A Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou
The National Council of Women of the United States joins with the rest of the world in reflecting on the passing of renowned poet, writer, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, civil rights activist, and humanitarian, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou led a remarkable life and the world is poorer for her passing.
While many will know Dr. Angelou for these accomplishments, many may not be aware of her deep concern for women’s health and her efforts to ensure that women had access to affordable medical care for themselves and their children. In 2012, she partnered with the Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to found the Maya Angelou Center for Women’s Health and Wellness. The Center offers health services for all areas of wellness as well as services for adolescent girls, maternal care, specialized care of premature infants, and pediatric services for older children.
In September 2012, I represented the National Council of Women of the United States at the inaugural Women’s International Health Summit in September 2012 at the Center where I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Angelou. The Council, through our affiliation with Dr. Chere Chase-Gregory, Medical Director of the Novant Forsyth Center, was asked to speak on the subject of the Council’s work with women in support of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. At the end of the summit, I had the honor of being among the guests at the banquet dinner with Dr. Angelou.
Like many who have met her, I was awed by presence. Dr. Angelou was six feet tall, and even though her health had begun to decline, I was still struck by her grace and elegance. But more than that, I was touched by her compassion and the fact that she dedicated so much of her time and resources to establish the Maya Angelou Center. Dr. Angelou understood poverty, having witnessed it the US and in her travels around the world. She knew first-hand how lack of proper health care can affect women and children, and the establishment of her Center will only add to her legacy.
Her literary legacy of course, impressive, and awe-inspiring, and may be best appreciated by reading her biography in full.
She created and read her poem, On the Pulse of Morning, at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, only the second poet to have this honor, and in 2010, was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States, from President Obama.
In awarding the Medal, President Obama praised her literary talents in this way:
“With her soaring poetry, towering prose and mastery of a range of art forms, Dr. Angelou has spoken to the conscience of our nation. Her soul-stirring words have taught us how to reach across division and honor the beauty of our world.”
But Dr. Angelou did much more than just write great poetry and prose. She was adventurous, travelling to Egypt in 1960 where she served as editor for an English language weekly, and later settled in Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana and was feature editor for The African Review and The Ghanaian Times. Returning to the US in 1964, she aligned her efforts for freedom and equal rights first with Malcolm X, and later with Martin Luther King Jr.
As I consider her impact on my life, I am reminded of one of her most famous quotes: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou was wrong on some parts of that statement. She spoke and wrote volumes, and the world will remember her words forever. Her action of establishing a health center will serve women and children for decades to come. And like many who had the privilege of being in her company, I will always remember how she made me feel.
National Council of Women of the United States
The NCW/US is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and an accredited Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the Department of Public Information (UN/DPI) and in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (UN/ECOSOC) of the United Nations. Through this affiliation we are able to have a positive impact on the world stage, while at the same time staying committed to advancing pressing women’s issues at the local level in the United States.
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