I saw Maya Angelou speak tonight. Granted, I was outside on the lawn starring at her on a screen, though I suspect it was a better view than that of many of the 1700 people inside. I cried the entire hour she spoke, sometimes sobbing aloud while sending up prayers of help us, thank you, and wow.
I cannot explain why listening to this 83 year old black poet makes me feel as though I have come home and am sitting with my people. I have white skin and grew up with a helluva lot more privilege because of it, but when she said she never refers to her hair as “nappy,” because that means nasty, but always insists it is curly and beautiful, it touched me. I grew up with curls in a family of straight haired folks. They loved my hair and never considered it ugly, though almost everyone I went to school with did. I straightened it for years.
Her message tonight was can be summed up in three points:
- There are rainbows in the clouds.
- You have already been paid for.
- Learn poetry, memorize it, it is yours – especially learn the poems of African Americans.
She said God did not just put a rainbow in the sky, he put rainbows in the clouds. She talked at length about all the rainbows in her life that made who she is today possible. She said these rainbows already paid for us all. She spoke of the price paid by all people, all of our ancestors for all of us. She spoke at length about the price paid by black ancestors who were here against their will, who underwent enormous pain to support a family. She said we were all already paid for and we deserved to have the blessings in our lives. She also said we were all rainbows in the clouds for someone else.
This is a woman of VISION. She comes from people with vision. After being raped at 7 years old, she quit speaking. She overheard the police say her abuser had been kicked to death and somehow thought her yelling out, her voice itself had killed him. She did not speak for 6 years to anyone except her brother. Somehow she knew that her love for her brother was so deep it would protect him from the terribly power of her voice. People talked about her, rather than to her, and said she was ignorant. Her grandma did not. Her grandmother told her when the Lord is ready, you’ll speak and you are going to be a teacher. Her grandma was right. Dr. Angelou credited her uncle, her brother, her grandmother and many others with her life’s achievements. Her rainbows in the clouds had a vision of what she could do.
It was also quite a vision to see approximately 300 people sitting outside in the cold, crying and laughing together.