Maya Angelou’s Passion For Courage

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou 1928-2014

Maya Angelou always inspired people to live life to the fullest. To fight through their fears and live the lives they were destined to lead.

One of my high school English teachers turned me onto Maya Angelou. We had to read her “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for class in the early ’90s. This was pre-internet days to a plus-size girl growing up in the inner-city, so to read her words and discover I had the power to make my dreams come true and live the life destined for me was remarkable. I found strength to brave going to college and eventually moving away from my home state to pursue my dream.

Fast forward about 13 years later, I had the opportunity and distinct pleasure to attend a presentation by Dr. Maya Angelou at a small Catholic liberal-arts based university in Dallas, PA. It was less than a year into my new reporting job at The Times Leader in Pennsylvania In November 2007 that Angelou spoke to a crowd of young college students.

I can still hear her voice and her words from that night in my thoughts. It was unbelievable evening. I remember thinking, ‘Here is a women who overcame amazing hardships – single family home and sexual abuse to become one of the most cherished and inspiring people of the 20th century – and who personally inspired me, is now just mere feet from me encouraging everyone in the audience to have courage in all their endeavors.’

I remember feeling energized and alive as I left the university because I could not believe I got to listen to an amazingly motivating speech by one of my heroes.

My life has been a rollercoaster ride over the past few years. No matter what life throws my way and when I feel the boulders of life cascading down the mountain toward my head I am reminded of Dr. Angelou’s words from that November evening –

“Courage is the most important virtue. Without courage you can’t practice any of the other virtues,” Angelou said. “You need to know someone existed before you. Someone was lonely before you. But somehow someone has survived, thrived and came through with passion.”

Her words keep me going and moving forward in life with passion.

Thank you Dr. Angelou for your courage to inspire and shed positive light on others.

You soared to heaven, but will never be forgotten

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here is my original story from Nov. 2, 2007 of Dr. Maya Angelou’s appearance at Misericordia University.  The article first appeared in The Times Leader:


Maya Angelou held the crowd spellbound Friday night during her 75-minute performance at Misericordia University’s Anderson Sports-Health Center.
Angelou is a world-renowned poet, actress, playwright, dancer, civil-rights activist and former editor of the largest English language weekly newspaper in the Middle East.

Using her dramatic and charismatic voice, she encouraged the overflow crowd of young and old, male and female, black and white, to have courage.  Courage to reach out to others. Courage to learn something new. Courage to support others different from them. Courage to go off the beaten path and read the works of the artists widely considered to be some of the world’s great poets: Langston Hughes, Shakespeare, Nikki Giovanni and Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
“Courage is the most important virtue. Without courage you can’t practice any of the other virtues,” Angelou said.

She learned courage at an early age. Angelou said she wouldn’t be who she is today without the courage of others who believed in her enough to support her.
Angelou urged students in the audience to hit their local libraries, put down their laptops and open up their world to poetry as she spoke, almost six months short of her 80th birthday.

Poetry written by nineteenth and 20th century black poets can give today’s readers’ inspiration to overcome life’s everyday struggles. “You need to know someone existed before you. Someone was lonely before you,” Angelou said. “But somehow someone has survived, thrived and came through with passion.”

Once people understand and appreciate black poets’ work, it opens up a person’s mind to appreciate the work of artists from other cultures.
Alexandra March, a sophomore from Lansdale, said she’s encouraged to begin reading more poetry, especially Angelou’s work.

A group of 37 Penn State students from Hazleton attended the program together as part of “The Bridge,” a college success class for first-generation college students.
Professor Eileen Morgan said through the program students are exposed to one cultural event a semester.

“What better person to bring them to see than Maya Angelou,” Morgan said. “She’s phenomenal.”

This is Angelou’s second trip to the Dallas campus. She visited the school in October 1972. She delivered her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” in 1993, during Bill Clinton’s first presidential inauguration. Angelou is a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has held that post since 1981.


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