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My Oh My Oh Maya!
Celebrated writer Maya Angelou dazzled her audience at the 25th MLK tribute

“I don’t trust people who don’t smile.”

Making an impassioned plea for courage in the face of adversity, Maya Angelou, renowned poet, playwright and civil rights activist, mesmerized overflow crowds at the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Jan. 19.

“How many times have we faced the walls of Jericho that threatened us, maimed us, killed us, and yet we’ve been able to withstand the wrongs and overcome,” said Angelou, speaking in her signature, dramatic style.

Exuding power and dignity, she charged listeners to find the courage to make this country more than it is today, to stop whining and instead protest, to remember that we are here because of the courage of our ancestors. “Courage belongs to all of us all the time; all we have to do is claim it.”

Raised in segregated Arkansas, Angelou, 78, is the author of 12 best-selling books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She delivered her famous poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. In the 1960s, at King’s request, Angelou became the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Recalling her beloved grandmother and the bitter past and courage of her African-American ancestors, Angelou ended her talk by reciting—and singing in part—lines from her poem, “Our Grandmothers”: “into the palms of her chained hands, she/ cried against calamity,/ You have tried to destroy me/ and though I perish daily,/ I shall not be moved.”

Cardiac surgeon and civil rights activist Levi Watkins, who has organized the annual King commemoration since its inception, paid a memorial tribute to Coretta Scott King, thanking her “for carrying on the struggle after Martin left” and for standing up for peace, nonviolence and diversity.

Dean/CEO Edward Miller and Ken Grant, vice president for general services, presented the annual King Community Service Awards to 10 employees who, like King, have dedicated themselves to service. Under the direction of physician Gregory Branch, Unified Voices’ pulsating spirituals brought the audience to its feet.

On receiving the Martin Luther King Ideals Award for promoting diversity at the Johns Hopkins institutions, President William Brody said, “Our work has just begun.”

Lydia Levis Bloch

 

 

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