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Celebrating the Life of an Icon, Maya Angelou

I

Maya Angelou

I love this quote by Maya Angelou and want to believe she is referring to her hometown of Stamps, Arkansas. I attended the celebration of Dr. Maya Angelou’s life in Stamps on October 18. In a very heartfelt speech, Stamps Mayor David Bright said, “This is a homecoming. We are making history and it feels really good.” Mayor Bright made me realize that we were indeed making history. I sat there with my two boys and husband, excited that I was in the middle of history.

I wondered if that little girl, Marguerite Annie Johnson, ever dreamed that one day so many people of all colors and nationalities would join together in this small town in which she grew up to celebrate her life. I wondered if she would have envisioned all the people that would gather together to tell stories of little girl Marguerite and the impact her life—her words made on them.

Governor Mike Beebe’s proclamation stated, “She called Arkansas home until her death. She wrote a letter a few weeks before her death. In it she stated “I long to come to the state of Arkansas…. I learned in Arkansas at a very young age from my grandmother who taught me, “When you learn, teach and when you get, give.”

Mike Beebe Proclaimed Oct.18 2014 Celebrate Maya Angelou Day.

mayaangelouproclamation, celebrating maya angelou

Her grandson Elliot Jones said, “Maya came back to Stamps in the 60s. She said, ‘The truth is you can never leave home.’ Stamps recharged her.” Mr. Jones was invited to come back to Stamps for a dedication of a statue of his grandmother at “the pond,” which is how Dr. Angelou always referred to Lake June.

My children’s favorite story of the day came from Rhonda Mattox, M.D.  She said when she was a little girl she lived in the same house in which Maya grew up. One day everyone was so excited because an important lady, Maya Angelou, was coming to see her house. She had to wear her Sunday best, but all she wanted to do was jump in mud puddles. She said for a long time she resented that lady who had taken away from her playing in the mud. It wasn’t until she was 13 years-old that she understood who this lady was and what a big deal it was for her to visit. You see, it was when she was 13 that she read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her life was forever changed.

Maya-Day-Grou, celebrating maya angelou

The day was a joyous celebration with people sharing stories of their time spent with Maya Angelou and the reading of her poetry. The UAPB Vesper Choir from Pine Bluff and the Seascape & Hope PS Drum Ballet from Hope also performed.

AngelouPark, celebrating maya angelou

After the ceremony, I was able to sneak away and take in the beauty of “the pond” before the crowd arrived. It truly was breath taking!

When reading a book, I always like to get some perspective on what an author is thinking. It is a rare occasion that I actually get to walk where an author has walked or see things in person that an author has seen. It was brought up in the ceremony that in the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya mentioned the pond in Stamps a total of 13 times. All of the memories of the pond were good memories. I wanted to see it quiet—like Maya would have seen it. So here I stood in the same place Maya Angelou stood all those years ago. This was the pond where she sat and contemplated leaving Stamps and where she would ultimately make the decision to leave. From then on, Stamps would have to share her with the rest of the world. She would then go on to become the icon that we celebrated that day.

MayaDay-Pond2, celebrating maya angelou

Maya’s life teaches us that we don’t have to come from big towns to make a big impact. We can leave a small town in Arkansas and change the world; but, Arkansas doesn’t have to leave our hearts.

Header Photograph: Maya Angelou answers questions at her portrait unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for National Portrait Gallery)

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Arkansas Women Bloggers member Sharla Orren loves homeschooling her two boys at her cozy homestead by the woods in the small town of Hope, Arkansas. She has been married to her wonderful husband for 15 years. You can find her blogging at www.lookatwhatyouareseeing. You can also find her writing at Molly Green Magazine.

Read more stories by Sharla Orren

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