When I was a child, Black History Month (or African-American History Month) was something to look forward to (even though im not an American citizen and I’ve never even been to the US). Maybe it was just due to all those movies and documentaries that usually came on TV. I cannot really tell.
However, year after year, without fail, you could look forward to seeing most of the same old movies again. The Color Purple and Before Women Had Wings were my favourite. There was also one with Kunte Kinte that came in two or three parts. I don’t remember watching them all but I may have. Documentaries about Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and others were also yearly fixtures.
But those were the days.
These days I don’t even remember it’s Black History Month until around the middle of February. That doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the valiant work done by those who fought for equal rights for Black people. I actually learnt a great deal from all those movies and documentaries.
My friend has always been a fan of Dr. Maya Angelou but I have never really given her much notice. I heard of her first when I first heard the poem Phenomenal Woman and wondered who wrote something so wonderful. But then, that was the extent of my fascination. A few years ago I saw the words to another of her poems, Still I Rise, and I liked it very much. (I especially liked the part that said “Does my sexiness upset you?”. I have no idea why, but I liked that part best.)
Last week, I looked for that poem again and really read the words. Because it resonated with me so, I looked for other poems she had done. Her poem for Nelson Mandela, His Day Is Done, was very touching.
She made you feel the sorrow with her words,
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
but, at the same time, she allowed you to feel happy for having lived in the same lifetime with such an icon,
No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.
She has a wonderful way with words. Even her tribute to Michael Jackson, We Had Him, was profound. I especially liked the first line of that one, “Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing…”
Another two of my favourite poems by Dr. Maya Angelou are They Went Home and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. You can find these and more of her poems here.
Now, back to the matter at hand.
Of all her poems, today I will share the words of Still I Rise, for more reasons than one. Not only is it Black History Month and it is good to give praises where it is due, but this is a powerful poem. It is an inspiration to me. It can lift your spirits when things, people or circumstances threaten to break you and it can give you the determination and the push to rise above them. Sometimes, that little push is all you need.
Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
- Maya Angelou