Since we get a full month to celebrate and observe the vital role women play in our history . I’m taking it one step further and celebrating women that have inspired, impacted, and helped mold the badass you all know today.
Maya came to me at the right time. She came to me at a moment when I most needed courage to continue on. When I needed someone to tell me the journey is just as valuable as the destination. When I needed to understand that things might not always look as gifts, but down the line they reveal themselves to be blessings. When I needed to know that even when you fuck up, even when you make decisions that are horrible (but seem pretty good at the moment), your blessings, your gifts, and your soul will still be waiting for you after you dust off the grime of your ridiculousness.
I read her first autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” after the 2020 elections. If you follow my blog you know that I felt pretty defeated, as I wrote about it in “An Election to Remember” . I was physically exhausted from working long campaign hours and emotionally drained from the results, not just with my campaign but with the General Elections throughout. I started reading it in November, but didn’t quite finish it until December. But I must admit that I was dragging it out because I didn’t want it to end. There was something about her words that just gave me ease and allowed for me to escape.
I, unlike, many others haven’t read her poetry. I knew of her, but I didn’t really know her. I loved watching her clips because her words were as soothing as her voice. Her wisdom was profound and resonated throughout your soul. She had a simplicity in her words that allowed your brain to take in her words as melodies to be called upon when needed.
I’m not much for poetry, so I haven’t read her poetry. But yet I know, that like her I will Rise no matter what the world throws at me. I know that my waist might not be small, my limbs and belly jiggly, and yet I still consider myself a Phenomenal Woman . That’s as far as my knowledge of her poetry goes.
I got my copy of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” about three to four years back on my first visit to The Last Bookstore. I knew I wanted to eventually read it, but not yet. Then during the last election cycle I picked it right up, read and grew a friendship with Maya.
Look I can’t tell you that there weren’t those moments that really made me question her decision making skills. Young Maya; before Cairo and Ghana, was a hot mess at times. Moments in which I had to close the book because I just couldn’t with her naiveté. This just added to her greatness of being a writer, she was telling her story and made you relive everything through every word and punctuation mark. I’m sure she knew that her audience would question, judge, or laugh at her. She didn’t care, she was inviting us in to the Realness that is life. That was her life. We all know it, we all live it, we just do a good job at hiding it from the rest of the world.
I was hooked, I needed more. I needed to know how she went from the fearful single mother who didn’t graduate high school to the amazing woman we all aspire to be. I needed to know. There was a hunger deep inside of me to understand and get to know more of my new friend Maya. I don’t know how to describe it, it was a yearning felt from within the depths of my Soul. I needed her words, I needed her wisdom, I needed redemption, I needed a guide.
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.”Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
When the autobiography collection came and I started reading her words, I felt as if an old friend was wrapping her arms around me. Comforting me and sharing some of the burden of existing as a brown woman in a white male dominated world.
She let us in into her world. Her love, relationships, her highs and lows, motherhood both as a young mother and through her relationship with her own mother.
“Be the best in anything you get into. If you want to be a whore, it’s your life. Be a damn good one. Don’t chippy at anything. Anything worth having is worth working for.’…With that wisdom in my pouch, I was to go out and buy my future.”VIvian Baxter (maya’s mother), “Gather Together in My Name”
Maya also walked through history and gave me an insight to race relations throughout her travel. Spoiler Alert: Nothing has changed. She worked with MLK and was about to start working with Malcolm X the day after he got assassinated. Through her words I was able to learn more about Malcolm and got to see a different side of him. She described the struggle he was going through as a man of faith and the evolution he had gone through as a symbol for Black Power.
“I thought of the unpleasant irony that Africans and Asians always speak dialects, rarely languages, while Europeans speak languages and almost never dialects.”– Maya Angelou, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes”
Greatness attracts greatness, right? She was surrounded by greats her entire life and she doubted her ability to shine as bright as theirs. Not realizing that she had her own light to shine, but her “older” brother James Baldwin did, and we are glad she listened.
My apologies if this sounds like a book review, but it’s hard not to share the amazing people she was surrounded by. People I look up to, people I now want to learn more of because of how beautifully she described them and brought them to life.
But there’s also the closeness that comes when reading her stories. Especially when she talks about walking the streets of San Francisco, the Fillmore district, Oakland, Los Angeles. All places I know, or I’ve lived in. When she’s talking of places I’ve never traveled to, I can still relate to the uneasiness and nervousness of traveling somewhere new. Of uprooting your entire family and moving looking for something better. Of moving without knowing anyone and yearning for familiarity with someone or something.
One of my favorite parts in the book, is when she finds her ancestors. Without searching for her roots she found them, it was sad but also a moment to celebrate because they had thrived and survived. This moment made me cry, because I felt the same way when I lived in El Salvador. During my time there, getting to know and spend time with my Abuela, for the first time ever I felt that I belonged. I lived my first 13 years of life; not many but for some the most crucial years of our lifespan, feeling as an outsider. Living the day to day according to how I was supposed to live and trying to live up to someone else’s standards. But the moment I met my Abuela, I knew I was like her. I had found my root, I was her branch. I didn’t realize that was what I was searching for, but I knew I had found it. Just like Maya found her roots.
After reading her words I felt stronger. I felt taller. I felt and understood that my story has yet to be finished. Most importantly, I learned my past does not define who I am. My past decisions will not define my future, but prepare me for a better one. Through her words I felt solace, redemption, hope, and fuel. My fire had been put out but she helped me reignite that passion for wonder. My need for wonder had been bogged down by the chaos around me, but she helped me realize that even when Paris is burning you still need to seek and find out who lit the match. She did this after being used and abused. As a single mother, broken hearted, death racism. If she did it, why can’t I? For some reason we’ve been taught that there’s only one path to success, you deviate from it and you’ve screwed it ALL, FOREVER. There’s no going back. Sorry phoenix, you are not rising. But yet she lets me know I CAN. I AM. Therefore, I WILL.