Still She Rose
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still I rise.
It’s hard to rise above the fray. To disregard all of the weight attached to us, to be free. There are many aspects of life that will try to ground us, to clip our wings and to take away our voices, but it is the voices that demand to be heard that guide us. Maya Angelou had one of those voices. In all aspects, she was a whirlwind force to be reckoned with. She excelled as a poet, author, singer, dancer, professor, screenwriter, actress, advocate, and avid feminist. Her acclaimed body of work, such as the poem “Phenomenal Woman” and the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, depict women, long considered vulnerable, as strong, powerful, and capable human beings. She spoke out in favor of abortion rights and against rape and violence towards women. Angelou worked to correct the many of the stereotypes unjustly assigned to women and urged unity and support, saying that “each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
Maya Angelou was an exceedingly influential and empowering leader, but injustice against women wasn’t the only movement on which she left her mark: she was also very involved in the Civil Rights movement. Working alongside activists such as Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, and Martin Luther King Jr., she lobbied and marched during the height of the movement and joined the ranks of leaders in the Civil Rights movement. Angelou worked tirelessly to speak up and lend her voice to thousands of African Americans fighting to end segregation and discrimination.
Maya Angelou’s flowing words and passionate speeches make it nearly impossible to imagine a world in which her voice was silent, yet there was a time. After being born in the heart of Missouri in 1928, Maya experienced trauma from a young age, facing discrimination and racism in her town on a daily basis while living with her grandmother. At eight years old, Maya was raped by a family friend, who was then killed by one of her uncles in an act of vengeance. Maya became silent, and didn’t utter a single word for the next five years. Tragedy had a physical impact on her: it took away her voice. She became silent because she believed that it was the act of speaking out that had resulted in a murder. At the age of thirteen, however, Maya found her voice and discovered its power. Tragedy may take away a part of someone, but it can never fully define them.
Maya’s act of losing and then finding her voice really speaks to me. In certain situations, I have found myself silent, both by force and by choice. Maya taught me that power comes from deciding to transcend that silence, and to speak up and shout even louder than before. And shout she did. Maya learned how to lend her voice to others when she wrote, spoke, marched, lobbied, fought, and rose up for civil rights and women’s rights.
Maya herself understood the weight of suppression and containment, so she spent her life helping people to transcend their oppression. She knew that injustice is kept going by silence, and that the act of withholding one’s thoughts and ideas keeps oppression and discrimination going. It is only when one challenges the injustice that it can be resolved.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Behind every large movement’s fight is a voice calling for the end of oppression. Since its inception, I have been an avid follower of Black Lives Matter, a campaign aiming to end police brutality, oppression, and discrimination against African Americans in the United States. This movement was started in the aftermath of the deaths of young black citizens including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, killed by white men never held accountable for their crimes. The voices of Martin, Garner and Brown were all ones silenced by the sounds of gunfire and racism, but their thoughts and ideas live on through the protesters fighting for their justice. By writing, thinking, talking, and arguing against injustice, it is possible to bring justice to the crimes that silence. Maya Angelou discovered this and taught it to me, along with the many people whose lives she touched.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Kahn, Ellie. "Still She Rose." 17 March 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/still-she-rose>.