It’s one of those memories that I had forgotten about until just today. When I woke up this morning, and learned that Dr. Maya Angelou had passed, I was immediately taken back to my 9th grade talent show. I was in Philadelphia at the time, and my friends and I performed Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” in long, flowing skirts and our heads wrapped in colorful fabric. Yup, a dramatic poetic reading in an inner city high school talent show. You can imagine how that went. The other acts in the show included a group of upperclassmen booty popping (quite well, actually) to Luke’s “I Wanna Rock”, and a quartet singing something or other from Jodeci while humping chairs. When those other students performed, the audience howled and stood on chairs, cheering and encouraging them. “Go on, Kita!”, “Get it, Jayshaun!” After we performed, there was a bit of polite clapping (I think?), and the M.C. quickly introduced the next group to bring the crowd back to attention.
I had forgotten all about that performance, but today, it all came back to me. The conversation between my friends and I when we decided that this was the poem that we were going to do, the memorization, the rehearsals to get the movements just right. Gosh, what a wonderful way to spend several weeks, huh, reciting over and over again, “I’m a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.” Unknowingly, my girlfriends and I were chanting, and that poem was our mantra.
Phenomenal woman, that’s me.
Phenomenal woman, that’s me.
Phenomenal woman, that’s ME!
After awhile, it starts to sink in, you know? The power of the words that Maya Angelou wrote, the sheer audacity of her confidence, “Men themselves have wondered what they see in me, they try so much, but they can’t touch my inner mystery”. Oh, you got it like THAT, Ms. Maya???
And yes, she did. But, the thing about Ms. Maya (Auntie Maya, Elder Maya, Dr. Angelou), she didn’t hoard her understanding of the deep power that women hold to herself. Nope, she shined a spotlight on them, and shared everything about herself with us, flaws and all, to teach us how to discover that power within ourselves. It makes no difference what you do, or where you come from…greatness is attainable. Live in your truth, be honest, have expectations, every one of us matters. That’s how Maya Angelou lived her life, and how she used her words to push us to do the same thing.
I’m grateful for this memory of that long forgotten talent show, and feel blessed to look back at that seed that was planted years ago and see what it’s grown into. Over the years, though there have been times when I’ve been all the way down, I always knew that I deserved more. I believed there was something great in me, and even though it’s hard sometimes, I expect more from not just myself, but also from the people around me.
Through her poems and autobiographies, and in her speeches, Dr. Maya Angelou was always making the point that our lives matter and not only do we deserve to be here, but we deserve to be respected, and have a right to expect love, and have a duty to care for others. She made clear that we should be okay with standing out and being excellent, and let us know that folks will swarm around us like a hive of honeybees when we do just that.
Wow. What a memory. I had no idea that 20+ years ago, a 14 year old Brandi would be speaking life into an adult Brandi through the words of a poem so many years later. Thank you, Dr. Angelou, for planting the seeds, and lifting the spirits of so many girls and women throughout your life.