WANT TO GO?
YWCA turns 100
Tickets for the YWCA's Signature Centennial Event on Friday at the Clay Center are $50. They are available online at www.theclaycenter.org, or by calling 304-561-3570.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Maya Angelou is a presidential adviser, celebrated poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist. Schools, libraries and health centers are named after her. She speaks five languages.
Humbly, she calls her life "blessed."
The award-winning poet will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the YWCA in Charleston at the organization's Signature Centennial Event on Sept. 28 at the Clay Center.
"I think we all have to realize ourselves as an impediment of ignorance -- we have to really see that," she said. "I am a human being and no other human being can be less than me . . . a business tycoon in China and a homeless person in Des Moines, Iowa, and a woman in Paris and a man in Ghana. He cannot think anything I cannot think, he can't be more needful, more happy, more sad. Pain attacks him with the same ferocity as me. We are more alike than different."
Being fearful about bringing up sons and daughters in today's world is normal, but not correct, Angelou stressed.
"The world is not any worse now than when you were being raised," she said. "The same abilities to be brutal maintain. Just because we have technology and the conveyances that show us now, at a moment's notice, the cruelties going on in the Middle East or Arkansas doesn't mean they are any worse than those when we were growing up."
She paused and then quietly talked about her own family history.
"I am looking at a photograph of my great-grandmother -- born a slave in this country. The cruelties were the same.
"But my grandmother taught me to be kind," Angelou said. Although she was poor, "she always had a big pot of beans on the stove. When poor people came by the back door, black or white, and were hungry, she always managed to have a tin pan of beans and a bit of cornbread to hand to them. The kindnesses that we were told to share, many people were not told that.
"I just point out to you that now we have men and women from all over the world who preach and teach and encourage us toward peace. It hasn't happened yet, but they are trying."
At one point in the Gazette-Mail's telephone interview with Angelou, the phone went dead. When she came back on the phone, she laughed about the woes of technology.
Angelou also laughed when she was told that a Google search of her name turned up 11,200,000 results in 0.14 seconds.
"Well, I'm grateful. I believe in kindness, fair play, generosity. People like me and find that I am of help, and when they come to hear me and they read my books and they watch me, that's a great blessing to me that I'm doing what I was put here to do."
Angelou -- who visited Charleston more than a decade ago for the Festival of Ideas sponsored by West Virginia University and The Charleston Gazette -- is a Renaissance woman by every description. She recently received a BET award, presented to her by first lady Michelle Obama. When she talks of her friends, they include entertainment legends Oprah Winfrey and Quincy Jones.
Born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, she's the mother of one son, Guy, born a few weeks after her high school graduation. In contrast, her grandson graduated from Georgetown University in July with a master's degree in international business.
Her upbringing was humble and fraught with racial discrimination, in St. Louis and Stamps, Ark. She studied dance on a scholarship in San Francisco as a youth, and dropped out at 14 to become that city's first black female cable-car conductor. Later, after finishing high school, she toured Europe with a production of "Porgy and Bess," she studied dance with Martha Graham, danced with Alvin Ailey and, in 1957, recorded her first album.
She moved to New York, where she was part of the Harlem Writers Guild and performed off-Broadway. A job as editor of the English-language weekly, The Arab Observer, prompted a move to Cairo in 1960. Next, it was a move to Ghana to teach at the School of Music and Drama and work as feature editor for The African Review and The Ghanaian Times.