Maya Angelou’s influence has been playing out in classrooms and on stages worldwide for decades. She is often thought of as an African-American poet. But for one Quinnipiac University professor, Angelou is a story teller of the American experience.
“Through her words, we know what it was like to live in the south, under a Jim Crow regime,” said Khalilah Brown-Dean, a third year sociology professor at Quinnipiac. “But, we are also able to understand the trauma of young girls, who feel they’re not protected.”
Angelou, raped by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of 7, gave voice to other victims in her 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” And, her message was clear.
“As I find my voice, let me put pen to paper so that those stories endure so that people gain strength from those stories and experiences and really be able to empower people where they are,” recalled Brown-Dean.
The professor says she once considered becoming a lawyer, but was so inspired by a line from Angelou’s poem “Our Grandmothers,” that she changed course.
“It says, very simply, when you get, give. And, when you learn, teach. And, so that’s why I do what I do professionally and personally. That idea of giving back.”
Brown-Dean, when she was a high school student, met Dr. Angelou and recalls, with a smile, she was rendered nearly speechless.
“She said in that beautiful ‘would you like to say hello?’ And, all I could say was ‘hello.” But, in that moment of the connection, I needed her to know you have had an impact on this southern girl from Virginia and this moment that you’re taking with me will last.”