A Tribute to Maya Angelou

Maya AngelouWhat time is this? What season is this? Is it the season, of the passing of our great souls?

They, are departing, exiting our company, and presence

In such constant, and painful monotonous regularity,

As if they are late for some urgent appointment

With our ancestral spirits.

It can be painful.  It’s distracting, it’s a nerve racking reality. Sometimes it’s numbing to the senses to constantly and repetitively hear the news of the exit of another meteor from the galaxy of our human colossal.

Maya Angelou is the most recent. I did not wish to be distracted, or to distract myself again, from my liberation art, the emancipation theatre of the streets, the unchained, uninhibited unleashing of suppressed and oppressed spirits of the descendants of slaves (Carnival Mas), after  writing about Girvan and Gabo.

But for Maya Angelou, I had to. I am compelled to, in this season of divisive political orgy.

With so much revealing in recent days of this “PHENOMINAL” soul, and her exemplary biography, I will journey otherwise.

I will give deference to Maya, this existentialist phenomenal literary creative genius, and let her speak of the “PHENOMINAL” woman. Which she was, and more;

Men themselves have wondered   

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,   

They say they still can’t see.   

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,   

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
what they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Maya Angelou has not only eclipsed the euphoria of most Nobel Laureates, she has established for herself, generations past, present, and future,  a body of work as a poet, author, journalist, playwright, dancer, singer, speaker, and advocate, that is etched in the landscape of time and the annals of history. 

Barack Hussein Obama has broken through the ceiling of the United States of America racism and white supremacy. Maya Angelou through the turbulent sixties was a most distinguished forerunner to that historic and momentous struggle, when Jim Crow, white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan, J Edgar Hoover (the master of evil and sinister manipulation) and the FBI, The Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement were the epicenter of Americas conscience, and the façade of her democracy.

She was not an onlooker.  She was not a silent protestor, and she did not seek or take refuge in the sanctimonious reverence and safety of the pews. Maya Angelou was out front facing down Americas tapestry of discrimination, poverty, police brutality and state complicity. For many progressives and chroniclers, Maya Angelo was (if not the most liberated black woman), she was certainly among that most distinguished of women and men in that struggle for human and civil rights.

To substantiate that claim, it’s a historic fact that Maya Angelo worked and struggled alongside Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X (note I didn’t say followed). she assisted and played no small part in forming one of the most significant organization of its time, the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU).

Angelou consciousness and her commitment to the liberation and upliftment of her people from colonial bondage, and the oppression of white supremacy did not limit her to the struggle in the United States. She took that embodiment of the upliftment of her people to her mother country Africa, in Ghana. Where Kwame Nkrumah had just broken the stranglehold of colonialism and had gained Independence for his people and nation.. Her understanding and grasp of the sociological and empirical factors that is involved in building a new and Independent nation, is what think took her to the University of Ghana, where she taught dance and music. She had a comprehensive vision of the role she could play, and she played it in the most remarkable way.   

The rights and privileges that blacks and minorities enjoy today, and often take for granted, and even more so, the ascendancy of Barack to becoming the 44 President of United states of America, owes an eternal debt to the invaluable and incalculable contribution of Maya Angelou. May her soul enjoy everlasting peace with our ancestors

I will end with her Poem which she recited at what for me was/is the greatest and largest gathering of black men at any one place (the Washington Mall) for Atonement, in 1995 at the Million Man March. I had the honour to attend that historic occasion with my friends Luther Lee, Stachel Joseph, and Fitz Braithwaith.

The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.

The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.

I say, clap hands and let's come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let's deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let's leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.

The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.

And still we rise.

I leave you with these words of hers

"I'm convinced that the negative has power," she said. "It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over.”  The wind does not disappear. It may not be present. But it always exists.  Totsiens Maya, teacher, liberator, councilor, matriarch.

Alister Thomas 

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