Maya Angelou is one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. In her letter and voice, there is an honesty which is relatable and tender. It is unapologetic, earnest and simple. Her death mirrored the grief I felt for my maternal grandmother one year prior in 2013.
It was my mother that told me to read her work and gave me a copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I was in 4th grade, uninterested; however, I didn’t realize what parallels I could pluck from the pieces of her life. What struck me most was how she went mute for years following the rape at the hands of her biological mother’s boyfriend at age 8.
While nothing of this trauma happened to me, it took years for me to develop the knowledge and confidence that my words too had power. My mother never told me when I actually began to talk, but from what she has told me, I was one of her children that ‘didn’t talk all the time.’
It was in high school when I began to turn towards words to cope. I felt that I couldn’t be heard unless it was on paper. I didn’t think that my voice was potent unless written or printed. There was a power there, this magic I could pull from my mouth and tongue to which people would then listen.
I remember how much sense things made when they were written down. I remember in thought about how emotions made more sense when I could see them. Not that I was so emotionally unhinged that I couldn’t manage them, but writing them down–in writing down what I felt–it gave me space to feel.
I didn’t have to be perfect or unfeeling or super black girl with strength goddess-like — I could be hurt. I had the right to be upset and say why. I had the right to not be okay — and in a reality that didn’t lend itself to softness, I gave myself that space.
This is why I consider writing so important to me and see speech as weapon. There are things which are welled deep in the rock of whom we are, the experiences cannot be uttered; to utter them is to reactivate pain so deep it would snatch the words from you again.
In being honest with myself, in creating this space on paper, I learned that being me was enough. Being me was enough for me to continue to be me…the striving to be someone else was over. From that, I leaned to own my own story and — when strong enough –shout it…even when my voice shook.