Book Talk

Maya Angelou, touching lives

May 28, 2014

MayaOctober 22, 1982: Bill Moyer’s Creativity series on PBS opens with a segment in Stamps, Arkansas, the home of a young Maya Angelou. This television segment is a tribute to this astounding woman as she shares her personal story of growth and healing in the aftermath of tragedy. During the 80s, I screened this for hundreds or maybe thousands of teachers and students to enliven their understanding of how transformation is possible in spite of tremendous obstacles, as a lens into remarkable courage and leadership.

I saw this program so many times I had it memorized and would particularly love listening to and experiencing the cadence of Maya’s voice. During the episode she describes being raped as a child and not speaking for years after, because after she said the name of who raped her, he was killed. A glorious woman in Stamps brought her voice out through the discovery of literature, in particular it was the reading of Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Pure rapture to hear her tell this story. At the end of the episode Maya stands before a classroom of children in Stamps, introducing them to poetry in her inimitable style and fashion. And then she tells them they can be whoever they want to be, and do whatever they want to do in the world. And she lists the possibilities. A doctor. A teacher. A president. And the children’s eyes are wide and wider and then there is a shot of the school principal standing there and his eyes are the widest of all.

Maya Angelou truly opened my eyes and my heart. Such a gifted and giving soul. She has left words and spirit that we will carry forever. She is “a phenomenal woman.”

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

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, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.  Used by permission of Random House, Inc.

All the best in service,


Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., CBK Associates

Find me on Facebook and Linked In at Cathryn Berger Kaye, and on Twitter @cbkaye.

Learn more about service learning and resources galore—register now for the July 14-16, 2014 Summer Service Learning Institute: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learners in upstate NY at an all-inclusive setting led by Cathryn Berger Kaye, international service learning expert and author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning. During these comprehensive three days, explore ideas with colleagues from all over the world. Deepen understanding of best teaching practices applied to service learning and 21st century competencies. Make links to Common Core, IB or whatever your school priorities are during sessions designed with you in mind. Share ideas, grow possibilities and extend your connections with colleagues well beyond the event. Questions? Contact Register here.