President Obama awarding Maya Angelou with Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010

“Still I Rise” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

Maya Angelou’s voice was one of resistance and progress through celebration and hopefulness. She’s rarely called upon or referenced as a precursor to Slam and contemporary of the Beat poets because she was so unique a voice, focused on cultural experience and the future rather than personal history and the past.

She’s extraordinarily important today. Many do work in organizing, activism, and politics that burn us out. There’s a hopelessness that’s tempting because anger can be used as fuel, and our anger is very legitimate. Yet giving into it fully risks our greatest strength in terms of resisting: community.

Community can’t just be built on anger; it has to be built on hope, connection, a path forward. Anger risks isolation, and isolation is what wears us out the most. It makes our thinking two-dimensional and inflexible.

Anger has a place – it’s certainly earned, and you should never ask vulnerable communities not to be angry at their exposure and the history of harm they’ve sustained. You can even see Angelou’s show through here.

At the same time, anger must be tempered in Resistance, one of many emotions we learn to sit with and which can contribute to complex, realistic, flexible communities of activism.

The feature image of Maya Angelou comes from the New York Times’ farewell to the great poet. You can find it here.

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