All Articles Tagged "maya angelou"

#ICanBeBoth: Karrine Steffans, Oprah And Why There’s No “Right” Way To Do Black Womanhood

March 8th, 2016 - By Charing Ball
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What’s worse: White supremacy or Black respectability?

No, this is a serious question.

And yes, I do understand that without the White gaze, much of what we deem as “respectable” would not likely exist.

But concerning oppression, we all have to admit that the rules we hold ourselves and each other up to – for the sake of protecting ourselves from the gaze – can be just as damaging to us as what White folks do to us directly.

I find this particularly true of Black women.

And this is particularly the case for Karrine Steffans. If you haven’t heard, the famed video vixen turned New York Times bestselling author got herself into a bit of trouble with the blogs yesterday for a Twitter rant in which she allegedly called Oprah Winfrey a “hoe.”

At least, that’s how many of the blogs and news sites reported it.

But what she actually said (in a series of tweets) was the following:






Of course, the message here is that many of the women we rightfully look up to as successes and as accomplished in our communities have lived lives that are no different than many of the other less notable (but equally valuable) women in our community. Therefore, little brown girl with the bad reputation, don’t feel ashamed. You too are somebody – just like Oprah.

But of course, very few heard that. Instead, what they heard was “Superhead called Oprah a ‘hoe.’” Because that’s how folks tend to read things.

Later in the day, Steffans sought to clarify her already clear position by adding:




Sounds clever enough. Yet folks still didn’t hear her. Even though Winfrey and Angelou were both very open and candid about their pasts, people couldn’t hear her. Even as male rappers continue to get love for acting like part-time “The Second Coming of Malcolm Newton-Garvey” revolutionaries and part-time “Gun-toting, lady-pimp, Uncle Ruckus-spouting” thugs, folks still refuse to hear her.

Perhaps the world has a hearing problem?

Or perhaps we have a hearing things from Black women problem?

I definitely feel like it is the latter…

Over the years, I have shared a copious amount of thought on how the image of respectability promoted by a few is working against the agency of all Black girls and women to get free.

That includes how we tell Black girls and women to be happy, smile, and be magical all the time, even when our innermost emotions dictate otherwise (and when the asker, usually male, isn’t smiling or inviting happiness into our spaces). And the selective outrage we have over the “negative” images of Black and Brown women on reality television shows while completely excusing similar “negative” images just because they are wrapped in nicer outfits and have better, mostly white-collar jobs.

Also, how we generally trash and devalue Black girls and women based solely on their socioeconomic status (because when we describe anything as “low class” we usually mean “low-social” class). And not to mention the continued erasure of successful Black women (including their color, their personal struggles, and their roots) to fit some archaic notion of what it means to be “strong” and “Black.”

I have taken issue with this because as a Black woman, I understand too well how our collective quest for respectability is harming us. It silences us. It maligns and marginalizes us. It causes depression in us. It gets us into bad and abusive relationships. It kills us. And more importantly, it strips away and hinders all of the contributions we have made – and have yet to make – toward the progression of our communities. And that includes that “hoe” money, which has likely fed, clothed and supported more Black people than all of the public assistance, Hotep revolutions, Greek-letter sororities and fraternities and social justice movements combined.

That’s why I am a firm believer that it is time for our community in particular to accept the fact that – just like the rest of humanity – Black women too have multi-faceted and complex lives. We are not one thing. There is no right way to do Black womanhood. There is no right way for a Black woman to look, act and behave. We are neither saints nor sinners. We are both as well as everything we choose to be in between.

As such, I can love, share a kinship with, and understand that the same spirit that once guided Winfrey through her promiscuous teenage years is the same spirit that is guiding her now that she is one of the most successful business women – of any color – of our time.

And if you still can’t hear me, check out this video from last year of Steffans giving a fantastic lecture at Dillard University for Domestic Violence Awareness month. I know many folks tend to have a visceral reaction to hashtag activism, but there is no denying the affirming power of the idea that yes, even #ICanBeBoth.

Women’s History Forever Rising: 12 Inspirational Maya Angelou Poems

March 4th, 2016 - By Kweli Wright
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We are kicking off our celebration of Women’s History Month with one of the most prolific and wise Black woman and mothers of our time. Dr. Maya Angelou left a legacy none can compete with and her work will live a long life leaving impressions on each of us. The world continues to celebrate this icon as the U.S. Postal Service recently announced a “forever” stamp honoring Angelou. Angelou’s poems often affirmed what it meant to be a woman- to be phenomenal and ever-evolving.

Angelou was not confined to the title of poet, but also wore the hats of professor, Calypso dancer, film director, Tony-nominated performer, as well as an official with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Mama Maya showed women that it was indeed possible to not only have it all, but give even more back to society. We will forever have Dr. Maya Angelou in our thoughts and use every opportunity to stand on her shoulders.

We’ve collected 19 of her revered poems for you to read. If we could include all of them, we would. Click continue and comment to let us know your favorite Dr. Maya Angelou poem, even if it’s not listed here.


The Gamut by Maya Angelou

Soft you day, be velvet soft,
My true love approaches,
Look you bright, you dusty sun,
Array your golden coaches.

Soft you wind, be soft as silk
My true love is speaking.
Hold you birds, your silver throats,
His golden voice I’m seeking.

Come you death, in haste, do come
My shroud of black be weaving,
Quiet my heart, be deathly quiet,
My true love is leaving.

Nicki Minaj Recites Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” And We’re Not Sure What To Make Of It

November 19th, 2015 - By Victoria Uwumarogie
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A&E put on a concert called “Shining a Light,” the Concert For Progress On Race In America on Wednesday. The stars came out to the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. to take a united stand against racism.

The concert was announced in October, and the point of it all was to get individuals to donate to the A&E Network’s Fund for Progress on Race in America. According to the network’s site, they are hoping to provide financial support to organizations and individuals who are “working to heal historic racial divides, identify and eradicate bias, and activate solutions, as well as to directly aid the Charleston community that inspired this effort.”

That’s right. The fund and the concert that was put together to promote it were both inspired by the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June. The A&E network wants its first donation to be a memorial wing for the church, and to provide support for the families of victims and survivors. You can find out more about the fund here.

As for the concert, quite a few stars performed covers of popular songs about change, from Jill Scott doing “Strange Fruit,” to Miguel and Tori Kelly singing “Free Your Mind,” and John Legend doing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

But the shortest performance of all that stuck out to me and my co-workers was Nicki Minaj’s take on Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”

Dressed in sparkling Balmain, the rapper did her best rendition of the poem, and fans of the “Anaconda” lyricist praised the performance all over social media:

“They chose the right person to deliver this. Nicki has been through a lot and people still try to tear down. Such a strong & beautiful woman.”

“She is effortlessly flawless n this rendition…”

“It’s like this poem was made for her…”

But as for the consensus in the MadameNoire office, it was a little off. I think the poem is perfect for what the concert is all about. However, as my co-worker said, “It sounds like when a teenager reads a poem for class, and they don’t really know the meaning.”

I don’t know, man. Maybe it was the delivery, the intonation, the cheerleader pose at the end, or the weird way the crowd cheered when she recited the part about dancing like she has diamonds in the meeting of her thighs–we just couldn’t fully connect with the classic poem this time around.

But what do you think?

Check out Minaj’s performance, and the many others from the talented roster of stars when “Shining a Light,” the Concert For Progress On Race In America airs Friday at 8 p.m. on A&E.

And on a sidenote, Minaj may actually have been the perfect person to recite the poem after all. She does have a song called “Still I Rise” for her haters from her mixtape days.

You’re welcome:


USPS Maya Angelou Stamp Features A Quote From Another Writer

April 7th, 2015 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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Thank you @USPS for celebrating our American Queen. I just bought 100 stamps. #MayaForever

A photo posted by Oprah (@oprah) on

Update: The dedication ceremony for Maya Angelou’s stamp took place today, and the Forever Stamp is officially for sale. However, it looks like there’s an issue with the quote. According to The Washington Post, the stamp features a line — “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — that was actually written by another author, Joan Walsh Anglund. While Angelou has said the words and they are reminiscent of her famous book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she never actually wrote this.

In an email, a US Postal Service spokesperson Mark Saunders told WaPo, “Had we known about this issue beforehand, we would have used one of [Angelou’s] many other works. . . . The sentence held great meaning for her and she is publicly identified with its popularity.”

For her part, Anglund doesn’t seem too upset by the error. But still… sigh.

Will you be getting yours?

Update by Tonya Garcia


Originally posted February 23, 2015

Last Spring, when the beloved Maya Angelou passed, Twitter campaigned for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to honor the iconic poet with a stamp to immortalize her heart-touching legacy for years to come. Fast forward to the present and Ms. Angelou’s got herself that stamp!

“Stamps have featured people for their notable accomplishments in the arts. They have included American heroes, but one is missing. Maya Angelou was influential in so many ways,” the petition wrote. USPS has responded:

“Maya Angelou inspired our nation through a life of advocacy and through her many contributions to the written and spoken word,” Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said in a press statement. “Her wide-ranging achievements as a playwright, poet, memoirist, educator, and advocate for justice and equality enhanced our culture.”

This commemoration comes right after the USPS honored MIT’s first African-American graduate, Robert Robinson Taylor, in mid-February. The Black architect and educator was sworn in as USPS’ 38th stamp in the Black Heritage series.

“Over the course of nearly 40 years, Taylor designed dozens of essential buildings, including libraries, dormitories, lecture halls, industrial workshops, and a handsome chapel, transforming a makeshift campus on an abandoned plantation into a confident, state-of-the-art institution,” USPS said of Taylor, who graduated from MIT in 1892.

The stamp, which can be purchased starting from $1.96, features a photograph of a 22-year-old Taylor circa 1880 as a student at MIT.

As for Angelou’s Fovever Stamp, that’s still under wraps; the stamp ceremony will be announced.

Angelou, best known for her I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings memoir, died on May 28, 2014 at the age of 86. Her countless achievements include delivering her On the Pulse of Morning speech at President Clinton’s 1993 inauguration and her Presidential Medal of Freedom award, given to her in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

(And to see more of the 2014 MN Bosses, highlighted in the image above, click here.)

#InstaQuotes: Most Inspiring Messages From Maya Angelou

April 5th, 2015 - By Rich
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Today’s spotlight is on Maya Angelou, THE PHENOMENAL Woman-Phenomenal meaning exceedingly or unbelievably great. She was born in a time when racial prejudice and discrimination was the “norm”, product of a broken home, raped and traumatized at the tender age of 7, spent 5 years as a mute, high school dropout, and a teenage mother at the age of 16.  All of these life experiences would lead one to believe this young girl was destined for hardships and struggles, one would write her off to be a victim of circumstance, never to contribute anything positive to society.   However, when you are PHENOMENAL you grow from negative experiences, you achieve the unthinkable, you become who you believe you were born to be, and you share and help others achieve the same. 

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, but known as Maya Angelou, is all of these things and more.  She is an award-winning author, poet, civil rights activist, political activist, screenwriter, actress, director, member of the Harlem writers Guild,  dancer, teacher, lecturer, and mother.  She had a gift of touching souls and hearts through her writing, speaking and having the ability to be vulnerable, relatable yet strong and unwavering.  We know that when caged birds sing, the melody can be beautiful even though the song may be of pain, struggle, hardships and road blocks.  Maya Angelou reminds us that no matter our life circumstances, we determine our outcome.  I personally have been inspired by her life story, challenges and triumphs.  Her words are an inspiration to heal, love, grow and know your self-worth.  I salute and appreciate your contribution to positively influencing our world.


#InstaQuotes: 15 Inspiring Messages From Maya Angelou

“My Journey With Maya”: Tavis Smiley Turns His 30-Year Friendship With Maya Angelou Into A Stage Play

April 1st, 2015 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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MayaAngelouMNBossesIn having a 30-year-friendship with the late, great Maya Angelou, it’s no surprise that Tavis Smiley has gathered years of legendary inspiration to create a new play in Angelou’s honor called My Journey With Maya, the Associated Press reports.

Smiley, a widely renowned author and political commentator, will be joining forces with Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon to bring Smiley’s cherished experience with Angelou to life on stage. Smiley was 21 when he first met Angelou, author of the acclaimed I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings, in the mid-1980s when she was 58.

“We find our path by walking it,” Angelou told Smiley repeatedly over the years, he recollected. The revered poet, according to Smiley, also told him that “nothing human is alien to me.”

“That was her way of saying, ‘Live your life on your own terms. Don’t be afraid to try anything. Experience everything,'” Smiley said.

The play is based on Smiley’s book, My Journey With Maya, which details Angelou’s profound impact on his life:

“Smiley stumbled into a relationship with her that shaped his future and affected the man he became. Like a mother to him, she was generous, challenging, and inspirational–as she was to so many. Here he shares his portrait of Angelou–a highly complex individual who left an indelible imprint on American culture,” the book description said.

But it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Smiley notes that there were some rocky moments between him and Angelou, as well. The revered writer, for example, was “alarmed” with Smiley’s sharp comments about Democratic nominee President Barack Obama as he geared up to take his seat in the White House in 2008.

“Smiley said he defended his obligation to hold all candidates up to scrutiny, and his friendship with Angelou remained intact,” AP reports.

Leon, who is currently directing Broadway and TV versions of the 1970s hit musical, The Wiz, can’t wait to get his hands on this stage project:

“I haven’t been this excited by a project in a long, long time,” Leon said. “I don’t think there is another person like her in my lifetime or in the last 100 years of American artistry and literary achievement.”

Knowing her for almost three decades, Smiley is convinced that Angelou that “the greatest renaissance woman in Black America.”

Will you be checking out My Journey With Maya?

Good for the Soul: Uplifting Audiobooks To Mend Your Spirit

March 8th, 2015 - By Rich
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It’s true, we don’t nourish our spirits enough. We recently put together a list of 15 spirit mending things to try and on that list included taking time out to listen to an uplifting or encouraging audiobook. As a busy mom, there’s no telling when you’ll have time to actually read a book, so why not listen to one? Click continue to check out 15 great audiobooks to buy from Maya Angelou to Steve Harvey.

Good For the Soul: Uplifting Audiobooks To Mend Your Spirit

What Really Is The Point Of Protesting?

December 29th, 2014 - By Veronica Wells
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Like most people, anytime I come home for the holidays I make it a point to reunite with family and friends. And the conversation that keeps coming up again and again, with these different groups of people, is the one about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and police brutality in general. We’re all hurt and all trying to process what is going on in our country right now.

And on more than one occasion I’ve heard my relatives ask me what really is the point of protesting? What will it change? If these marches don’t lead to legislation are we really just waiting for the imminent moment when something else starts to dominate the news cycle and we all lose interest?

I listened to their concerns and even told them that I had participated in a couple of the marches. One for Trayvon and another for Eric Garner. But I didn’t really know how to answer their question. Ultimately, what purpose does the protesting serve?

I still wouldn’t have had an answer to that question if my father, at my suggestion, had not been watching an “Iconoclast” conversation with Dave Chappelle and the late, great Dr. Maya Angelou. 

As Dr. Angelou is sharing stories from her life, talking about her friendships with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Chappelle states that if he had lived to see two of his dear friends assassinated, he would still be angry with his country and with anyone else who had allowed this to happen. And in a fashion that we all knew and even expected from Dr. Angelou, she explained what she did, and what we should all do, with our inevitable anger.

“If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone or you’re too sick to be angry. You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Let me show you why. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger, yes. You write it, you paint it, you dance it, you march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it. 

And there was my answer. The funny thing is, I’d known this already. I felt it. After the media announced that the grand jury was not going to indict the officer who strangled Eric Garner to death, I was livid, once again. But worse than that I felt helpless.

People across this nation and our world literally watched the life slip out of Eric Garner’s body and the prosecutor, the grand jury and this country told us that it didn’t matter. Eric’s life didn’t matter and therefore we, Black people, didn’t matter. I talked my anger quite a bit after that announcement. And then I marched it. Then I talked it again with the people I interviewed, who were just as angry as I was, people so angry they cried. I watched a mother, who had just done some Christmas shopping, try to explain to her young son why they needed to be out in the cold, walking with the crowd of screaming people.

At the end of the night, after walking over 100 blocks, disrupting the flow of traffic, screaming for justice, holding my hands up like Michael Brown, and repeating Eric Garner’s dying words, I went home feeling a bit less livid and a lot less helpless.

Weeks after the Eric Garner decision, I watched an advanced screening of Selma and saw, firsthand, just how effective marching and protesting had been in the past and could be today. The film couldn’t be more any more timely as we find ourselves in the trenches of yet another Civil Rights battle. And I was encouraged. Protesting sends a message stronger than we may realize and even provides some relief for our own personal and collective pain. Plus the country and the world is watching.

I don’t know what will ultimately be the result of all of this protesting. I don’t know how many more people of color will die at the hands of the police officers who go unpunished before someone decides to enact some type of (preferably federal) legislation. But what I do know, thanks to my own spirit and Dr. Angelou’s words, is that there is value and even healing in letting the world and yourself know that you are indeed angry.

Where Is The “Harlem” In Maya Angelou’s “Harlem Hopscotch” Music Video?

December 29th, 2014 - By Charing Ball
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So I finally watched OWN’s premiere of Dr. Maya Angelou new music video for “Harlem Hopscotch” and it got me seriously wondering to Sal, how come you ain’t got no brothers up on the wall here?”

If you haven’t seen the video, you can check it out above. In fact, I implore you to watch it first, before continuing this essay. If the name of the song and lyrics sounds familiar, the song is really a re-conceptualized version of Dr. Angelou’s 1969 poem of the same name. According to, the song is the first single from Dr. Angelou’s posthumous 13-track album called Caged Bird Songs, which was released last month. The album, which was produced by both her estate and RoccStar and Shawn Rivera (formally of the group AZ Yet), features Dr. Angelou’s vocals and poems over pop and other contemporary beats.

Rolling Stone wrote a brief article about its release in October and included a free listen of album, if you’re interested. Apparently the album was a dear project of the late poet, writer, dancer and activist. And as quoted in the Rolling Stone article, Dr. Angelou said of the importance of the album: “It’s woven into the tapestry of our lives, and we’re being serious and giving and kind about it. So obviously, it’s going somewhere. And we have to release it to go there.”

According to the article, the video, which was directed by Emmy Award-winning duo Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo and premiered on the Tuesday before Christmas, is said to use “dance to interpret Dr. Angelou’s inspirational poem about persevering through life’s challenges.” But in spite of its aim, it’s actually hard to see how video actually corresponds with the poem itself. For one, while it is true that some parts of the video were filmed in Harlem, New York, particularly the beginning; the rest of the video takes places in other locations far outside of the track’s namesake, like Hollywood and Los Angeles.

In fact, we would be hard pressed to see any bit of “Harlem” in this video. I mean, it is there, but sparsely and it looks a lot like the newly gentrified Harlem with the high rents and higher incomes than the one Dr. Angelou wanted us to know about in 1969. In fact, the main focus of the video is a bunch of smiling faced, happy feet celebrities, including Alfonso Ribeiro, Zendaya and one of the dance crews from So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew, who dance along side of chorus line of mostly smiling White faces in the streets of Hollywood.

Now granted, I can appreciate the fact that lots of people of various colors and ethnicities also appreciated Dr. Angelou’s work. And I can also understand that the Phenomenal Woman belongs to us all. But that’s the thing: there is a difference between appreciation and straight up white-washing over the woman’s work in order to not offend some folks’ sensibilities. White folks’ sensibilities. And for that reason, I kind of have a huge problem with this music video.

For more clarity, let’s look at the poems stanzas:

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.

Good things for the ones that’s got.

Another jump, now to the left.

Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.

Since you black, don’t stick around.

Food is gone, the rent is due,

Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the people out of work,

Hold for three, then twist and jerk.

Cross the line, they count you out.

That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.

They think I lost, I think I won.

Without previous knowledge of the “Harlem Hopscotch” poem, it would be easy to conclude all sort of whimsical irrelevancy to the current “Harlem Hopscotch” song. The danceable beat and upbeat tempo of the song does help sell the theme. And in fact, the music video does a good job of playing up the whimsy angle of a game of hopscotch without any mention of the poem-now-song’s deeper meaning. To be even clearer: the poem/song is actually about poverty – Black poverty to be more exact.

A good and simple analysis of the poem comes courtesy of this blog post, which writes in part:

Harlem Hopscotch” adds a whole different meaning behind the actual game of hopscotch, being that fact that this game is being played in a community full of poverty. Usually when one plays a game, in this case hopscotch, it can almost always be associated with fun. However, in this scenario the game is to teach the children a lesson of the rough times in life, letting them know not to expect good things. Comparing poverty and struggle to a game of hopscotch emphasizes the real meaning of poverty in the sense that a game of hopscotch is looked at with complete innocence, according to Racism is tied into the poem because of the fact that the game the children are playing takes place in an extremely poor black community, Harlem. “Since you black, don’t stick around”, line 6 from the poem, exemplifies racism because the whole point of the game is to move forward, and this line commands the question of who should move or not. There are many different ways to interpret the theme, and many different ways to state what the theme is. The overall theme that is clearly expressed is childhood poverty, struggle, wealth, work and leisure in the African American culture.”

All of which is not featured in the video.

And I get it: poverty is depressing. I mean, who really wants to watch a video of some sad-face poverty stricken Black kids, playing chalk hopscotch in the age of Playstations and iPads? Nobody. I don’t even believe Dr. Angelou intended that with the poem when it was drafted in 1969 – at likely the height of poverty in Harlem. But when the alternative is to create visuals of a multi-racial bunch of celebrities as well as random White people dancing in streets, which are not Harlem, we kind of gloss over what Dr. Angelou really wanted us to pay attention to in the poem.

And intentions matter. No one convinced us of that more than Dr. Angelou herself, who a few years before her passing, publicly denounced the Dr. Martin King Jr. Memorial for how the statue’s inscription misrepresented the civil rights leader’s words for the purpose of brevity and space. In many respects the washing over the poem and now song’s theme is guilty of that same misrepresentation.

Unlike what the description for the video would have you believe, this was not an inspirational poem “about persevering through life’s challenges,” but rather this was an inspirational poem about Black people preserving through poverty and racism. And as good stewards of Dr. Angelou’s legacy, intention as well as the issue of Black poverty and racism in general, we should not allow those themes to be written out of the narrative.

Beloved: 15 Celebrities We Lost in 2014

December 29th, 2014 - By Rich
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These celebrities we lost in 2014 will surely be missed and includes iconic author and poet Maya Angelou, stellar comedian Robin Williams and natural haircare pioneer Titi Branch.

Sources: Ranker, CNN, Access Hollywood, Yahoo. All images courtesy of WENN

15 Celebrities We Loved and Lost in 2014