Legend in my family has it that as a baby I was slow to crawl and I took my sweet time learning to walk. When I did learn to walk, I took my first steps in reverse. I walked backwards before I walked forward. I have never known how accurate this tale is but my dad swears it is the truth and in many ways walking in reverse would be the story of my early life.

When my peers were thinking of prom and college, I, having made the ill-fated decision to drop out of high school in my senior year was married and with child by the time my class graduated. When my peers were legally kicking back their first legal drink, I had an estranged husband and was juggling multiple jobs to take care of me and my son.

In my late teens and early adult years, my life was in reverse and truthfully it was a lonely time since by the early 1990’s, early marriages were definitely not the norm. It was in those lonely years where I struggled and frankly felt trapped by the decisions that I had made,  convinced that my life was over before it had even started. It was during that I came across the work of Maya Angelou. I can’t remember how it was that I came across her but I devoured her autobiographies.  Her personal story gave me the hope that despite the choices I had made, I could become any damn thing I wanted. That my journey might be rocky but it was not hopeless.

I could indeed sing, swing, and get merry like Christmas!

Hearing about the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou felt like hearing about the loss of a beloved family member and I did feel momentarily embarrassed to shed tears over the passing of someone who I had never even met. Until I realized that for many of us, she was that beloved aunt, granny, friend…she was beloved community who inspired many of us.

In a world where Black womanhood is rarely celebrated, Dr. Angelou was that woman who inspired so many of us, yet she was honest, she was messy, she was real. Listening to various recordings of her over the years, I was reminded of how much her voice reminded me of my own Granny’s. Strong, warm and buttery. Voices that endured so much, yet always found the sweet spot even in the midst of shit. A woman who came from a tradition of black womanhood where we understood that sometimes all we had was one another and we lifted each other up but we also kept it real.

Dr. Angelou’s passing has reminded me why we need to tell our stories because in telling them, we free ourselves and offer a bit of hope to someone else.

Thank you Dr. Angelou! I hope the party with the ancestors is a blast and that the macaroni and cobbler is right!