Last week, the National CARES Mentoring Movement concluded its special eight-week virtual training series on mentoring and wellness, which was conducted in partnership with the National Alliance of Faith and Justice’s PEN program. Our calls brought together thousands of Black men and women who were seeking to bring their best selves to mentoring, parenting and guiding our children, and connected listeners with some of the nation’s most inspiring leaders. (You can listen to the calls in entirety here.) But perhaps none was more beloved than Dr. Maya Angelou who generously gave of her time, even though she had just come from the hospital and was healing at home. In what we now know believe was her final interview, Dr. Maya, reflecting on the 89th anniversary of Malcolm X’s birth, spoke to us of courage.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues. You can be anything else from time to time. You can’t be anything consistently without courage, and Malcolm was courageous. He dared to care about himself,” she said.
One of the most remarkable voices of our time, Angelou, who passed away on Wednesday, May 28, at the age of 86, had battled health issues in recent years, but remained a tireless advocate for young people. She created the National CARES pledge for youth, a declaration of self-worth that children and teens recite during group mentoring sessions, and often engaged CARES mentors who gathered at trainings across the nation.
It seems nearly impossible to try to capture the breadth of work and influence Dr. Angelou has had on the world. Her life was remarkable beyond the telling. Poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, mother and civil rights activist, Dr. Angelou had to imagine herself in world of no mirrors, a world made brutal and small in a vitriolic and often deadly Jim Crow south. Were it not for the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community and culture, who knows where she or so many others might have been? But in enduring proof that love will always outshine hate, she did thrive, and because she did, so do we.
Dr. Maya reminded us that we forget the wisdom of our elders, their legacies at our own peril. During our final call she said, her voice loving, but resolute, “We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men... We are who we are because they were who they were,” she said. “It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name.”
It is your name we call now, Dr. Maya. Again and again.