Maya Angelou reflects on defining life moments
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Thousands of people jumped to their feet and cheered as best-selling author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou sang Kitty Wells’ “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds” to a sold-out audience Friday night. Students and visitors alike described the experience as inspiring and emotional.
Junior Nicole Conover said she is feeling more proud about being black, young and in college after attending Angelou’s performance and speech.
“I actually cried a little bit,” Conover said. “When she said, ‘You are someone’s rainbow,’ I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’”
The Canaan Baptist Choir from New Castle, Del. opened the event with a performance of Donald’ Lawrence’s “Spiritual.” Then Black Student Union President and senior black American studies and English major Brooklynn Hitchens recited Angelou’s “Still I Rise” before Angelou took the stage.
Angelou’s speech marked the 12th Black History Month Extravaganza sponsored by the Center for Black Culture and the Cultural Programming Advisory Board, Director of the Center for Black Culture Kasandra Moye stated in an email message. She said it was also sponsored by the Office of Student Life, the Office of Residence Life, University Student Centers, the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the departments of English, theatre and black American studies.
Moye said she planned the event with the Cultural Planning Advisory Board and presented Angelou, who has won three Grammy Awards in addition to earning an honorary degree from the university, with a Living Legend Award on behalf of the university and the CBC. She said the hardest part of planning the event was accommodating the hundreds of people who wanted tickets.
“Due to an overwhelming interest, we decided to move the event from the Trabant University Center to the Bob Carpenter Center, increasing the amount of people who could attend from 840 to 2000,” Moye said. “The event sold out.”
The song that Angelou began with was inspired by a biblical story in which people believed an unrelenting rain would never cease, she said. In an attempt to put the people at ease she said, “God put a rainbow in the sky.”
“Now we know the suns and moons and stars and all sorts of illuminations are always in the firmament but clouds came so low that you can’t see the possibility of light,” Angelou said. “The poet said God didn’t just put the rainbow in the sky, God put the rainbow in the clouds so you know in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the weariest and dreariest of times there’s a possibility of seeing hope.”
John Brennan, director of media relations, said he thought Angelou’s speech was inspiring, moving and funny.
“I think it was a wonderful event to see somebody celebrate all of human nature and just the diversity of our culture,” Brennan said. “The stories that she told about struggle were inspiring for everyone.”
One of the stories Angelou shared with the audience was of the time she met the late rapper Tupac Shakur on the set of the movie “Poetic Justice” when he was in the middle of fighting and cursing at another man. Usually when young men or women see her passing by, she said they stop if they are using foul language, but Shakur did not.
“When was the last time somebody told you how important you are?” Angelou said. “Do you know that our people woke up before sunrise and slept after sunset from the cotton fields before you so that you could live today? I kept talking to him, he stopped cursing and he started to cry.”
A month later Angelou said she received a letter from Shakur’s mother saying that she may have saved her son’s life by speaking to him that day.
Shala Oates, 30, from Jackson, N.J., was also touched by Angelou’s words. She said she was excited to see Angelou speak because she recited Angelou’s poems “Phenomenal Women” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in high school. She said it was uplifting to see that Angelou could still speak to the crowd even though she is battling with lung disease.
“Even though she is going through her illness, she still is able to push through and inspire each and every one of us,” Oates said.
Angelou ended her speech with the last stanza from her poem “Still I Rise.”
“I rise into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave,” Angelou said. “I rise.”