulted.”
Words are things that are often used as weapons and Dr. Maya Angelou transformed them into tools of honor. With her words, she carved and crafted a vision of humanity that projected promise…she looked beyond what was and hoped for what could be. Dr. Maya Angelou had faith in the possibility of US– and what we could become. She has left us with her powerful legacy. In the coming years, may we see the dawning of a new day when we will have enough Courage to actually be Courageous. Miss Maya, I hope we all work together to become everything you envisioned and pass on to humanity enough love and respect that we can move forward together in peace.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: What’s in a Name?