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What women can learn from Maya Angelou's life

Two extraordinary women
Two extraordinary women
Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

On May 28, 2014 the world lost a grandmother, mother, aunt, sister and friend when Dr. Maya Angelou died in her North Carolina home. Dr. Angelou was considered an American Hero. She was everything to everyone and regarded as one the most prolific writers of the 20th and 21st century. While we speak of all the great accomplishments Maya Angelou had we never really hear about her life prior to the notoriety outside of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. We know she grew with not the best parents in the world and that she was mute for five years of her life because she felt her voice killed her molester. What is glossed over by some and embraced by Dr. Angelou are the two years she was a Madame and a prostitute, she chronicled her life from 17-19 in her second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, the book "depicts a single mother's slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime.

What is most interesting about this period of time is how strong her circumstances made her. Not only was she employed in fields most people would describe as immoral and degrading, she was at the end of her rope yet she still saw the possibilities that could be available to her. During one of the darkest moments of her life she didn’t let her circumstances break her. In a world that treats women as second class citizens and in a time when women held no rights and were considered property she pulled herself up and made a life for herself and her son.

In today’s society women have more rights and opportunities than ever before, yet we still have a long way to go. Women are still paid less than men in the same position and women are still looked at as property and not as important as men. Women are judged on their looks, appearance, jobs held, jobs not held, how they parent, if they don’t have kids, if they don’t marry or how well they marry. They are judged by how their children turn out and blamed if those kids are not all they can be. Women are held in higher regard while still being looked upon as a thing instead of a person.

What girls can learn from the life Maya Angelou lived and the legacy she left behind is it’s not where you start but how you learn from the mistakes we all make early and sometimes later in life. We are not our mistakes. We are strong and vibrant and smart and capable of so much. Dr. Angelou’s life teaches us that just because your beginnings were humble and for some dark and confining,it doesn’t mean your entire life has to be that way. Just because you may have to things you never thought you would do to survive doesn’t mean that better things aren’t on the horizon for you. Life is what you make it, if you have the drive and that burning desire at the pit of your belly you can turn your circumstances around.

Dr. Angelou took control of her life, she changed her circumstances, and she became friends with some of the most powerful men in the world. Presidents listened to her, she spoke out against violence against women, she was a civil rights activist and all from a little black girl from St. Louis, Missouri who was dealt every bad hand in life and yet she became the voice to so many who were voiceless. If you take anything away from her life, take this, you can do anything in this world as long as you work smart and believe that your life can be everything you want it to be. You are a women, nothing is off limits to you.

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