To Huevos Rancheros and Maya Angelou
By Marcy Driehaus
There are many ways one can salute an honorable woman. Jonathan Larson, playwright of the hit musical Rent, chose to do it through song. “La Vie Bohème” is a song all about how bohemia and art live on, so what would be more fitting than to pay tribute to a woman who happened to help shape the world of art through goofy lyrics like, “To huevos rancheros and Maya Angelou”?
It’s ironic that Dr. Maya Angelou is the one who said, “When we find someone who is brave, fun, intelligent, and loving, we have to thank the universe” because if that’s the case then it would make sense for her to thank the universe for herself. Angelou undoubtedly encompasses all of the characteristics she mentions in that quote, ergo making her an obvious choice for Woman of the Week.
More often than not people choose to sacrifice their creativity and artistic inclinations in order to pursue a path of stability and comfort. Maya Angelou, however, is not one of those people. Rather, her beautiful spirit and radiating inspiration has been a blessing to everyone who has been touched by her work and activism.
St. Louis, Missouri gained a valuable citizen on April 4, 1928 when Marguerite Ann Johnson, known today as Maya Angelou, was born. Growing up, Angelou was plagued with discriminatory injustice due to the immense racial inequality that went along with being an African-American residing in the south at that time. Having always been strong in her beliefs, Angelou was a shark swimming bravely through the turbulent waters of prejudice, not allowing the waves of intolerance to wash her away.
While attempting to cope with the venomous environment that she had no choice but to grow up in, Maya found refuge in the arts. As a teenager, this creative outlet even won her a scholarship to San Francisco’s Labor School where she studied drama and dance. Though her artistic passions stayed intact, Angelou dropped out of school at the tender age of 14 and became the first African-American female cable car conductor in San Francisco. She eventually went back and finished high school, but life never slowed down for her after that. It was only a matter of weeks after Angelou had graduated high school before she gave birth to her son Guy, thus plunging her into the scary world of adulthood. She worked tirelessly to support her son by working as both a waitress and a cook, but fate would determine that a profession in the restaurant industry was not Angelou’s destiny.
The ball got rolling on Maya Angelou’s performance career with her debut in the European tour of the opera Porgy and Bess that ran from 1954-1955. From there, she continued to study dance, as well as recording her first album, Calypso Lady, in 1957. Angelou lived in New York after that and continued to perform before making her trek to Cairo, Egypt. There, she took on the role of editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. As if to add to her culturally enriched lifestyle, she then moved to Ghana to teach at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. Through her travels and studies, Angelou began to accumulate an abundance of knowledge and experience that enhanced not only her wisdom, but her zest for life as well.
Angelou’s life took a different turn when she first crossed paths with Malcolm X in 1964. After their encounter, Angelou made the decision to return to America to assist him in building his new Organization of African American Unity. Even though Malcolm X suffered an untimely death, his mission lived on. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took things into his own hands and continued to strive for a world of peace and harmony, but he couldn’t do it alone. Dr. King asked Maya to serve as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but not long after she embarked upon this new position, tragedy struck. Martin Luther King Jr., like her friend Malcolm X, was assassinated. Though devastated by the loss of her friends, Maya pushed on and continued to lead a life of courage and honor.
The project Dr. Agelou would execute next is possibly her most famous piece of work. Maya Angelou’s award-winning novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1970, and attracted an enormous amount of success. This book jumpstarted her career as a writer, and was the first of about 30 bestselling titles that Angelou went on to write over the years. The theme of success was a constant force in Dr. Angelou’s life from there on out. She went on to be the first black female director in Hollywood in addition to writing, producing, and starring in various stage, film, and television productions.
Dr. Angelou’s most recent efforts have gone towards something that has the potential to save women’s lives. The Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness opened in June of 2012 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, providing a wide range of services that pertain to women’s health. This center offers everything from prenatal care to HIV and STD testing to mental health services and other kinds of emergency care. In regards to this new facility, Dr. Angelou states on her official website (mayaangelou.com) that, “We know that money, support and care for men’s health issues are 10 times that of women. And so it’s important for me [to be an] advocate for women’s issues. I know that in some people may think that’s being selfish. But the truth is that’s being self-full.” Creating The Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness is the furthest thing from being a selfish act, but rather an act of pure compassion with the center now serving as a newfound haven for women in that area.
It is work such as opening this health center and changing the world with her creative influence that has really aided in Dr. Angelou making a name for herself. As well as having served on two presidential committees, she has also acquired honors such as the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, 3 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and over 50 honorary degrees. Among these noteworthy achievements includes the moment when former President Clinton asked Dr. Angelou compose an original poem and read it at his inauguration in 1993. Accomplishments like these aren’t conquered without dedication and drive, two characteristics that have always been ingrained into Angelou’s personality. It would benefit all women to take a leaf out of Maya Angelou’s book and go take the world by storm. Dr. Angelou once said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” Let’s all make it our goal to make her proud, then, ladies!