Memphians remember Maya Angelou

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many around the world are mourning Maya Angelou.

The 86-year-old died Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

She held many titles, from poet and composer to actress and dancer, producer, film maker, civil rights activist and author.

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is probably one of her most famous works.

She served on two presidential committees and received the presidential medal for the arts in 2000.

You can add singer to the list of titles held by Angelou. Raised in Stamps, Ark., near Texarkana, Angelou said she had a special place in her heart for Memphis and Beale Street.

Many Memphians have a special place in their heart for her as well.

“She just had the grandmotherly personality of just wanting to bring people in,” said David Jordan, Agape Children and Family Services.

Jordan cherishes the behind-the-stage moments he spent with award-winning poet and author.

His organization, Agape, was the reason behind her last visit to Memphis.

The Cannon Center was packed with 2,500 people for the organization’s HeartLight annual fundraiser to hear this woman of inspiration speak.

Jordan said, “She said I wanted to be here because I wanted to speak to what’s going on in Memphis. What’s going on at Agape. Use your voice. Use your person-hood. Use your experiences. Good and bad for the good for others.”

Angelou’s visit helped Agape raise more money for its services than ever before. It also helped recruit more volunteers than ever.

Jordan says there was power in her words that night.

Some say that power was present each time Angelou spoke. Ironic, since she didn’t speak for years after a childhood rape. She reported it and family members murdered the man.

Traumatized, she thought her words were responsible for his death, so she became mute for five years.

Angelou said she finally started talking again when she realized she could use her voice for good.

One of those who saw Angelou during her last visit here was Memphis poet, actress and playwright, Flo Roach. Roach says Angelou’s work has influenced her career.

“It’s so real. You can feel what she’s saying. You can feel exactly what she’s saying. She writes it and you feel it, you feel it and you feel it,” said Roach.

Roach said her favorite poem by Angelou is Phenomenal Woman.

“I think that poem says to all of us that, yea we have worth. I’m phenomenal. I’m phenomenal. I’m phenomenal, yes,” said Roach.

During Maya Angelou’s last speech here, she challenged Memphians to be better.

Since then, a 9-year-old girl has delivered Easter eggs to children in apartment complexes served by Agape. This year, she delivered 10,000 candy-filled eggs.

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