Hero #4: Maya Angelou

She knew why the caged bird sings. And inspired millions with her own song.


Goals status:

  • Marathon: On Track. I missed all three of my workouts this week, but I’ll be back on the road Monday.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind Schedule. At my current writing pace, I might not finish the manuscript by the end of the year. I need to figure out how to spend more time on the book.
  • 100 Posts: Behind Schedule. Barely. This is my 17th post for the year. I’m supposed to post 18 tomorrow, but I’ll be working on the book instead.

She was a phenomenal woman by any measure.

Over the course of her 86 years, she endured brutal racism and abuse, raised herself and her family from humble beginnings, toured Europe on stage, lived in Egypt, worked alongside our two most influential civil rights leaders, and published volumes of inspiring prose and poetry.

I don’t know many of the details of her life. I do know she was impossible to ignore.

What strikes me about Dr. Angelou’s life is the gentleness of her courage. Her words, her causes, her life all indicate to me a woman with great patience, great compassion, and an inexorable focus on her goals. Anyone unlucky enough to oppose her might win a battle or two, but would ultimately find himself swept aside as she pressed confidently forward. Swept aside without malice or anger–her aim simply would not be diverted by an obstruction, so like a river she ignored and overwhelmed it.

Many scholars and leaders focus their work on a single group. We have African-American scholars, civil rights leaders, women’s issues experts. Dr. Angelou was all of these and none of them: her focus on inclusiveness, her unyielding emphasis on those qualities we all share, regardless of race or sex–courage, love, hope, dreams–made her work resonate to all who read her with an open mind and an open heart.

To me, her legacy is one of quiet strength, unyielding courage, and uncompromising love for all. If I can live up to her example, I will have lived well indeed.

I’ll close with one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes, one I often turn to when my writing isn’t getting the attention I want it to have, and I start to wonder why I bother:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

May we all find the courage to share our songs. That may be the best way to honor such an extraordinary human being.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Great pick! She was full of love for all humans. She was brilliantly creative, but she never rested, always worked hard to give her gifts to the rest of the world.