I think I was nine or ten years old when I was introduced to Maya Angelou's poetry. The first poem I learned of hers was "Phenomenal Woman," and yes I still know all the lines 20+ years later.
I learned about Maya Angelou while attending a youth-oriented program called the Nia Cultural Center. My Godmother was among the teachers, teaching us history, helping us to remember facts we wouldn't hear about in school, and giving us a sense of pride and confidence in ourselves. I remember when someone would tell me to speak up and not be ashamed or afraid of the words I had to recite, and as I became a teacher I tell my students the same thing.
In my upcoming novel Hot Like Fire, I write about a place called the Umoja Cultural Center, modeled after the NCC. This center gives young kids a sense of pride, exposes them to history not found in mainstream textbooks, and makes them aware about the society in which they live.
I think this element is important because our young people are growing up in a time that may seems hostile, unstable, unsafe, and inhumane. My students come to school with worry in their eyes about their environment, their families, and even their country.
This is why art in various forms are so important and extremely relevant. It is in our art that provides hope, inspiration, encouragement, catharsis, comedic relief, education and even solutions. Although I didn't fully understand the words to "Phenomenal Woman" as a child, I knew that the words held a certain type of power, and as I grew older I found out my child-like intuition was right.
Creators: Give your gift to the world. Allow your art to be powerful to someone else.
I know Angelou's art has been powerful to me. So timely. So necessary. So soul-stirring.
Keep creating. Keep rising.