fresh eyes on "still, i rise" by dr. maya angelou

fresh eyes on "still, i rise" by dr. maya angelou

I moved to Winston-Salem in 2008 from Nashville. There are all sorts of spirited celebrities that make up the fabric of Nashville. You can go out seeking Johnny Cash’s Nashville or Patsy Cline’s Nashville. But moving to Winston Salem there is only one spirited celebrity that defines our city, Dr. Maya Angelou

When I first learned this, I googled ‘Maya Angelou poems’ and began reading. My goodness gracious… what power she speaks with, what grace! It was one of the first times that I was conscious of reading power without “power over.” This kind of strength and ownership of one’s voice was new and beautiful to me. 

Maya Angelou simply told her truth, not to belittle others, not to cite victimhood, just told her truth for the telling, because it needed to live outside her mind and heart. 

I’m so very grateful she did. I have learned by her example that the truest sense of belonging comes when we finally belong to ourselves. Self-love is just talk and bubble baths until you stop looking outside yourself for completion. You belong to you, the vast curiosity within you, the longing to be seen, the right to be exactly who you are, in any moment, she teaches us is the ultimate self love and self-actualization. 

Going through my divorce, I must have read the poem, Still I Rise, 87 times. Each time it helped me center back to my own knowing of who I am and stand up and get back to the living of my life on my terms. I have so much gratitude for this woman’s voice. 

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room. 

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise. 

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. 

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

by Dr. Maya Angelou

That last verse is heartbreaking and so very triumphant.

I will never understand what it is to be a Black American, but I can sit in my very best empathy and compassion place and try. I have been habitually reading that line again this past year, as we, meaning white people, finally took the time to truly understand the systemic racism that still exists in our country. It took a global pandemic for us, again, white people, to sit still long enough to look beneath our denial, our comfort, and our privilege, to see what is still a reality for our black neighbors and friends. It shamefully took the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in early 2020 to wake us up to how extremely broken our systems are and how dangerous it is for Black Americans to simply exist. I admit that I just didn’t know how bad it still was. I hadn’t taken the time to stop and look and listen, and for that I am so sorry. 

What I now think (please correct me in the comments if I am way off base here) is that we have to put out our hands, open our ears and eyes, clear a path, amplify the voices of Black women and men so they can have an easier time of rising. 

It is brave work to rise strong over and over and over again. 

I ache all over thinking about what it must feel like to walk through this country as a Black person, the dignity and restraint that is shown as we struggle to catch up. It is also brave work to look inside yourself and see old, racism bullshit  living inside you. It is brave work to point out each and every inequity you witness. Let’s participate and support all of this! Let’s lend our voices to the opportunity for everyone getting an equal shot to rise strong. Hopefully, the more voices that call out encouragement and love, we can rise above those who are holding on to their dying “power over” model and screaming in opposition. 

For this and MANY reasons, the proceeds from our Limited Run, “Still, I Rise” bandana will go to the brilliant The LOVELAND Foundation’s Therapy Fund. Through their partnerships with Therapy for Black Girls, National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network, Talkspace and Open Path Collective, Loveland Therapy Fund recipients will have access to mental health professionals providing high quality, culturally competent services to Black women and girls. Access to a path for healing is the kind of work we are rooting for! Rachel Cargle and her team deserve ALL the support. Repost this foundation’s work, tell your friends about it, lift it up, shout it out, send funds if you are able! 

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for your transformative voice. We are so grateful for your impact on our city and our world.

Let’s show up bravely and wholly,

every damn chance we get,

jenni earle

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