You’ve spoken truth. You’ve let the Beauty of your insides shine, speaking and reaching and changing many a generations. I remember reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the first time in middle school, and being introduced to ideas of racism and rape, injustice and inequality. I remember looking around at my peers in our eighth grade Honors English class, and seeing a sea of white faces, and I remember wondering at that moment what it’d be like to be black. What it would have been like to be you, Maya? I distinctly remember vowing not to add, “by the way” to my sentences because in your book you’d said it was white-lady language. And I didn’t want to be that white lady, the one who ignored you and disrespected you, the one who looked down upon you simply because of the color of your skin. Instead, I tried to be honest with who I was, I tried to always let my own caged bird out.
Even now, I wonder if I’ve continued the journey my 13-year-old self started all those years ago. Sometimes I think that I understand what it means to be black simply because I married a black man – a beautiful, ebony-colored man I often flippantly refer to as the HBH. But as soon as I type those words, I remember that I haven’t known what it’s like to walk into a store and be followed around by the employees, simply because of of skin’s pigment. I haven’t been singled out by the police, and I haven’t had assumptions made about my athletic prowess, both on and off the basketball court. I have no understanding of his blackness. But I do have an understanding of race and racism, of injustice and wrongdoings, because I have heard his stories. I have lived life next to him, and his words, like yours, have changed me – and while I’m not now color-blind, nor will ever claim to be, I am that much more color-appreciative. I see the many varied faces around me and Beauty is made anew, again and again and again. And I am grateful.
Maybe that’s what you wanted me to realize all along: that we each have a story to tell, that each human heart is just waiting for the opportunity to be heard. Because, as you once wrote, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Thank you for showing me how to sing.
Thank you, indeed.
Today’s just a short little diddy to a woman whose words changed me more than twenty years ago – thank you for a life well-lived, Maya! What’s your favorite Angelou quote? Who’s had an impact on your life, even if you’ve never met them face-to-face?