Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco at 16. She was turned down for the position continuously because of her race, but she wanted it so badly that she applied for the position again and again every day for three weeks until they obliged.
Later in 1974, she directed her first feature film – at age 70. The film, Down in the Delta, went on to win Best Feature in the Chicago International Film Festival along with a slew of other nominations and awards.
As a civil rights activist, she worked as the northern coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization started by Martin Luther King Jr to advocate for African American rights. She was also one of the early members of the Harlem Writers Guild, which promoted the publication of black writers.
Dear friends of fellow activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, Angelou bravely continued her civil rights activism after their assassinations. King was assassinated on this day in 1968 – Angelou’s 40th birthday.
In her early life, she was a dancer and singer. She toured Europe in a production of Porgy & Bess. The bravery? She turned down a lead role in a Broadway production of House of Flowers to do it. “The producers of House of Flowers asked me, ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to take a minimal role in a play going on the road when we’re offering you a principal role for a Broadway play?,'” Angelou said in an interview with NPR. “I said, I’m going to Europe. I’m going to get a chance to see places I ordinarily would never see, I only dreamed of in the little village in Arkansas in which I grew up. Oh, no, I’m going with Porgy and Bess.” Angelou said it was one of her life’s best decisions.
LIVE WITH LOVE
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Maya Angelou
Angelou loved people, she loved herself, and she loved life.
Angelou lived her life connecting people, to herself, the human experience, and each other. She was an author, an actress, an activist, a dancer, a poet, an artist, the list goes on. Through all of her artistry, she connected people. Art reflects the human experience, and Angelou was an artist in every sense.
She described loving others as the greatest success one could have.
Rev. Cecil Williams, co-founder of Glide Memorial Church and good friend of Angelou’s, said of Angelou after her death in 2014, “She did so much to bring people together. She was just one of the most human persons I have ever met.”
Angelou was charismatic and passionate. She once wrote, “I work very hard, and I play very hard. I’m grateful for life. And I live it – I believe life loves the liver of it. I live it.”
Her advice for living well? “Determine to live life with flair and laughter.”
Beyond loving others and loving life, she also often wrote on the importance of loving and respecting yourself. “I respect myself and insist upon it from everybody. And because I do it, I then respect everybody, too,” she wrote.
LIVE LIFE YOUR WAY
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.Maya Angelou
Whoever said you can either be an expert in one thing or a dabbler in many clearly had never met Angelou. Angelou won top awards in nearly every industry she touched. Most famously, her accolades for her authorship are numerous. Time magazine ranked her two-year-straight best selling book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.
Besides writing, dancing, and later directing, Angelou was a professional singer, having released a record called “Calypso Lady,” and a chef with two published cookbooks to her name.
Angelou was also married at least three times. Although she tried to keep the number of times she was married from the public eye for fear of appearing “frivolous,” she truly lived her way. She was unafraid to love completely and passionately, and she was just as unafraid to walk away and start anew when her life called her to.
Clearly Angelou wasn’t afraid of new challenges, experiences, adventures, or loves. She did what she wanted to do and lived on her own terms.
LIVE KNOWING YOUR WORDS HAVE POWER
I thought, my voice killed him… I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.Maya Angelou
When Angelou was seven, her mother’s boyfriend raped her. Angelou told her brother, which later lead to her attacker’s trial. Due to her testimony, the man was convicted, however he only spent one day in jail. Four days after his release, her attacker was murdered. Many assume one of Angelou’s family members killed him. For five years Angelou was mute, because she believed that her words had killed someone. When she found her voice again, it was through writing. Her communication through the written word lasted long after her muteness, but she used both her lungs and her pen to change the world with her words. In fact, Angelou went on to learn to speak six languages fluently.
She wrote books and poems and screenplays, was a Grammy award winning orator, and was the second person ever to recite poetry at a presidential inauguration. Robert Frost was the first. She wrote some of the most important works of the 1900s and influenced American history, all with her words.
LIVE WITH STRENGTH
A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.Maya Angelou
As you know by now, Angelou had no easy life, but she was strong and she was determined and she was alive. If anything, Angelou lived with incredible strength. She’s an inspiration and an icon. Her words have imprinted American society, and her passion for life was made meaningful by her strength of mind and heart. She was the master of her own life.
So happy birthday Dr. Maya Angelou. Thank you for living a meaningful life, and thereby giving us a written record and lived example of how to live meaningful lives, too.