Maya Angelou speaks about the brighter side

Latasha Webb

“When it looked like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, you became the rainbow in my clouds,” Maya Angelou sang to a crowd of approximately 2,500 people at Augsburg College on Monday evening.

She visited the school as part of a “Women in Action” series of visiting speakers the school is hosting this fall.

The six-foot-tall Angelou spoke for over an hour about seeing the good sides of difficult situations, often using rainbows in clouds as a metaphor.

Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis. She had her only child, Guy, at age 17.

Angelou’s parents separated when she was a young girl and she was sent to live with her grandmother.

When Angelou was seven, she returned to live with her mother. While in her care, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

After the rape, Angelou was mute until she was 13.

Her four years of silence were the beginning of her writing career.

Currently, she has written more than 20 books, 11 of them making The New York Times best seller list. She once had three titles – “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “The Heart of a Woman” and “Even the Stars Looked Lonesome” – simultaneously on the list for six consecutive weeks.

In January 1993, Angelou recited a poem at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, making her only the second poet in U.S. history to write and recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.

She wrote for Oprah Winfrey’s television series “Brewster Place,” acted in Alex Haley’s “Roots” and has written articles for several newspapers and magazines, including the Chicago Daily News, Essence, Ebony and Cosmopolitan.

Angelou is known as a poet, educator, essayist, entertainer, historian, author, professor, film director, producer, actress, playwright, civil rights activist and mother.

And Monday evening, she opened a window of insight into her existence as a woman who is to many a living legend.

You become a rainbow by telling yourself, “Yes I can,” she said.

“Laugh. A cheerful spirit is good medicine. And never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood,” she said.

She also encouraged audience members to go to the library and find poems they could memorize.

“A poem can be a rainbow in the clouds. Memorize it. The time may come when you will need it,” she said.

And family members are often overlooked rainbows, she said. Too frequently young people look to MTV or celebrities for heroes, “people who wouldn’t give a damn if they lived or died,” Angelou said.

Holly Hornberg, an Augsburg junior, said she thought of her father when Angelou talked about heroes. She said people need to see the rainbows in their own families.

As Angelou made her exit from the stage she sang, “Just like the tree that’s planted by the water, I shall not be moved.”

“I love how she’d just break out in song,” said Augsburg sophomore Kim Nelson. “She gave me no chance to fall asleep.”

Diane Hushman, who was planning to speak to Anoka County foster parents on Tuesday, said she would tell them, “They’re the rainbow in the clouds for foster children.”

Kathy White and Sue Madson, who sat together at the forum, said they would remember that small kindness matters and they have the power to affect other people.

“When you get, give. When you learn, teach. For me, I shall not be moved,” Angelou said.