A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Maya Angelou Highlights 80 Years of Rainbows

One of the best things about living in the New York City metro area is the wide array of cultural events available to us. This evening, my family and I attended an appearance by Maya Angelou at nearby Lincroft, New Jersey's Collins Arena at Brookdale College. The event at Monmouth County's community college was promoted by the New Brunswick Area Branch of the NAACP, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the school itself, which issued one free ticket per student. The event's three thousand tickets sold out on 17 February and the arena was packed with onlookers

It's hard to summarize Ms Angelou's performance, which was at once down-to-earth in manner and profound in substance. She sat in a chair rather than stand behind a podium due to her knees. She spoke conversationally and forthrightly to the large crowd, but her charm allowed us to feel as if she was speaking to each of us individually.

She's seen the world she grew up in turned on its head, something that seemingly startles and amuses her. For example, she told of getting a police escort to an event in Arkansas, a state where as a child she had feared "the boys" when they were "patroling" African-American neighborhoods like hers on horseback looking for men to beat or kill. She recounted childhood memories of hiding her uncle, a store owner, in a potato bin to protect him from roving bands of policemen.

Ms Angelou said she loves to appear at community colleges because the students there recognize the importance of education and, despite the odds, are trying to make it happen. She pointed to the story of Terence, the north African slave, who was educated by his Roman master and eventually became a poet. A slave remains human despite his station in society, Terence said in one of his half dozen works that have survived. In essence, a man must assert his humanity and consider nothing beyond his reach or out of bounds.

Eighty years of life have taught Ms Angelou that each person has a chance to make a profound difference in the lives of untold numbers of people through a chain of getting and then giving in response and learning and then teaching in response. She says the people who take on this lifelong challenge of passing it on become rainbows for people suffering under life's storm clouds.

I must say, though, that those three thousand folks lost the spirit of the evening when they got into their cars and tried to leave the Brookdale campus. The 35 minutes I spent in vicious dog-eat-dog traffic snarls, mind games, and alternate merge violations were harrowing and utterly nerve-wracking. My daughter suggested it would have been better if the order of the proceedings had been reversed and Ms Angelou had instead stood on the side of the road to deliver her message of peace to the dueling drivers as we fought our way towards Phalanx Road and our blood pressures soared. Whatever Ms Angelou said was certainly lost on some folks.

1 comment:

  1. Her message is a call to action. Paul's remarks in 1 Corinthians 3 are instructive.