For Maya

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Today, as I was going through my morning routine at work, I saw a headline on a news site: Maya Angelou, poet and activist, dead at 86. My throat dried. My eyes welled with tears. I said aloud, “Maya Angelou died?!” My manager responded and continued to work. But I can’t. I’m frozen with a pain akin to losing a loved one. This feeling, while devastating, was quickly followed by confusion. Why do I feel so strongly about a woman who I had never met? Why I am surprised that an 86 year old who had purportedly been ill during the past year passed away?

I realize it’s because Maya’s death, while peaceful by all accouts, is symbolic of a tragic death of an era. And there is no one to take her place.

People wonder why I’m so adamant about the destructive powers of reality television. It’s because of people like Dr. Angelou. When I first read:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step…

I did not identify with her words. While I certainly was never “built to suit a fashion model’s size” I did not embrace it until years later. I did not understand why this woman would dare be confident despite her self-proclaimed shortcomings. If anything, she should hide away until she lost weight and fixed herself up so that she’d be presentable. This was my thinking.

Media outlets like reality tv and gossip blogs do nothing positive for the Black woman. And I fear that with legends like Dr. Angelou joining our ancestors, no one will be left to remind young girls and boys that they are valued and valuable. But I was reminded. I am grateful.

‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.


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