By Maria C. Ramos Ed.D.
We knew the day would come when she would be called home. We did not mourn. We rejoiced and were thankful for having had her with us for 86 years. She was our truth teller, our hope and our inspiration. Dr. Maya Angelou served us broadly in those roles. She also touched the hearts of many women who heard their own stories as they read her books or listened to her speak.
Maya Angelou was our truth teller breaking the code of silence not only for her, but for all the girls who had been raped or abused by predators masquerading as caretakers. Many of us took up her call to give voice to the women silenced by the fear of retaliation, rejection and abandonment by making a place for them to speak. My LifeTurns Group partner Rita Hardiman and I were conducting a corporate sponsored retreat for women that integrated personal, career and life development. We facilitated a dialogue on speaking the truth about sexual harassment at work. The dialogue became more personal as we were wrapping up at the end of the day. We invited women who were interested in continuing the dialogue to join us that evening in the hospitality suite. All of the women showed up! Not just physically showed up, they came and told their stories of abuse at the hands of the piano teacher, the husband, the cousin, the coach and the uncle. It was a profound, life changing experience for all of us. Maya Angelou told her truth after years of silence and we took her lead.
Maya Angelou gave us hope for a meaningful life and for a better world. Her amazing life gave us hope that we too could make meaning from our painful and blessed experiences to Rise! She worked with the leaders of the movement in the US to gain civil rights and with leaders in the Pan-African movement. She moved with purpose and grace on the world stage. She gave me hope, a young single mother of a son. I could envision a better life for us, in part by looking at the example that was Maya Angelou and son. I could do the work of social justice change, in part by following the example of Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou inspired all people, but she was a singular inspiration to us as Black women. She riffed on the beauty of Black women; she inspired us to own it, to embrace being phenomenal. As women we turned her inspiration into support for each other. We were proud of ourselves and of each other. We complemented each other by giving gifts of her books, particularly Phenomenal Woman. It was like saying to your sister-friend, “I see you – yeah that’s right you are something else!”
Dr. Maya Angelou was a gift and for that we say thank you. The wisdom she shared by her example, in her writing and speaking was an amazing help to us all. All we can say is Wow!