Our Executive Director, On Maya Angelou's Passing

Our lives are made up of a series of moments, tiny blips on a radar screen that collectively chart our course as we navigate life’s waters. We weather storms, relish calm seas and attempt to stay afloat. It’s moments like today when we say goodbye to a truly good soul that cut to my core and threaten to capsize me. We need more good souls, and losing one hurts.

I listened to Angelou reciting her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," at Clinton’s inauguration and it made me wonder what cultivates a good soul. The honesty and bravery in her words come from somewhere deep inside her. I imagine that poem was not hard for her to write – it was resting in her soul waiting for just the right moment to reveal itself. I imagine this because I know the feeling – that burning in your chest, somewhere between your heart and your stomach, that tells you there is something important to do or say. I’ve felt it and I think I get emotional when we lose someone like Maya because I fear that those like her who truly honor the feeling and celebrate it openly are a numbered few. Maya did it over and over again with her words.

I think we all start as good souls. We all have the ability to make an impact and leave our unique positive imprint. But there’s something that happens to many of us that clouds our ability to recognize our soul’s unique call to action, some flaw in our human nature that continues to make us more and more the victims and slaves to time, greed, excess, ego and the fear of failure. We are losing sight of what has truly allowed us to sustain as long as we have – it’s not war or money or empire. It’s our ability to love each other, appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and celebrate the strength and fortitude of the human spirit in moments of loss and triumph. Maya was one of those with the ability to stay aware, who took it upon herself to remind us and shock us back into action. Her words will continue to guide us long past her days on earth. "On the Pulse of Morning" continues to guide me. Thank you, Maya.

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning. 

Maya Angelou