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Rise On, Ms. Maya Angelou!
”I want to write so well that a person is 30 or 40 pages in a book of mine before she realizes she’s reading.” Dr. Maya Angelou
Today, Wednesday, May, 28th 2014, many people awoke to the news of the passing of the incomparable and impassioned author, poet, and educator, Dr. Maya Angelou at the age of 86.
Her family’s statement read:
“Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is 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.”
While most of us woke up glad that we had made it to “hump day” and some of us even wondered if we could make it through “hump day”, Dr. Angelou made it through more than hump days over the course of her life–she traversed mountainous obstacles while ascending to the apex of life, triumphantly.
From the ugliness of rape at 7 years old, to the peculiarity of being mute for 6 long years, and the social degradation of being a teen mother and madame in a brothel in later, barely adult years, Dr. Angelou managed to use words to evoke actions and ideas and feelings and places of beauty and strength and hope and courage and love.
I don’t find that I will have words as carefully crafted to describe this colossal wordsmith, but I would like to honor her life and the body of work she cultivated out of her sheer love of humanity.
Born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou walked among other giants in the human experience and the attainment of human rights: El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Rosa Parks, Mr. Harry Belafonte, and the recently departed, Madiba, Mr. Nelson Mandela.
When President Obama was elected, Dr. Angelou predicted that 30 or 40 years down the road, his presidency would not be so significant because other marginalized groups would hold the post, stating that Americans were “about to grow up in this country.” Furthermore, President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton acknowledged her contributions to our world by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011), the Presidential Medal of Art (2000), and having her recite her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at the presidential inauguration in 1995, respectively.
Media mogul, Ms. Oprah Winfrey has referred to Dr. Angelou as her mentor, and from what the world witnesses from Ms. Winfrey, she has clearly been steered to greatness in her service to others due to Dr. Angleou’s grooming of her “heart full of grace’ and “a soul generated by love.”
Today the world mourns the loss of such a towering, powerful, and compassionate woman. And, we offer hearty laughs and big smiles as we rejoice at a life well lived.
Rise on, Dr. Angelou!
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like tear drops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Amiri Baraka: A New Ark Has Sailed
The Sacrilegious Sixties saw the coming of age of (Everett) LeRoi Jones. Mired in violence that was spawned by racial degradation, tension, riots and murders / assassinations, anybody that made it through this decade is a survivor. And, the scars they sustained are battle wounds. Some made it through the battles and some even withstood the war by living to tell the tales that robbed children of their fathers, men and women of their careers, people of their rights, and people of their lives. This was the time in which LeRoi Jones lived.
The Sacrilegious Sixties saw the assassination deaths of 5 people: Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It witnessed the lynchings of too many to name, and only a very few made it to the newspapers headlines like Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. There was nothing sacred about living during this time, and so LeRoi Jones leaned on the ancestors, turned to the Blues and Jazz and he became a poet. The music provided the rhythm and the tumultuous conditions of life for Black people, disenfranchised people, poor people became an elixir; from his Black man soul, he poured it out into poems and stories.
The Sacrilegious Sixties wouldn’t allow the world to look rosy through Baraka’s glasses because the lenses were too blood-stained from the violence of murder of this time. The glass from which he wished to drink wouldn’t quench his thirst because it was always half full of equal rights and justice. The Golden Rule looked more like yellowing caulk–had Amiri Baraka and others of his time followed the Golden Rule, there may not have been one perpetrator of racial violence, or racist injustice standing. But they were too kind and shrouded with too much spirit to act on their anger. And so they wrote about it just like what a therapist would have recommended.
Who were we to think that these men and women of the 60s had no rights to feel anger and anguish? Who were we to limit the expression of the poets when poets have always used imagination, expression and thought to shape the ways in which the world is viewed–whether that view is good or bad?
The Sacrilegious Sixties gave birth to a new-found self-determination through organizations like the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Subsequently, these organizations gave people like Amiri Baraka a reason to believe that life could actually be better than the 60s decade that they survived. And, like Muhammad Ali, LeRoi Jones changed his name in 1967 and became Amiri Baraka.
Amiri Baraka is the Father of the Black Studies Movement. He leveraged education by teaching next generations of thinkers in schools like Stonybrook, Columbia and Rutgers. He was appointed New Jersey’s Poet Laureate in 2002. Amiri Baraka lived long enough to see some of the 60s energy transferred to other decades, and [prayerfully] he lived to see traces of brighter days shining through, too.
Amiri Baraka made his transition from Earth on January 9th, 2014 at 79 years old. Today in New Jersey’s Newark Symphony Hall, Brother Amiri Baraka will be honored for his life, his work and the truths he packaged in tiny rectangular books and whose messages and impact will forever be too large to contain. This New Ark has sailed to be with the ancestors.
Click here for more details about his funeral arrangements: Amiri Baraka’s Funeral Arrangements
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARCUS GARVEY!
Today, August 17th, 2013, marks the 126th birthday of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Listen to him here:
Explanation of the Objects of the UNIA (UCLA):
He was: a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a thinker, a Black nationalist, a Pan-Africanist, an apprentice (Booker T. Washington was his “great hero”), an entrepreneur (The Black Star Line Ship Company), a visionary, a political critic, a writer, an orator, an organizer, a world traveler, a publicist, a revolutionary, a critical thinker, a poet, a cultural critic, a bridge builder (“Back to Africa Movement”), a publisher, a journalist, an economist, an inspiration (Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah, The Nation of Islam (Malcolm X’s parents, Earl and Louise Little met at a UNIA conference) and the Rastafari
Movement were all inspired by him). He was controversial, an advocate, adversarial…he was HUMAN.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King visited Marcus Garvey’s shrine when they visited Jamaica, the Island of Garvey’s birth, June, 20th, 1965. They placed a wreath for him.
Marcus Garvey’s life was filled with many accomplishments, many setbacks, and it was a life that was GREAT because it was a life that SERVED!
—-> “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King remarked that Marcus Garvey “was the first man on a mass scale and level to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny. And make the Negro feel he was somebody (Salley, pg. 82).”
All great people are inspired by and copy the actions of other great people. For Marcus Garvey, it was Booker T. Washington. For Dr. King, it was Mohandas Gandhi and Marcus Garvey.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARCUS GARVEY!
Who inspires you?
Click on the following links from PBS’ American Experience to learn more:
Hon. Marcus Garvey speaking on his return to the United States:
INVISIBLE MAN: THE REPRIEVE
Last Friday May 19th, 2012 marked the 87th birthday of Malcolm X, the man Ossie Davis eulogized as, “our manhood, our living, black manhood!” I am always touched and softened by the love Ossie Davis blanketed Malcolm X with when he adamantly stated that Malcolm X was “a prince—our own black shining prince!” How endearing is that! Even when the media and individuals had castigated Malcolm X from the same communities to whom he had been betrothed, Ossie Davis spoke up for him. To Mr. Davis, Malcolm wasn’t too “militant” or too “Black” or too much of a “separatist” or a “Moslem,” he was just a man–heckled by a vicious world too blinded in racism and violence to understand the jewel that had now been forced to speak from a coffin even as he lay in silence.
From one man to the next, Ossie Davis and Brother Malcolm spoke the same language and knew the same struggle as Black men in America. They had fought the same fights for human and civil rights. Who better to humanize the man who had almost outgrown and transcended the consideration of humanity than another “Brother?” Although Malcolm X was in plain sight for the entire world to see, as far as humanity was concerned he was an invisible man. He was an angry Black person stepping out of line and there was no tolerance for that sort of behavior in the 1960s. He died as a man, but he wasn’t allowed to live as one unless he conformed to the masking of his own humanity. Ossie Davis reminded us of this man when he asked, “Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him.”
For each of his posthumous birthdays, I only wish that he had smiled at me. When I’m walking down the streets in my new home of Harlem, I feel the winds of Brother Malcolm’s spirit wisp past me, and I only wish that I could have listened to him from a Harlem street corner.
My favorite thoughts remind me that he was a husband and a father. He was a son and a brother. How many times must the trepidation of anxiety have crept into his body feeling concerned that he would never have another home-cooked meal, hear the pitter-patter of his daughters’ feet, or see the doting eyes of his siblings while seeking approval at the good news of having a new crush or getting a promotion? Every time I see a picture or watch a video of Brother Malcolm smiling and jovial, the leitmotif of him only being the angry militant dissipates further from my mind; after all, he was only human.
I shared my celebration of Brother Malcolm’s life at the Brooklyn Museum in a discussion about Black men by Black men organized by Question Bridge: Black Males Blueprint Roundtable. To listen to the conversation was enlightening and hopeful most times, but it was also hurtful and contemplative at other times. To think that Black men live trapped in a dichotomy that either embraces or misunderstands them is tiring to me! I can only imagine what it must be like to live it. The discussion made me think of the throngs of Black men I know and the ways they cling to other Black men out of necessity because to not have a “crew” would place them in a world alone. Indeed, each of them would become that Invisible Man that Ralph Ellison had written about.
From what I witnessed on the stage at the Brooklyn Museum, and from what Question Bridge has assembled says that Black men are not invisible—we just have not been listening. We have not been paying attention. For so long, Black men have been role models, even when they deny that they are. There isn’t a creature on Earth that can resist stopping in his, her or its track when a this man enters the room. Invisible is a state of mind that too many of us have grown comfortable with, but when we shirk the veils of complacency and comfort we realize the best of each of us is unclad–stark naked for all to see.
“However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us (Malcolm X’s Eulogy, Ossie Davis).”
For Malcolm X to have died in the manner in which he did was to open the door for the spirit of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz to continue to live and celebrate another day on this earth, on every birthday, for everybody to finally see…invisible no more.
Please enjoy the recording, courtesy of Democracy Now, that I have provided for your listening pleasure: http://www.democracynow.org/2005/2/7/ossie_davis_eulogizes_malcolm_x_i
Full text of Ossie Davis’ Eulogy here: http://www.malcolmx.com/about/eulogy.html