A 'Phenomenal Woman'; Maya Angelou dies at age 86

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Unlike many who knew her or knew of her, I didn't become acquainted with the incredible Dr. Maya Angelou until I saw her one afternoon on an episode of Oprah.  Angelou, with her distinctive voice that evoked so much character and grace, read her poem aloud, 'Phenomenal Woman'.  It changed how I thought about myself, and when I felt low or unworthy, not pretty or imperfect in some way, her words would find their way into my head and my chin would lift, my shoulders would straighten, and I'd walk once again in confidence that I was, am, the best person I can be; phenomenal woman, that's me.

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson) passed at the age of 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on May 28th, confirmed by officials of that city and reported on NBCNews.com.

Angelou had a rough life that was scarred by child abuse and rape.  She wrote eloquently about it in her autobiography, 'I know Why the Caged Bird Sings'.  She has written, in her lifetime, more than 30 best selling books, poems, and scripts.  Having been nominated for a Pulitzer, an Emmy (for her role in the hit 1977 mini-series, Roots), and a Tony, this woman counted American presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama), South African President Nelson Mandela, celebrities, and notable civil rights activists as her friends.  Not many can make such a claim, and the lives she touched spread like ripples in a pond to affect everyone, everywhere lucky enough to meet and know this incredible woman.  She taught American Studies at Wake Forest University as well.  She created, collaborated, and gave back to her local, national, and global community.  Would that we could all do just a tenth of what she has accomplished, just imagine the world that would create.

But her poem is what I will continue to carry with me, and will share with you.  It inspired me, and it is hoped, will inspire every woman who reads it.  Thank you, Dr. Angelou, for sharing yourself with us all.

From Oprah.com;

Phenomenal Woman

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
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
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
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 for my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.
—Maya Angelou

Michele Gwynn is a freelance journalist in San Antonio, Texas, author of Harvest and The Cat Who Wanted to be a Reindeer, and a contributing writer for Examiner.com, Yahoo Voices, and several online magazines.