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Dr. Maya Angelou joins the ancestors

Maya Angelou COURTESY PHOTO

Maya Angelou
COURTESY PHOTO

Detroiters remember a literary ‘giant’

(1928-2014)

STAFF REPORT 

Beloved author, poet and educator, Maya Angelou passed away May 28. She was 86 years old.

In a statement, her family said they are “extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Dr. Angelou had suffered from heart problems, according to her agent.

Two days before her death, she posted on her Facebook page:

“An unexpected medical emergency caused me the greatest disappointment of having to cancel my visit to the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game ceremony. I am so proud to be selected as its honoree. However, my doctors told me it would be unadvisable for me to travel at that time. My thanks to Robin Roberts for speaking up for me and thank you for all your prayers. I am each day better.”

Later that same day, she posted:

“And now we come to the day where we can honor the brave men and women who have risked their lives to honor our country and our principles. Our history is rife with citizens who care and who are courageous enough to say we care for those who went before us.

Citizens around the world are honoring Dr. Angelou for her bravery, commitment to civil and human rights, and her many literary works.”

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit released a statement describing Dr. Angelou as, “A poet extraordinaire, an artist with vision, an educator with passion, a woman with soul fire, and a model American who illuminated so much in 86 years.”

Born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928, Dr. Angelou became a world renowned figure who inspired people globally with such works as her first book and autobiography written in 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” where she tells of her tragic childhood and entry into motherhood as a teen. Her professional life spans some 50 plus years of publishing several autobiographies, books of poetry and essays, as well as acting in movies, stage plays and television shows.

Her activism led her to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she was a coordinator and to Ghana and Egypt as a journalist during the days of decolonization.

She was active in the Civil Rights Movement as well as being an advocate for human rights. She worked with both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Although Dr. Angelou dropped out of high school she received over 30 honorary doctorates and since 1982, taught at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she held the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies.

1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

In 2011 President Barack Obama awarded Dr. Angelou with a Presidential Medal of Freedom,  the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Detroit educator, poet and former SNCC member Dr. Gloria House said Dr. Angelou was a powerful role model for women of her generation.

“The honesty of her character permitted us to know her and trust her counsel.  I loved her for showing us how the warrior, the artist, the healer and teacher can be active, productive facets of a single character or spirit.  I treasured the masterful way her writing and speech reached down deep in our hearts and inspired us to keep the faith and walk the walk.  When she spoke, I felt the mothers of the church and the ancestors present,” Dr. House told the Michigan Citizen.  “With her passing and that of other lights — General Baker, Queen Mother Mabel Williams, Amiri Baraka, Chokwe Lumumba, Vincent Harding — we are witnessing the closing of one era in our struggle for higher humanity, and the dawn of a new time.  I am grateful dear Maya will be present in spirit to help us chart the journey.”

The Detroit Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History named its permanent exhibit And Still We Rise, inspired by Dr. Angelou’s most famous poem, “Still I Rise.”

Charles Wright Museum spokesperson Pam Perry said, Dr. Angelou’s life in activism, the arts and education “guided us to a greater humanity, instructing us toward becoming a more gentle, wiser, and compassionate people.”

The world has lost a giant, she said.

“ Dr. Maya Angelou’s towering integrity, wit, grace, perceptive wisdom, and generous spirit IS her legacy.  She lived her life teaching the masses – humanity – and in death, she will do so even more, Perry said. “Her insightful and delightful poems are recited the world over, and one serves as a guiding title to our Wright Museum’s core exhibition, And Still We Rise.  Her classic autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” has touched the hearts and elevated the minds of countless people.  She was a citizen of the world, a giver of good things, an exemplary public leader and private servant.We will long learn from her.  We will do well by following in her path of compassionate and gracious living.”

Rev. David Bullock, national spokesperson for Change Agent Consortium in Detroit said Dr. Angelou has taught us all that no matter the adversity “we too can still rise.”

“Dr. Angelou will reign as a light for generations of women to come,” Rev. David Bullock said.

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