Leading Lady : Maya Angelou

"We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated."

Maya Angelou's voice is recognizable to anyone who has heard her speak. The cadence, artfully selected words, and the tendency to burst into song are all uniquely Maya. That she became an acclaimed writer and public speaker seems obvious. To learn that she spent five years of her childhood virtually mute is both puzzling and insightful.

Maya was raised primarily by her grandmother in a racially segregated town in Arkansas. At seven years old while staying in St. Louis with her mother, she was raped. The man was her mother's boyfriend and shortly after he was released from jail, he was murdered. Maya's young mind thought her voice had killed him and that she could never speak again. She returned to Arkansas and spent her time reading as many books as possible and learning to listen in a way she never had. Many ridiculed Maya because of her muteness but a woman named Mrs. Flowers became a mentor to her. Mrs. Flowers lent her books and introduced Maya to what eventually made her speak: poetry.

Maya's experiences and accomplishments were vast. She was a singer, a dancer, a civil rights activist, a writer, and a teacher. Her memoirs pull you into her world and her memories as if they were your own. She earned over fifty honorary degrees, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But Maya's perseverance and perspective are what make her truly extraordinary. Difficult experiences did not make her bitter, they made her stronger. She was not limited by her circumstances, she broke barriers. - Kelly Longhurst


Photo Credit : Chester Higgins