Post submitted by Matt Aycock, HRC Development Assistant
This Saturday, the family, friends and students of Maya Angelou gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of the late author and civil rights activist. Distinguished guests at the ceremony included First Lady Michelle Obama, President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Andrew Young, and the family of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The private memorial service was held at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she served as a professor for over thirty years.
As a former student of Dr. Angelou, I had the distinct honor of being invited by her family to attend. The fitting tribute balanced grief with joy, and speakers celebrated her career as a celebrated poet, educator and social justice advocate who fought tirelessly for equality of opportunity for women, African-Americans and LGBT people.
“I’m not a writer who teaches,” Dr. Angelou used to say, “I’m a teacher who writes.” While the world won’t soon forget Maya Angelou’s contributions to literary culture, it is true that the sum of her lived experiences guided the knowledge that she imparted to the world. That the forces that threaten to tear us apart are not stronger than the ties that bind us together. That no matter who you love or where you’re from or what you look like, each one of us has a story to share with the world.
For this then-college sophomore struggling with his queer identity, those words were especially profound. And though our time together was brief, the impact Maya Angelou made on my life will be long-lasting.
In this time, I recall a quote Dr. Angelou once shared with myself and my classmates from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem Conscientious Objector –– “I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for death.” Indeed, though the spirit of Maya Angelou has ended its earthly pilgrimage, her legacy lives on in her students and everyone else whose lives she touched.