I don’t think I’ve told this story about meeting Maya Angelou before.  In the course of  heading my college’s Africana Studies department I’ve had the good fortune to meet many celebrities black and white who came to the college to speak.  As a young professor I had the privilege of meeting her.  The talk was to be given in the theater on campus.  She had a small dressing room in the basement of the theater and I was escorting her up some stairs backstage before her speech.  As we climbed the industrial type stairs she held tight to my arm explaining that her vision in the dark wasn’t as good as it used to be.

After her talk she was escorted back down to her dressing room. It was a beehive of activity with students, well wishers crowding the tiny room.  I intended just to stay a few minutes to hand Ms. Angelou the honorarium for her visit.  While I was there a tentative knock on the door. I opened it and it was a small elderly white gentlemen with a bouquet for Ms. Angelou.  I passed the bouquet along to students who passed it to Ms. Angelou. She began reading the card with the flowers.  In the meantime the man had turned to go.  Ms. Angelou exclaimed, “Oh that is Mr. (I won’t give his name) please ask him in.”  I stopped the man from leaving and escorted him over to Ms. Angelou. She explained that he was from a small town in central Maine and they had been corresponding for years. I don’t think they had ever met face to face. They made an odd couple: the majestically dark and tall Ms. Angelou and the tiny white man who looked to be in his seventies. They began to talk as if there wasn’t any chaos around them. It struck me as one of the best examples of the family of human kind I had ever seen.  Their relationship was based on the commonality of their humanity even though they were from vastly different experiences. I cannot remember her speech that night but her actions that night will never leave me. As the tributes to her talents, her writing, and her quotes pour in, it is her simple humanity that I recall.  Rest in peace Ms. Angelou.

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