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Maya Angelou to speak at Butler

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Anyone who could use words of wisdom from a living legend will soon have a chance to hear them.

Maya Angelou, best known for her inspirational and stirring literary works, will visit Indianapolis for the Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by Butler University on March 26. At press time, the event was sold out.

Angelou actually inaugurated the diversity series as its first speaker in 1988.

Known as a “global renaissance woman,” Angelou has contributed to the cause of enlightenment and freedom as a poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist.

Angelou told the Recorder she is looking forward to returning to Indianapolis.

“I’m excited about coming back,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned it’s the center of the United States. It’s true America.”

Angelou said the last time she was in Indianapolis was during the opening of a library, which she described as a “wonderful” experience. She also praised the city for its architecture, and noted that it is the home of Mari Evans, whom she described as one of “America’s greatest poets.”

During her lecture at Butler, Angelou said, she will talk about courage.

“Necessity to have the courage to be kind, to be respectful, to be courteous. Not just take the line of least resistance, for instance, and just snap somebody out because you can,” Angelou stated. “To really have enough courage to be intelligent. That’s probably it.”

Then with her characteristic elegance and humor, she added, “On the other hand, I might speak on the East Indian nose flu, I don’t know.”

America will soon approach April 4, which will be very significant this year.

First, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders encouraged the nation to live up to its promises of equality, freedom and liberty. April 4 will also be significant because it will be the 45th anniversary of King’s assassination.

Angelou became active in the civil rights movement, serving as a northern coordinator for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and worked with Malcolm X to help organize his Organization of African-American Unity.

When asked what she thought about the anniversary of the march and if the country has made progress in civil rights since then, Angelou replied, “we have to say we made progress.”

Otherwise, she noted, young people would be obliged to say sacrifices made by leaders like King, Malcolm X, the Kennedys and Fannie Lou Hamer did not change anything, and if that’s the case, there’s no point in them trying to change anything.

“We also have to say that we have not made enough progress,” Angelou said. “So we need young people, and we need to tell them so. I appreciate them.”

Angelou, describing the state of the country, described Americans as very active.

“We have been brave enough and stupid enough to have slaves. Then we’ve been brave enough and courageous enough to free the slaves. We have been very human, and Indianapolis is a center for seeing the journey across the United States, from being a slave country to a free country, to a country where racism is still alive, although we have a Black president in his second term. All of that is fascinating.”

She added, “If I was a Martian or somebody from Venus or something I would come here and say ‘what crazy people.’ What wonderful and funny and crazy and terrifying people we are. We can shout the war cry and at the same time write the most beautiful love songs and nursery songs. Amazing.”

April 4 is also special because it will be Angelou’s 85th birthday.

While she appreciates the milestone, Angelou said she believes every day of life is worth celebrating.

“When I awaken and see the light coming under the draperies, I thank God for another day,” she said. “A day I have never seen before. It provides another chance to be real, to be kind, to be helpful, and to be loving and laughing.”

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