Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Maya Angelou: The definition of a phenomenal woman

By Donna Brazile
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou, a renowned poet, novelist and actress best known for her book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," has died at the age of 86, according to her literary agent, Helen Brann. Maya Angelou, a renowned poet, novelist and actress best known for her book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," has died at the age of 86, according to her literary agent, Helen Brann.
HIDE CAPTION
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile shares the joy of knowing Maya Angelou and the pain of losing her
  • Angelou, she says, was a writer, a trailblazer, an activist, a mother, a hero
  • But most of all, Angelou touched her soul, knew her heart and spoke to us all

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- I lost a friend and mentor today.

Maya Angelou was the voice of three generations. Her poetry spanned our journey, chronicled our hearts and documented our struggles as we moved from the orations of Martin Luther King to the presidency of Barack Obama.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

"Dr." Maya Angelou was a phenomenal woman. A rousing spirit, a joyful soul. A remarkable and gifted writer, a trailblazer, an activist, a mother. A hero.

She was a woman who cooked up greens that could move you to dance. And yes, she danced, she loved to move. And she moved us all.

She loved her black skin and her hair. Growing up in the South, I learned to love my own skin and hair just as she taught us to. But Maya was not stuck on color or gender or religion or sexual orientation. She was fixated on humanity and helping to bring love and kindness into this world.

That's perhaps what I cherish about her the most: Like every great artist, she emerged from deep and sorrowful struggle to reveal a beautiful, confident, calm and wise soul. She used that struggle to transform herself and made us believe that we, too, could transform ourselves as well.

Maya Angelou: In her own words
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
Maya Angelou: In her own words Maya Angelou: In her own words

Like the incredible tall oak trees of her beloved Arkansas, she was rooted in culture, grounded in the goodness of this earth and her amazing gift of poetry. She had a talent for weaving words into songs and songs into melodies. She wasn't afraid to sway her hips. And she inspired us to do the same.

Opinion: How Maya Angelou gave me life

Maya, we didn't tire of you. I can still hear those words she spoke on that chilly day, at the first inauguration of her fellow Arkansan, William Jefferson Clinton. Her poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," is too long for me to quote in its entirety here, but I urge you, for your own sake, go read it. Here are a few of its lines:

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.


Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come rest here by my side.
...


Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.

Maya Angelou also had a playful side. Like any good friend, she enjoyed the company of people. Once, my friend Minyon Moore hosted a luncheon in honor of Betty Shabazz, Cicely Tyson, Coretta Scott King and Maya Angelou. It was a moment for us, the up-and-coming, to meet our heroes, to sit at their feet and learn from them.

Legendary author Maya Angelou dies
1993: Angelou at Clinton's inauguration
2013: Maya Angelou discusses MLK's dream

Before we could break bread (cornbread), Maya had everyone laughing. She was a gifted storyteller and her warmth filled up many empty hearts. She made a place for so many folks in her life, in her kitchen or on her stage. Maya was born wise and when she talked, you could hear the ancient wisdom of our ancestors. She carried that warrior spirit from Africa.

Maya Angelou remembered by those she inspired

I grew up with her poems and stories. They inspired me, they encouraged me, they taught me. I still have the paperback copies of her books I bought when I was a girl. I often wondered when I read one of her poems or stories for the first time, how does she know me? How does she understand so well who I am, what I'm going through, what questions and doubts, and triumphs and joys, I experience?

But that, of course, is what a great poet does. She speaks for herself, but she speaks for us all. And the amazing thing about Maya Angelou was that, although she was a black woman, her poems touched the souls of all Americans. For instance, what immigrant or child of immigrants, what Holocaust survivor or child of a survivor, what adolescent or mother of an adolescent does not recognize his or her own history in the justly famous, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"?

Maya Angelou: Some of her most powerful speeches

Let her rest now. Rest with Malcolm and Betty, with Coretta and Martin and Dorothy Height, with James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Let her dance with James Brown, Michael Jackson, and rejoice with Mahalia Jackson. Most of all, let her smile and be at peace with Mandela.

I will honor her today by rereading some of her poems and stories. I urge you to do the same. She gave us the gift of her words and we should treasure them. She was phenomenal, someone I loved and will forever cherish.

So, thank you Maya. A phenomenal woman.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT