In middle school, I met Maya Angelou. My mother is a high school English teacher and Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker at a conference she attended. Unbeknownst to us, Maya Angelou was also staying at the same hotel as us. My mother ran into her at the hotel restaurant and told Ms. Angelou she wanted her to met her daughters. My mother went to the hotel room and excitedly took us to the restaurant to meet Maya Angelou.
I knew who she was and loved her work. I actually started writing poetry in middle school.
Ms. Angelou was sitting at a small table enjoying dinner. Her presence was larger than life. She gave us her undivided attention. My mother lovingly said, “These are my jewels.” Maya smiled. My mother handed Maya Angelou a book to sign, I know why the Caged Bird Sings.
She signed the book and looked at my sister and I and said, “Don’t let anybody steal your stuff.” Being about 13 or 14 years old, I thought she was talking about sex.
It wasn’t until I was in law school that I revisited what she said and I understood what she meant. Growing up, I was always teased for my voice. It was too high, squeaky and being the daughter and granddaughter of English teachers, I often heard that I spoke too proper. All of this made me very apprehensive about public speaking. I took AP Government in High School and loved it. I thought about law school, but immediately envisioned a court room and public speaking and thought, nah, I’ll stick to medicine. But I was much more passionate about law and politics than I was science. I didn’t even want to take AP Biology in high school and I did not. But I took AP Government. In addition to being teased about my voice, I was also told that I was too skinny, too dark and that my hair was bad.
Looking back on my childhood, I realized that I let others steal my “stuff.” When Maya Angelou looked me in my eyes and told me not to let anybody steal my stuff, the enemy was in the process of stealing my stuff. For a long time I avoided public speaking and opportunities where my voice would be heard all because of insecurities that developed during childhood. I love to act and sing, but for years avoided opportunities to perform.
I’m so glad I got my stuff back. I have no problem speaking in front of any audience. How ironic, one of the things I was teased about the most is something essential to my career. I use my voice everyday. As an attorney, I use my voice to advocate for others. I go to court twice a week and the pitch of my voice is the least of my concern. In fact, I enjoy going to court.
The words Maya Angelou spoke, mean so much to me now. It was as if she was a prophet warning me about what was ahead. The gifts, talents and dreams given to you from the Creator are your “stuff.” The things that make you uniquely you are your “stuff.” There are things that only you have the grace to do. Don’t let anybody steal your stuff.
Photo credit: @Team.Manning