In several cultures around the world the word “treasure” is believed to be a magical word that when spoken aloud or read silently, it causes men, women and children to forever dream of one day finding it and claiming it as their own.
Even when whispered in quiet places, the word “treasure” most often conjures images of precious metals, stones, jewelry and art, inexplicably creating adrenalin-like surges of awe and desire within the mind of the enchanted treasure hunter.
However as we grow older and wiser we begin to realize that the best treasures in life aren’t lifeless objects of art, precious metals or even chests that are full of priceless gems and trinkets.
Rather the very best treasures in life are the people in our life whose inner beauty and outward glow compels us to smile more broadly while simultaneously inspiring us to believe that every new dawn will bring us a brighter day.
On May 28, 2014 the world lost a great treasure that can never be replaced. In the quiet of her Winston-Salem, North Carolina home, 86 year-old mother, friend, mentor, poet, dancer, author, playwright, actress, composer and world renowned civil rights activist, Marguerite Ann Johnson, better known to the world as Dr. Maya Angelou quietly died from heart complications.
It is not very often that the “passing” of an old woman commands immediate and sustained worldwide attention and sadness, however Maya Angelou was no ordinary human being, indeed one might say that her life experiences, talent, beauty and resiliency inspired people from “both sides of the railroad track” to search for and to find the hidden “phenomenal-spirit” that resides deeply in most of us.
And although Dr. Angelou’s message of self-love is meant to inspire both men and women to achieve personal greatness, her poetry unabashedly speaks directly to women who fully understand what it means to be born into a society that routinely and systematically undervalues, underestimates and marginalizes its mothers and daughters.
Even now as the world grapples to understand the mindset of evil men who feel empowered by cultural / religious dogma to demean women and girls by raping them, beating them, defiling their body, and even murdering them, …without the slightest fear of prosecution or eternal damnation, …it becomes crystal clear to a “progressive thinking” world that we need to teach our daughters, our sons, our nieces and our nephews about Dr. Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom, strength and perseverance.
Parents, use Dr. Angelou’s poetry as a tool to lovingly teach our daughters that each and every last one of them are without question phenomenally precious creations that’s capable of rising above all man-made barriers they may encounter as they grow into full womanhood.
We desperately need to instill in our daughters that they are NOT weak and defenseless “play toys” that were created for the merriment of young and old men.
It’s imperative that our daughters understand that first and foremost they are all beautiful and intelligent creations, worthy of receiving the highest respect that society can offer, but most importantly, we must teach them that no one is capable of robbing them of their inner joy or their self-worth unless they allow it to happen.
Dr. Maya Angelou was “the real deal”, there was nothing fake or phony about her or her life’s journeys. She was friends with some of the “heaviest minds” of her era. Malcolm X, James Baldwin, MLK Jr. and Madiba were just some of her many “Brothas” , while Betty Shabazz, Coretta Scot King, Oprah Winfrey and Winnie Mandela were just some of her many “Sistas”.
When Dr. Angelou was only eight-years-old she was sexually molested and raped by her mother's boyfriend, a man named Freeman.
Turning to the only person she trusted, little Maya told her brother, who then told the rest of their family. Her mother’s boyfriend was eventually arrested; however, because the state of Missouri had little interest in administering justice on behalf of a little Black girl and her family, Freeman was only incarcerated for one day.
Several days after his release from jail Freeman was found murdered, most likely by a handful of Maya’s relatives who decided to administer their own code of justice.
Believing that her verbal identification of her rapist caused his gruesome death, little Maya refused to speak for almost six years.
Later in life Dr. Angelou reflected, "I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice could kill anyone".
Behind every dark cloud there are rays of sunshine that’s ready to burst out and turn stormy nights into sunny days. And because fate never sleeps, it was during young Maya’s self-imposed silence that she discovered her love for reading and her love for writing poetry.
It was through her poetry that Maya Angelou was able to break free of the mental chains that imprisoned her since her childhood and finally she was able to unlock the “bird cage” that unjustly imprisoned the little “caged bird” for nearly six years.
If being molested and raped at age eight while at the same time experiencing the harsh realities of growing up poor, Black and female in a country that openly embraced Jim Crow laws didn’t / couldn’t stop Dr. Angelou from giving up on life why should our own setbacks and misfortunes stop us from giving up on our life and rising to the very top? Are we not all phenomenal creatures?
In closing I’d like to say that Dr. Maya Angelou’s poetry and words of wisdom empowers us all to believe that having self-love is indeed the fuel that propels us to rise above our own pain and despair and enables us to eventually become the phenomenal human being that we’re destined to be.
Dr. Angelou the world misses you, thank you for being the priceless treasure that helps us to believe in our self and our abilities, and thank you for leaving us a library full of treasures to pass on to our children.
You may be physically gone but in spirit you’re now with your friends and family who passed on before you, please tell Betty and Coretta I said “hello”.