Excerpts from “A Wealth of Wisdom” Legendary African American Elders Speak
By Godfrey Lee
Dr. Maya Angelou, who was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama, is one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
Born on April 4th, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas. In Stamps, Dr. Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture. And in her films and books, she expresses herself and identity as a Black woman.
Dr. Angelou has written numerous best-selling books, from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to A Song Flung Up to Heaven. She has also performed in such internationally acclaimed works as Porgy and Bess and Roots. Her debut as a film director was in 1998 with film Down in the Delta.
Dr. Angelou has won 71 awards and received 39 honorary degrees.
In 2004, National Visionary Leadership Project published an interview with Dr. Angelou in their book “A Wealth of Wisdom”, edited by Camille O. Cosby and Renee Poussaint. The book preserves the wisdom of America’s extraordinary African American elders. Their website is www.visionaryproject.org
In the book, she told of how a young street prostitute reacted to her book Gather Together in My Name. The girl told Dr. Angelou, “You give me hope” after her book signing in Cleveland Ohio. Dr. Angelou said the girl’s remark “was sufficient even if no one else said anything to me.”
Dr. Angelou concludes in her interview, “If you happen to be white in a white country; pretty according to the dictates of fashion; rich in a country where money is adored, it’s almost impossible to grow up and to grow up honest inside. It is almost impossible. Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.
But to grow up, to take responsibility for the time you take up, and the space you occupy, to honor every living person for his or her humanity, that is to grow up.
I know what I’ve done. I mean, I’ve done it.
I’m on the board of lots of places, lots of universities. I teach all over the world and speak a lot of languages. But it’s imperative that we not stand so upon the laurels. If you’re firmly rooted in the ground, you’re not so easily pushed over.”