“Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.”
~ Maya Angelou
When I walked on stage to announce the start of the first annual Superwoman Summit, I recited "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou.
I said, "This one is for the women who came before us -- our teachers and mentors -- and the women who will come after us. Their story is my story, my story is your story and your story is their story."
What I didn't tell the audience was that Dr. Maya Angelou was actually a professor and mentor of mine in college.
Yes. For reals.
By some stroke of incredible good fortune, I was able to enroll in her world poetry seminar which she only taught every two years or so. I was lucky to stumble upon it during registration just in time to claim my seat.
Over the semester, Dr. Angelou stood in front of a classroom of about 30 of us and recited poems from a collection of her favorites. For the most part, she laid her wisdom down as we scrambled frantically to write every single word that graced her lips.
Our only assignment throughout the semester was to memorize the poems she'd assigned us and to perform a final poetry recital in the main theater hall.
The week before our performance, she invited us into her home where her chef made us a simple spaghetti dinner, we practiced our recital in her backyard, and she passed out honorary pearl necklaces to the girls and cufflinks for the boys.
I still can't believe that I recited poetry for the great Maya Angelou in her home over a spaghetti dinner. My 21-year-old-self had no idea how blessed this moment was.
At the end of the semester, Dr. Maya Angelou said she'd forever be my professor, teacher and mentor. So naturally, as I prepared the opening talk for the Superwoman Summit, I called her in for support.
I was looking for a video of her reading "Still I Rise" to kick off the event, but I couldn't find a good recording. Disappointed I bought a copy of a PBS documentary about her hoping to find some juicy bit I could show, but there wasn't anything worthy of what I needed.
So I asked myself, what would she want me to do? And I heard a whisper... "She'd want you to recite it yourself from the stage, of course!"
So that's what I did.
I think I messed up a line or two, and maybe even mixed up the order of the stanzas, but I'm not sure anyone noticed. Even Maya Angelou was known to have skipped a stanza or slipped a word here or there in her recitals.
So it happened. I called her in and I felt her on the stage with me, and in the room throughout the weekend. I know I made her proud.
I've said this before and I'll say it again:
Who are your mentors? Who are your teachers? Can you call them in when you need a little boost of courage, support and love? Try it. It helps.