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June 4th, 2014

She Knew Why the Caged Bird Sang

Lillie Howard

Marguarite Annis Johnson was born in St. Louis, Mo. on April 4, 1928. She had a very hard childhood there and in Stamps, Ark. These hard times consisted of the divorce of her parents and her being raped at the age of seven, after which she did not speak for several years. In spite of this her spirit wasn’t broken. By the age of 16 in San Francisco, Maya had already broken a barrier by becoming the city’s first black street car conductor. Wow! At 17 she gave birth to her first child, Clyde "Guy" Johnson. She moved to San Diego and made ends meet with stints as a nightclub waitress, strip club dancer, prostitute and even a madam. A theater group discovered her and that’s when she changed her name to Maya Angelou.

In 1952 she joined the international tour of "Porgy and Bess" and in 1957 she released her first album "Miss Calypso." Not content with writing song lyrics, however, she moved to New York City to join the Harlem Writer’s Guild and immersed herself in the civil rights movement. She created, with Godfrey Cambridge, the revue "Cabaret for Freedom" to raise funds for the SCLC. In 1961 she followed South African civil-rights activist Vusumzi Make to Egypt. Later, she with her son Guy, moved to Ghana. By the late 1960’s Maya returned to the United States. With writer James Baldwin’s encouragement she penned the first of her well-loved autobiographies, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Covering her early years, it was a New York Times best seller for over two years and inspired generations of young people to keep striving, no matter what the odds may be against them.

Maya experienced many of the atrocities that so many of our people have, but she kept moving forward. She didn’t allow her past to mar her future. Maya won an Emmy Award nomination for her acting in the television mini series, "Roots." There’s so much more that could be said about Maya Angelou but let me end this about her with one of her favorite sayings, "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." Maya left us on May 28th but her life should be used as an example because she walked in the shoes that so many others have but she never gave up.

To our young people here in the city of Newburgh who have and still are experiencing some of the very things that this marvelous woman has, I say "don’t give up, don’t stop forging ahead towards better things." Use your life’s experiences as stepping stones striving towards making things better for yourselves. Organize yourselves, working together not against each other. The city of Newburgh is yours for the taking and not for the breaking. Do not allow yourselves to be intimidated by no one, in spite of the many plots that have been continuously used to keep you down. As the songwriter Donny Hathaway says "you are young, gifted and black" and that’s a fact!

To Omari Shakur I say, keep on pushing for you can’t stop now. Even though some of the powers that be are trying to shut you up, keep moving forward in your plight to help the youth of our community. We’re living in a dangerous time in the city of Newburgh when public officials can use their powers to, by any means necessary, stop the truth from being brought forward. There are some who don’t want their plots and schemes for the city of Newburgh to be revealed, therefore they’re trying to stop the messenger. Maya said "when someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time." She also said, "you may not control the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by it." Last, but definitely not least, embrace these words from Maya, "We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." "Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently." Our great city of Newburgh has continuously gone through some ugly changes and those that have contributed to it continuously slip through the cracks. It’s time for their evils to be revealed so that our city can blossom into the jewel that it can become. It’s time for our caged birds to be set free so that they can rise! With Sheila Murphy partnering with your Nu-Voters Movement hopefully the future of our youth will begin to blossom, because she’s also been there and done that. She can relate!

This is Lillie’s Point of View and I’m just having my say!

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