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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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Rosa Parks,
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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
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Maya Angelou Interview (page: 9 / 9)

Poet and Historian

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  Maya Angelou

For African American youth who want to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King or yourself, what kind of advice could you give them, to make that young man or woman a better person, so he or she can turn to help the next man.

Maya Angelou: Try to retain some of the finest parts of the African American culture, some of the sweetest parts. The fact that people kind of drop their voices and become almost musical when they talk to a friend, or to a preacher, or to a teacher. They say, "Hey! How you doin'?" Remember that. Keep the melody in your mind and in your spirit. It will keep you tender in the tough times, which is very important. The other thing to do is read.

Read ceaselessly. Read. Go into a library and just make yourself a list. Say, "I will read from A to BR." Read. All knowledge, my dear young woman -- all knowledge -- is spendable currency, depending upon the market. Read. Put it in the old bean. You'll be amazed how it will serve you.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Dr. Angelou, are you encouraged by what you are hearing from young people today?

Maya Angelou Interview Photo
Maya Angelou: Oh, yes, yes. They lift my heart. Those are the heroes and sheroes, those young people. I would encourage you all to talk more too, so that your speech is more clear. I would ask you to talk to each other more and read. Listen, this is a very good hint, a tip: Go into your room, close the door and read something aloud, just for yourself, just so that you can hear how the voice can carry. Lift yourselves up, physically, so that you get lots of air down into your lungs, and speak, speak out. One of the reasons we wanted to hear what Dr. King had to say was because of his eloquence, because of his delivery and because of the way he presented it. So go into your rooms, young men and women, black and white, go in, close the door and read aloud. Read from Thomas Paine, if you will. Read from Martin Luther King, if you will. Just read, read Barbara Jordan's speeches aloud.

Go into their rooms and close the doors just to hear the language, just to hear what it can sound like. Close the door and tell people, "I am studying," which is true, you will be studying. So try to read all poetry, the African American, Native American, Spanish American, Asian American, white American, read it all and read it aloud so you can learn to love the sound of your own voice and the voice of the poet. If you take the melody in your mouth now, by the time you are 26, somebody will be coming to you saying, "I want to work with you. Please, help me, give me a chance." Try poetry, always, to uplift yourself.

What is the value to others of young women or young men who know how to hold themselves well?

Maya Angelou: Well, when you know you are of worth -- not asking it, but knowing it -- you walk into a room with a particular power. When you know you are of worth, you don't have to raise your voice, you don't have to become rude, you don't have to become vulgar; you just are. And you are like the sky is, as the air is, the same way water is wet. It doesn't have to protest.

When do you think Dr. King's dream will come true?

Maya Angelou: It's not something that "comes" true. We have to make it true. We have to work at it. It's not something we can sit back and say, "Whew! It's coming, round the mountain." No, no, we have to go out and put our hands on it and build it, flesh it out, make it real. We have to do that. He dreamed the dream. It is up to us who are left here to make it come true.

As we speak, it's been about 40 years since Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that schools would be desegregated. Even now, we still have the problem of schools having enormously unequal resources. Do you see that changing in our lifetime? So everybody gets the same level of teacher attention and equipment and books and safety?

Maya Angelou: Yes, but we have to want it. I don't mean say we want it; I don't mean like it. We have to need it, understand that we need it.

There is a Zen story about a man who studied with a master, or mistress, for a while, and told the master, "I want the truth." And the master said, "All right." And he lived with him, and he sent him out and he cut trees. He said, "Now, cut trees for a while." So the fellow cut trees for about six or eight months. And he finally said to the master, "I've been asking you for the truth." He said, "Oh, that's right." And he said, "You haven't told me anything." He said, "That's right." So he said, "Now, go out and turn all those trees into charcoal." So he did that for about six months, and the man never spoke to him. Finally, at the end, he said, "Listen, master, I'm leaving you. I told you I wanted the truth." The master said, "Let me walk with you a way." He walked with him till they came over a bridge. Under it, there was rushing water. The master gave him a shove. He went over. The guy went down once. He said, "I can't swim!" Down again, "I can't swim!" The third time, the master pulled him up onto the side, and said, "Now, when you want truth the same way you wanted that breath of air, you've already got it."

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Now, that may sound very strange, but when you want it -- when you want it, you have already started to get it. So one of the things I would say to young men and women, in order to keep the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. alive, is want it, love it. You will already have a piece of it. So get that much, admire that much and build upon it. Build upon it in all the ways your parents and your teachers and preachers and rabbis and imams are telling you. Continue to build little-by-little, inch-by-inch.

Dr. Angelou, it's been a complete pleasure speaking to you today.

Maya Angelou: And my appreciation to the Academy of Achievement. I am very proud of this organization, to which I belong. I'm very proud of it.

Thank you.

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