Wednesday, May 28, 2014

1 Maya Angelou: The World's Griot

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Maya Angelou 1928-2014
By: Marvin DeBose

In West African culture, the griots, storytellers who often employed the use of poetry and music, have historically been seen as some of the most highly valued members of society. These people were seen as walking history books, full of lessons to impart upon a village. Maya Angelou was a product of this rich tradition.

 For most people, simply hearing that name, “Maya Angelou”, brings words to mind such as, “Wisdom” and “understanding”. Her presence was associated with poise, and grace, and her words were filled with truth and love.

Although many people simply associate her with her countless insightful quotes and thought-provoking poetry, what made Maya Angelou truly remarkable were not just the beautiful, poetic words which she spoke, it was the rich life which she lived.

Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, lived the life of a true renaissance woman.

In her early life, Angelou was widely known for her immense talent in the performing arts. She was renowned calypso performer, which is a form of Afro-Caribbean dance and music and also spent time working as an actress and a playwright, who toured internationally starring in shows such as “Porgy and Bess” and writing plays such as “Georgia, Georgia”.   

Angelou also worked internationally as a human rights activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as well as with Malcolm X in the Organization of African Unity.
Angelou would also spend years living in Ghana, working as a freelance journalist.

Most notably, Angelou was a world-renowned poet and author. Her thought-provoking writings touched on controversial topics like race and gender, as well as universal themes such as love and parenthood. She is seen as one of the most significant writers in American literature. Her raw, yet profound autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, was ranked by TIME magazine as being one of the top 100 most influential books written in the English language.

Although she has departed from us in the physical form, her words, her wisdom and her spirit live within the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

To many people, for some whom she didn't even know personally, Angelou was a mentor, a mother-figure, and an adviser. Oprah Winfrey commonly cites Angelou as her “mother/sister”. Even comedians such as Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were known to go to her home in North Carolina to seek her advice.

Angelou once even disciplined rapper Tupac Shakur, whom she worked with in the movie “Poetic Justice”. Angelou witnessed Shakur about to get into a fight on the movie set and she pulled him aside and brought him to tears by asking him, “When was the last time anyone told you how important you are?' Did you know people stood on auction blocks and were bought and sold so that you could stay alive today?'”

Moments like that are testaments to the fact that Angelou was much more than a few witty quotes online, it shows how she was much more than a poet, actor and a playwright. She was a leader whose example helped to bring out the best in other people.

There are many words which can be associated with Maya Angelou's remarkable legacy; however there is only one which suits her best:


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