Maya Angelou by J. M., Pearl River, NY
"I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition - about what we can endure, dream, fail at, and still survive."
- Maya Angelou
As an American I'm still awed when I remember the speech Maya Angelou gave at President Clinton's inauguration.
"Good Morning!" she said, "to all people." A few months later, my mother returned from a seminar in Washington where she heard Ms. Angelou speak. When she told me what Angelou said, my mother seemed so moved that I felt inspired to do some research. I discovered that Maya Angelou was not only the woman who spoke at the President's inauguration, but also a beacon for black women, for all women. As I read about Maya Angelou, I became mesmerized. Her book, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, is filled with lessons about life. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gives insight into a woman's spirit of survival.
During my reading, I learned about Daisy Bates, a black woman who led nine children into all-white Central High School in Arkansas in demonstration against the segregation of black students. Daisy Bates proved to be so instrumental in this crisis that it forced Eisenhower to send federal troops to Little Rock to admit those nine children into Central High. Angelou found Bates a hero of the desegregation movement of the '50s and '60s.
If I could imagine the speech Daisy Bates might have delivered to a courtroom filled with people who wanted to destroy her for her beliefs, I think she might have said,
"Segregation separates not only black from white, but also the educated from the non-educated. As I stand here before you, I say that the day that I led those nine students into Central High marked what could be the beginning of freedom for all of us.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I ask but one thing of you ... a chance to let my children enter your America. I can ask in no other way than through your school system. My children will be as free as yours are only through education.
"I, of enslaved ancestors, ask that you give my children the very same chance at the freedom your ancestors came to America for.
"Open your hearts. Open your schools. Let freedom ring for all colors."
During Black History Month, I remember again how Daisy Bates inspired Maya Angelou. And just as Daisy Bates inspired her, Maya Angelou inspires me. She's more than a poet. She is a strong, brilliant American who speaks for all women. I found a hero in Maya Angelou.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.