Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Memory of Maya Angelou, a Phenomenal Woman Who Has Taught Us to be Phenomenal, too

When I learned about Maya Angelou's death today, I thought about Shanice, a young woman from Jamaica whom I taught and who graduated last year. Maya Angelou would love Shanice as much as I do because Shanice embodies the phenomenal characteristics Angelou describes in "Phenomenal Woman," which is Shanice's favorite poem. Indeed, Maya Angelou is Shanice's favorite poet. It might be fair to say that Angelou is Shanice's inspiration and her muse. 

When Shanice was in ninth grade, she interpreted "Phenomenal Woman" for her poetry interpretation assignment and created a very cool illumination of the poem, too. Shanice took the hardest classes she could find, including dual enrollment classes that she often could not afford. She took the classes anyway because she knew her own ability to be phenomenal was intertwined with her learning. When Shanice enrolled in Communication 1101, the dual credit course I teach, I couldn't let her not get the credits because the class is very challenging, so I found a "scholarship/grant" for her. Shanice excelled in the class. 

Just as Maya Angelou, Shanice is a stunning and charismatic woman. I know "Phenomenal Woman" has inspired Shanice through difficult times and that she aspires to live both the poem's and the poet's ideals. 

I mourn the death of Maya Angelou and celebrate her life, especially as I teach and meet so many phenomenal women. 

On her facebook page, Shanice reposted the following:

Thursday, May 28, 2014
Statement from Dr. Maya Angelou’s Family:
Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.
Guy B. Johnson



Shanice, May 22, 2014
"Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That's me. 


I can think of no greater tribute to Maya Angelou than that I and others work to help young women everywhere discover their inner phenomenal woman. I <3 you, Shanice. You will carry on Maya Angelou's vision as you become more phenomenal with each passing year. 

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