In the Presence of Maya Angelou

Yesterday, Detroit Public Schools held a session of their teacher’s symposium that featured none other than Dr. Maya Angelou.  Normally, I would bring a random notebook to my professional development workshops, but yesterday I brought my diary to take notes.  This morning, I felt that some of the quotes couldn’t stay tucked away for my own eyes, but should be shared with my friends and colleagues.

So, for your eyes’ and soul’s pleasure, here are some quotes from Dr. Angelou’s talk on August 22nd, 2013 at the Detroit Renaissance Center Marriott:

(She was brought out on a wheelchair.  We later looked up her age: 85.  She greeted us and told us that she would treat us as if we were on her porch having a chat.)

“God didn’t just but the rainbow in the sky; he put it in the clouds.”

“I will not be used, misused, or abused.”

She then told us a story about her half-paralyzed uncle, Willy.  He had taught her her timestables when she moved away from home.  Later, she met a man who had been taken under Uncle Willy’s wing and given a job in his store.  His mother was blind.  He later went on to be the Mayor of Little Rock, and owed his start to Willy.  After this story, Maya asked us: “How far is your range of influence?”

“I used to be a writer who taught, now I am a teacher who can write.”

She then told us about Ms. Flowers (who is part of the section of “I Know why the Caged Bird Sings” that I teach to my 8th graders!)  Maya was mute after being raped at a young age, and Ms. Flowers, the most elegant black woman in Stamps, Arkansas, made Maya read every book in her school’s library.  To this she said: “O can’t say I understood them, but I read them.”

“It is a blessing to be a bridge over troubled waters” -Maya’s reflection on the “Men of Vision” vocal performance.

“Being a teacher is being a teacher all of the time.”

About respecting students: “Be wise and be kind.  If you are threatening, they will close up.”

On respecting diversity: “Nothing human can be alien to me.”

On talking about her accomplishments: “I don’t waste any time on modesty.”

I know that this talk was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be in the presence of a great person.  The gravity and conversational quality of the talk was gripping and inspiring.  I am thankful to have been a part of this with my colleagues and friends!

Finally, I will leave you with Maya herself:


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