05/30/2014 01:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Still I Rise!


I remember the day Maya Angelou came into my life. I was a high school student at a boarding school in a rural area of Mississippi. The words of such a great and prolific writer literally came off the pages at me. I found it even more special when I had the opportunity to meet her and share in her wisdom. That opportunity changed the way I looked at literature, changed my perception of what it meant to be a "Renaissance Man." I also remember where I was Wednesday morning, the moment I came up from the subway underground in New York City, the moment I looked down at my phone to the announcement that someone appropriately titled, "one of the greatest voices of our time" had passed away. I was shocked, I'm still in shock but then I start to think about her words and how within them is so much meaning and truth. I think if she could speak to all us right now, she would tell us all despite the trials and turmoil she was often dealt she lived a full and absolutely fulfilling life. We should all learn something from her life. We could all rise to unbelievable heights if only we applied half of what she preached and stood for. It's my belief that we would all live in a much better world.

Here's to a woman that is and shall forever remain a pioneer. She is by far a trailblazer, a woman who should be looked at as royal as kings and queens. I am reminded of something her son, Guy Johnson, said during in an interview. After being asked if he grew up in the shadow of Maya Angelou he said, "No I grew up in her light." Do you hear the power in those words? I certainly do, even though I only had one short meeting with her but through her words, I feel as though her light certainly beamed bright enough to shine through me and continues to shine. I believe I'm safe in saying that she is a mother to the world but primarily African-Americans. In a time when young men and women, boys and girls need that guidance in life she stands tall as a beacon of hope.

We should take from her story, from her life the idea that we all can make it and overcome the many challenges we might face in our own lives. Here is a woman that endured a violent rape, stayed mute for several years, only to rise as a strong and courageous woman of poetry and art. She was a woman of many talents and wisdom. It was Oprah who said that the world knew her as a poet but at her heart she was a teacher. "When you learn, teach. When you get, give," is one quote from Maya Angelou that still resonates with me. In my life I have had so many opportunities and I were afforded those opportunities because of great mentors and people in my life. It was actually one of those mentors who introduced me to Maya Angelou's work and through her work I learned to be courageous. I learned humility and self-assurance and even though when she spoke of "phenomenal" woman, there were parts of it that sang and spoke to me.

What can I say, Maya Angelou is such a profound woman of color. I can't think of a more genuine and caring spirit. It is my hope that in the days to come people across the world will begin to live in her truth. It's my hope that children in school now are being taught of the wonder that is Maya Angelou. It's my hope that one day we all can rise up as she did to become a beacon of sure hope and talent. It's my hope that through her legacy we all as a human race can learn to be courageous and remarkable. Let us all learn from Maya Angelou. Let us teach others to be and to live our lives in the image she has set. Let us all try to be phenomenal and rise up to every occasion. In short let us be great people and remember these great words whenever life gets you down.

"Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise. Up from the past that's rooted in pain, I rise. I'm a black ocean leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear, I ride. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise, I rise, I rise." Maya Angelou.