411 Focus

I will forever be grateful to a woman who leaned into my world and told it like it was

Contributed By:Dorothy Nevils maslivend@sbcglobal.net

My, O, Maya ...

I remember when she died. She was my idol, my friend, who spoke of things hidden in my soul, guarded from the eyes of others, unknown to those with no clue. I could relate, however. On some lesser level, I knew.

And those with whom I related also knew, for each February, Ludia Eison, a friend, fellow church member, and a teacher in the Gary Public Schools, put together an afternoon worship service featuring some of the best gospel performers in the area. I didn’t sing, but almost always, I did one of Maya’s poems, the following, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” for the last time, if memory serves me right, in 2014.

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun’s rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage.
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom .

I remember so vividly the feelings that overtook my body, my spirit, that week… and the pastor, a longtime friend, who knew in what high regard I held her, comforted me. The one thing I had held in high hopes was that, somehow, some day, I would get to meet her. He said, simply, “You will, Dorothy.”

Not a single writer has touched me the way Maya Angelou has, and I cannot believe how long it took for me to become smitten by her work.

The writers that stood in my memory were mostly of a different color, and a different era. They wrote of things I knew not, things I had not experienced, but Maya wrote of and to the Black woman. I could identify with her. Me and my sisters’ experiences were so close to hers… but few had dared address our world, could lift us from the shame, the guilt, that tied us to our reality.

Few writers dared to tell us, “It is not you. It is not of your own making. Cast off the shame, and hang it, like a soiled cloak, where it belongs!”

People who wear my skin speak to me and to my sisters, but often not in the way, or with the words that cause us to really hear what we need to hear.

Thus, I will forever be grateful to a woman who leaned into my world and told it like it was, who made me see that I am worthy, that what has happened to me and to my sisters – in fact to all of us – was not because of inferiority, but rather a sin that had its beginning when the first slave ship landed on these shores. A “wall” was erected by an evil spirit… and it can only be dismantled by an intense, determined one.

This month we celebrate those who began the dismantling…

Let us not forget that it is our duty to raise up laborers from the coming generations. This task cannot be set aside…

Story Posted:02/08/2019

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