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    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

    SFBT_SpeakUp_3How stunning! How magnifi­cent! How fortunate to bear witness in this lifetime to a wondrous human being like Dr. Maya Angelou! The deep resounding warm resonance of her voice rose up from an indomitable spirit that embodied the essence of living transformation.

    “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is the chronicle of Maya Angelou’s youthful exodus from victim to victor. Written in 1969—the year I gradu­ated from the Bronx High School of Science and was unknowingly four months pregnant—her autobiograph­ical fictional story fueled my own search for dignity in the midst of trau­ma. In simple terms, Maya Angelou was an African-American woman, brown like me, who found her voice not only in words but in truth. She eloquently, brilliantly, and with high sensitivity expressed the harsh reality of her life experiences yet infused her readers with power, strength, realiza­tion, and infinite hope. To say that I admire her is an understatement. It is truth that Dr. Maya Angelou helped save my young life.

    I was again fortunate to become ac­quainted with her family. Her broth­er’s daughter is a secret mentor and one of my dearest friends. When I en­countered, or rather rushed, to meet Dr. Angelou alone at the elevator of the lobby where she’d just spoken at an HRC event, I stumbled over my words. I will never forget her smile as I mumbled through a hasty introduc­tion where I mentioned that I knew her niece. “Ah, yes!” she said, and then proceeded to tell me a story as I stared at her. Maya Angelou was truly a sight to behold: luxuriously tall, and big, and broad…and that voice! That powerful radiantly soft and strong voice.


    I got to hear that voice again, on the Olivia Travel Equality and Leader­ship Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean in February of this year. Dr. Ange­lou was the special guest on that trip, scheduled to appear on the first night of the cruise. However, due to her health issues, guests were treated to a telecast of Maya in her home. How mesmerizing to hear her stories of love, wisdom, compassion, and re­spect! She honored us, lesbians, and called us her children, her “sistas” and her “rainbows in the clouds,” which was a phrase she used several times throughout her time with us. I wept quietly, transfixed by this phe­nomenal woman, a living legend who will live eternally in the spirits of all of those she inspired.


    To let you in on some of the poetry, affirmation, and wisdom that is Dr. Maya Angelou, the world’s eternal poet, I share:

    In the course of staying alive, I al­ways love to hear people laugh. I never trust people who don’t laugh or who act as if they put airplane glue on the back of their hands and stuck them to their foreheads.

    When you don’t like a thing, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

    Self-control is true power.

    Life is worth the living of it. Do it with your whole heart.

    To those who have given up on love, I say, “Trust life a little bit.”

    Living life as art requires a readiness to forgive.

    To have courage is not only admi­rable, it is inspirational.

    I would like to be known as an in­telligent woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.If our children are to approve of them­selves, they must see that we approve of ourselves.

    I like the person I am becoming.

    Someone was here before you, lost be­fore you, ignored before you, and yet, miraculously someone has survived with passion, compassion, and hu­mor and style.

    I am not competing with anyone other than myself. I want to be excellent at whatever I do.

    Each of us must care enough for our­selves to be ready and able to come to our own self-defense.

    I don’t ask anyone to win my freedom or to fight my battles better than I can.

    Life doesn’t frighten me at all. Not at all. Not at all. Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

    I’ve heard it said that winter, too, will pass and spring a sign that sum­mer is due at last. See, all we have to do is hang on.

    You can neither free me nor bind me.

    I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.

    There is something gracious and graceful about serving.

    We can all be happier if we open our­selves to new experiences.

    The woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory.

    Since life is our most precious gift, let us be certain that it is dedicated to the liberation of the human mind and spirit…beginning with our own.

    Strong women—precious jewels all…We are able to enter into the spirit of these women and rejoice in their warmth and courage.

    Dr. Maya Angelou, I love you. Thank you!

    Karen Williams is a lover of words. Share yours with her at