Maya Angelou… What do I, a short Caucasian blonde daughter of the South have in common with Maya Angelou?
When I think of Maya Angelou, I think of how I love her work, her smile, the twinkle in her eyes and her manner of presence. It seems every time she speaks or puts a pen to paper, something prolific or spiritually dynamic comes forth. I have always thought of her as the consummate scholar. In light of the various accolades and awards she has received throughout the years, she is someone I deeply desire to emulate. Only recently I learned that Maya Angelou and I have more in common than one would think. According to a bio I read, the extent of her “schooling” is a high school diploma. What? Maya Angelou does not have an earned PhD, in spite of the fact she has garnered at least 30 honorary doctorates? I sincerely hope the information I read is correct. To see it, I was a bit shocked, yet pleasantly amazed.
For so many years I convinced myself that one of the biggest holdbacks in my life was choosing to marry straight out of high school, plunging headlong into 16+ years of spousal abuse and eventual domestic violence. Recent invitations to speak at universities seemed to involve a specter of self-doubt lingering just over my shoulder. “Really? You? The one who only got as far as a high school graduation?” Okay, I did go to junior college for one semester, aced three courses, one being public speaking. But I dropped out. My purpose for ever attending was not to obtain a degree. It was to prove to myself, once and for all, that contrary to what my batterer had told me for oh so many years, I was not stupid. When the lowest grade of the three courses was a 94 in Sociology, I was convinced. This blonde was indeed just as smart as she had always known deep within her soul. How had I come from being the top seventh grader in the city spelling bee to accepting the premise I was dumb as dirt? Welcome to the world of domestic and intimate partner abuse. Its first blow is always wielded by a verbal and/or emotional attack. Belittling and degradation are its strongest weapons.
It seems to me that the peace of mind Maya Angelou has developed and shares so willingly through her written and spoken words would serve to reassure not only me, but all of us who have wrestled with self-doubt not to. Don’t do it. We are each special and unique in our own way. It is our utmost challenge to discover and fulfill the purpose for which we were created. Find what we were put upon this earth to accomplish, and do it. I am me. I am the only “me” who can fulfill my destiny. Nobody else can walk that path for me. It is mine to tread. And the same goes for you. It is your right to make choices. Choose wisely, and live happily. You are not a punching bag, and you were not put here to be verbally or emotionally abused.
To read that Maya Angelou may have given us such treasures and gifts with but a high school diploma under her belt, I figure just perhaps I may be in good company. For you see, it is not what the paper framed and hanging on the wall says we have done nearly as much as what is written from the ink manufactured with our blood, sweat and tears that inscribes the contents of the heart and spirit, attesting to who we are. Yeah, I feel the “Maya Angelou twinkle” coming to my eyes, as I smile and think that this short white blonde shares a common thread with one of the most prolific black female writers in American history. Who knows—maybe some day I will be asked to write for a president, too— even if it’s the President of the local PTA. You just never know!
Thank you, Maya Angelou. You have truly cranked my tractor, as we say here in the South. You have instilled in me the belief that I, too, am unfettered and can rise to become all that my Almighty Creator designed me to be. Let us encourage others to believe and reach for the same unlimited possibilities.
Carolyn S. Hennecy recently received a certificate as Designated Victim Services Practitioner through completion of a 40-hour course conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Florida. She is recognized nationally as an expert survivor spokesperson on domestic/intimate partner abuse and violence, sexual assault and child molestation and abuse.