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If you like Maya Angelou's story, you might also like:
Benjamin Carson,
Rita Dove,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Louise Glück,
Lauryn Hill,
Naomi Judd,
Coretta Scott King,
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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Maya Angelou in the Achievement Curriculum area:
The Road to Civil Rights
Martin Luther King Day

Maya Angelou also appears in the videos:
The Content of Your Character

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Vol. I

A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,Vol. II

Related Links:
Maya Angelou - Official Website

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Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
Profile of Maya Angelou Biography of Maya Angelou Interview with Maya Angelou Maya Angelou Photo Gallery

Maya Angelou Interview (page: 7 / 9)

Poet and Historian

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  Maya Angelou

Over the years, there's been a change in the public discussion of problems in the black community. Rather than describing them as American problems, as national problems, some people are speaking of "African American community self-destruction." Does this change of nuance bother you? Discussions of single motherhood or black-on-black crime are often framed this way, as "Blacks ruining themselves."

Maya Angelou: Well, it is devastating. It's so painful to see it, and to hear it, and to be victimized by it. Because there's hardly any black family which can't tell a story of somebody to whom they're related either being victimized, or victimizing. But black-on-black crime is a result. Nothing comes from nothing. It is a result of a larger society being malignantly neglectful.

There is no such thing as "benign neglect." If you neglect a child, that is malignant. That is an active action. And the people in the black community, and the black community entirely, have been victimized by neglect. Now, there are always those in any society who will be able to, by virtue of energy -- the good luck to be in a particular place, maybe intelligence -- not always intelligence, though. That person, or those persons, may be able to climb up that sheer wall of ice; get footholds; knock pitons in, and climb up somehow. And of course, when that person climbs up, the larger society is apt to look at them and say, "Well, you see, he did it. Why don't you?" to all of the others who either were not lucky, did not have that particular blessing to be in that place at that time, did not have all that energy, but deserve to reach that high level as much as anyone else.

So I cannot leave the black-on-black crime in the black community, alone. I know that no black people own the jets which bring crack and cocaine out of South America or out of Europe or out of the Middle East. They don't bring it. But somehow it finds its way into the black community. At some point, a thinker must think: "Why is this? Who brings it? Who really benefits financially?" It's not the black community.

We've heard a great deal in recent years about the number of poor, African American, single women giving birth at an age where they've not yet completed their own education, they don't have their feet on the ground economically. What do you have to say to girls in that situation, girls becoming women when everything around them is falling apart?

Maya Angelou: Well first, if it is possible, avoid having a child out of wedlock, or avoid having a child when you're too young. I have been there.

It was my fortune to have a child when I was 16. I had just finished -- I finished high school three weeks before my son was born. Now, here was my blessing. I refused to go on welfare; I refused to take money from my mother; and when my son was three months old, I moved out of my mother's house and got a room with cooking privileges. I did force myself to read. Read. And I did force myself to work. I have taken my son all over the world. He finished high school in Egypt, where I was working; took his first degree from the University of Ghana, where I was working. I realize this, and this is what I have to say to the young women who already have children: Remember that that is somebody. That's not just an appendage. It's not just somebody you attach to your hip and you hold in your arms. That's a person -- a person who may have the most horrible life if you're not careful, or a person who can have the most glorious life if you're careful. Just remember that is somebody. And that is somebody's child: Your child. And that you are somebody's child. So try to enrich yourself. Don't take "No." Don't take low. And under no circumstances must you accept being battered by anybody, including life.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What do you say to young black women who see black men dying in the streets, getting involved with drugs, going to jail? Sometimes they get discouraged and start looking towards other men of different races if they see their brothers going in the wrong direction.

Maya Angelou Interview Photo
Maya Angelou: Well, I would encourage you first to do all you can for your brothers, always. Because every black woman has a black father, black grandfather, probably some black brothers, black nephews, black uncles, and maybe some just good black friends and, if lucky, some black lovers. I would encourage you to have the courage to call a person aside and try to put your hand on him, someone whom you know, and say, "You know, I care about you, and I'm not the only one. You know, if we lose you, we may lose our hold on life." Speak to him. Speak to her. Do your best.

Now, there is this. It is very difficult to maintain a love affair, even if you live next-door to somebody and his parents and your parents know each other forever and went to the same church, and even went to the same school. It's very hard for adults to maintain respect and romance so that a love affair can be sustained over years. If you happen to fall in love with someone in another race, it's more difficult, because you have to translate yourself. I mean, you can't say, "Um-um-um!" because the person in the other race says, "Exactly what did you mean?" So there are things that make it a little more difficult. And of course, then, people in our race start to wonder, "Is she talking black and sleeping white?" and so forth. The only thing to remember is you must have the courage to love.

More and more young black people are living and raising children outside of traditional African American communities. What do you say to the young black mother who wants to expose her daughter or son to that tradition when it's not all around them?

Maya Angelou: Well, that's a wonderful question. I would do a couple of things. I would find a black church. I'd go to the church about once every two months. I don't say join the church -- go to the church. After about three or four visits, people will start to say, "Well, how are you? What's your name? What's this little pretty baby's name?" and so forth. And before you know it, you will meet somebody in your age group, in your economic group, in your educational group, and you will exchange numbers. That's my best suggestion.

And the second is, get The Poetry of The Negro or one of those anthologies. Just go to the librarian and ask her or him to find an anthology of African American poetry. Read the poetry to her, when she's sleeping, when she is just sitting there, when she is lying there crooning to herself, read some poetry. Try to read it in the dialect.

That's wonderful advice. There's not a city in the world where you can't get a book. From the way you talk about books, Ms. Angelou, I suspect that they have been your friends at times when hardly anyone else was.

Maya Angelou: Yes, they are my friends. And I have them by the thousands.

And if you don't have the money to buy, you can always borrow.

Maya Angelou: Go to the library. But you know, I feel uncomfortable and insecure when I have no rice in my house, no tomato paste and onions, no cooking oil, and no books. I just feel that -- Whooh! Anything may happen.

When you love books it's hard to live without them. Even when you don't have money for food you don't want to sell them.

Maya Angelou: Oh, no! Oh, no, no!

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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2013 16:27 EDT
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