The loss of National Treasures evokes thoughts of one’s own mortality and legacy. THEY DID THEIR WORK; THEY’VE LEFT THEIR MARKS ON THE PLANET; TOUCHED THE LIVES OF MILLIONS! How much time do we/ I have left? What will we/ I leave behind? My/ our child (ren) and/ or future children? This blog, a Facebook post? I believe those of us still here… STILL HAVE STUFF TO DO.
Maya Angelou was awarded over 50 honorary degrees, and was a Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University when she made her transition on May 28th. Dr. Angelou has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and received 3 Grammy Awards for her impeccable expression of spoken word. President Clinton requested that she compose a poem to read at his inauguration in 1993. Blessed to have been in her presence, I spoke to her when she was promoting her book “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” I believe she asked me if I had any children, somehow the topic came up. I expressed to her that I had a son, and the autographed copy of her book was addressed to him. She knew the importance of leaving a legacy, and did so. I was there engaging in conversation with her, so my son needed to share in that experience.
In addition to being a scholar, Maya Angelou was San Francisco’s first black female cable car conductor. Shortly after the birth of her only biological child Guy, she became a master of the arts, delving in music, dance, theater, and poetry. Ruby Dee passed away on Wednesday. She was an amazing actress of theater and film. According to the Daily News: “She very peacefully surrendered,” said her daughter Nora Day, standing Thursday on the back steps of her parents’ New Rochelle house. “We hugged her, we kissed her, we gave her our permission to go… She opened her eyes. She looked at us. She closed her eyes, and she set sail.” The Cleveland-born, Harlem-raised Dee emerged in an era when African-American women remained second-class citizens on stage and screen.
For some reason, I was motivated to enhance my FB page the day she died (before I knew), by posting books I’ve read. Among them is “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Vivian Hansberry. Ruby starred in the film adaptation of that book in 1961 opposite Sidney Poitier. She’s won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 for her role as the mother of “American Gangster” Frank Lewis, who was portrayed by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington. She was the first black woman to perform a leading role at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT, in 1965. Apart from her Academy Award nominated performance in ’08, the latter years of her career were spent working with director Spike Lee. Both she and her late husband Ossie Davis, were featured thespians in his films “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever.” The lights on Broadway will dim for 60 seconds at 7:45 p.m. tonight in her honor. The marquee above the Apollo Theater on 125th St. in Harlem now reads: “A TRUE APOLLO LEGEND RUBY DEE 1922-2014.”
No doubt, I began this tribute, reflection and self-assessment with acknowledging the accomplishments of these two incredible women in the arts, because that was the connection I had with them. More important than what I’ve mentioned thus far, was how they were leaders of the civil rights movement. I say their efforts as activists take precedence over their endeavors in the arts, because without them paving the way as for black people in general, Denzel, Spike and myself and countless others, would not have been able to become actors, directors and writers. They walked and fought with Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
THEY DID THE WORK, THEIR JOB IS DONE — WE’RE STILL HERE — THANK YOU MAYA ANGELOU AND RUBY DEE!!! Your lives inspired a boy from Newark, NJ and millions around the world to be the best we can be — we who love and respect you will not tarnish your legacy.
The photo above is from the Associated Press Archives – Left to Right: Publisher Edward Lewis, left, television producer Suzanne de Passe, second from left, actress Ruby Dee and poet laureate Maya Angelou, right, pose for photographers before they were honored at the Eighth Annual Black History Makers Awards dinner in New York on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1994. The event is sponsored by Associated Black Charities, a not-profit federation of health and human service agencies.
Striving for Immortality