CHAVIS: Maya Angelou — A Freedom Fighter with a Pen
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. | 6/3/2014, 5:23 p.m.
Millions of people throughout the world continue to pause, to remember, to celebrate and to recommit to the living spirit and legacy of Maya Angelou. She was one of the most transformative global leaders and visionaries of our time. Maya Angelou was a penetrating literary revolutionary and freedom-fighting poet that used her pen to advance the worldwide struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
Angela Davis introduced me to Maya Angelou in 1972 in New York City. For the past 42 years, I have witnessed how Sister Maya effectively used her gifts and talents to lift the aspirations and voice of people in Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and across America. During the 1960s, she was a member and strong supporter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Angelou was a fearless woman who stood up to challenge and opposed racism, economic injustice, poverty, and all violations of human rights, not only on behalf of Black Americans, but also on behalf of all of humanity. Today, an entire emerging global generation of poets and writers were inspired by the example set by Maya Angelou’s pen and international activism.
Maya Angelou was also a strong voice and contributing writer for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). I remember that Carlton Benjamin Goodlett, the publisher of the Sun Reporter in San Francisco and leader of the NNPA along with Tom Jervay Sr. of the Wilmington Journal and Louis Austin of the Carolina Times all defended Maya Angelou’s open support of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC).
The truth is some Black Americans in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were too afraid of showing public support for the ANC because of the ANC’s strong support from the Soviet Union against apartheid in South Africa. Lest we are too quick to forget that in fact President Ronald Reagan and many in the Republican Party supported “constructive engagement” with the apartheid racially oppressive regime in South Africa. Yet, Maya Angelou never compromised her integrity or commitment to freedom and equality for fear of losing financial gain or popularity.
When many people avoided saying something positive or supportive about Cuban President Fidel Castro and his “Communist” military support of African liberation movements in Africa, once again Maya Angelou did not flinch nor mince words. She forthrightly stated, “Of course, Castro never had called himself White, so he was okay from the git. Anyhow, America hated Russians, as Black people said, ‘Wasn’t no Communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery. Wasn’t no Communist lynched my papa or raped my mamma.’” Angelou was a conscious advocate, like W.E.B. DuBois, of Pan Africanism and anti-imperialism.
When news spread about the passing of Maya Angelou at the age of 86 in North Carolina, heartfelt condolences were expressed by people everywhere. One of the leading newspapers in the Caribbean, The Gleaner, headlined “Jamaica Feels the Sting of Maya Angelou’s Passing.” Sheriata Grizzle wrote in the Gleaner: “No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn. Those were the words of Maya Angelou as she responded to the news that her dear friend and South African president Nelson Mandela, passed last year. The potent words have now resurfaced as news of Angelou’s passing spread throughout the world. Her global influence is undeniable … there has been an outpouring of tributes for a poet who wrote her way into the hearts of many.
We all must now take up the pen of Maya Angelou and continue her spirit for the cause of liberation, equality and empowerment for all people everywhere. May God grant her eternal freedom, rest and peace.
Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is President of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.