Legendary poet, author and memoirist Maya Angelou passed away late last week at the age of 86. Scene asked local poet, musician, speaker and activist Basheer Jones to reflect on the life and work of the woman who deeply inspired him from a young age to become a writer. Check out Basheer’s new song “Dear Summer” here or follow him on twitter.
Dear Mother Maya Angelou,
I was sitting in the Chicago Airport amidst the hustle and bustle of travelers moving to and fro. The loud laughs, frustrated passengers who have missed their flights, crying children, along with the 101 emails that needed my responses something brought a deafness to heart. One message reached me that brought complete silence to all of the noise. Message read, "One of the greatest poets that the world has ever seen has died, Maya Angelou." Tears filled my eyes and sorrow filled my heart as we have lost one of the greatest beings ever created. The footsteps, guidance and wisdom of Mother Maya would be sorely missed.
Mother Maya, your words have comforted me through my life and without you knowing you inspired me to become a poet like you. Your 1969 autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings spoke to me in ways that you could never imagine. Growing up in the inner cities of Brooklyn, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, I sometimes felt like a caged bird. I always believed that I had the potential to fly but the extreme poverty felt like a cage not allowing me to use the wings that God blessed me with. "I know why the caged bird sings" is such a powerful statement. What would make a caged bird sing? Maybe the hopes that tomorrow would bring the freedom that it hopes for. Your words gave me hope that though I am presently caged one day I will fly and Education was the key to get out of this cage called poverty.
But "Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair," Mother Maya. I know those are the words of legendary Cleveland poet Langston Hughes but it fits these next thoughts of your impact on me. Growing up in the inner city of Cleveland wasn't just tough. I can’t believe I overcame the battles that came with it. I can’t help to smile in this busy airport with onlookers thinking I’m weird because I remember sitting in a homeless shelter with my siblings and single mother listening to your 1978 Poem "Still I Rise" and thinking that even though homelessness is my present condition, it doesn't have to be a forever one!
"Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops. Weakened by my soulful cries. You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I'll rise." These, Mother Maya, gave me wings though I was surrounded by people who hated everything including themselves. It instilled a pride in me that my condition does not and will never define me! Not only did your words inspire me to overcome but it also inspired me to write. If your words can inspire me, Mother Maya, I wanted to follow in your footsteps and inspire others.
These tears that fall from my eyes are from a heart that loved you and your mission so deeply. You will be missed but your writings Phenomenal Woman, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Still I Rise will remain apart of my soul forever. Why? Those words played a major role in helping this little bird break free and now I sing in an even greater tune as I strive to break free the rest of the birds who don't even believe their in cages. Thank you for singing! Thank you for rising! Thank you for being a Phenomenal woman!