Black History Month: Lessons from Maya Angelou
February is Black History Month—a time to recognize the role that African American people have had in U.S. history. In celebration, I would like to bring attention to one of the most influential African American women in U.S. history—my favorite author and poet Ms. Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist well known for her 1969 memoir titled “I know why the caged bird sings.” As a child, she had to endure quite a bit—some things she endured were so traumatic that she didn’t utter a word for five long years. As a result, she dedicated her adult life to helping people. Her journey led her to meet the great Malcolm X, whom she helped to form a group that further helped the people surrounding her. Her writings are motivational and shed light on where she’s been in life and how she rose above her past circumstances to make for herself a bright and promising future—not allowing where she came from to dictate where she was going in life.
Maya Angelou made her own way out. She wasn’t going to allow anything to stand in her way. That’s the power of the mind. It’s one thing to feel someone’s pain or even read about it, but to live it, as Maya and so many other African Americans did—now, that’s a totally different story. To feel your heart ache and not know how to fix it and to watch everything you know go up in smoke and not know where to turn is like being in a barn filled with hay and watching it burn. You feel every bit of air leave your lungs and know the door is locked from the outside and you have no way out. You have zero control. This is what Maya endured and what she overcame.
Growing up, I used to hear this saying quite a bit: “If you believe it, you can achieve it.” That is one of the most powerful statements for me. Which leads me to another quote from Ms. Angelou: “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” In other words, your life is in your hands and you shouldn’t live it feeling caged or beaten. We can either pick up where past generations left off or learn from their mistakes. No one is perfect but that doesn’t mean you should not have control over your life.
Let’s break the chains of impossibility and cut through the words “I can’t.” A foundation has been laid for you and the future is yours to build as you see fit. Don’t get stuck building someone else’s dreams while yours dwindle. It’s okay to help people on your journey but what I respect most about Maya Angelou is that she recognized that she needed to attend to her life and her happiness before she could help people halfway around the globe, or even extend her hand to those in her very back yard. Once you work on taking control of the things in your life and begin to live a life of absolute bliss, then you can do the same for others. This is not to say that you can’t yell some advice over the fence. Don’t get me wrong. What I am saying is, don’t overextend yourself. Don’t give so much that when it the time comes to work on what makes you happy, you are too exhausted to do so.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill/ of things unknown but longed for still/ and his tune is heard on the distant hill/ for the caged bird sings of freedom” – Maya Angelou
Freedom has a different meaning for each person but one thing we can probably all agree on is that it is about taking control of one’s own life and wellbeing—from capitalizing on what you love and making it work for you, to being able to breathe in deeply and take things one step at a time, knowing that your life is what you want it to be. Everyone can have the freedom that they desire. You just need to take the first step.
One final note: Though I can’t say that Maya Angelou was ever a credit union member, her spirit is woven through the credit union philosophy of people helping people. She was able to embody this philosophy because of the work she did to strengthen herself. All in all, to me, Black History Month means knowing what’s available to me so that I can better myself and help others do the same, taking life by the reins, and being in control.
Happy Black History Month!
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