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Phenomenal Woman – celebrating the life of Maya Angelou with poetry

by YPU Admin on October 30, 2014, Comments. Tags: blackhistorymonth, celebration, inspirational, MayaAngelou, performance, poetry, and workshop

“Write for 5 minutes without stopping”, she said, and the stopwatch started. Easy-peasy, I thought. I can certainly talk for 5 minutes without stopping. The paper began to fill with my ramblings, but as the minutes ticked on my wrist started to ache and my brain began to freeze. I glanced around the table at the other workshop participants, each lost in his or her own thoughts and writing. They were a diverse group, in age, race and gender, brought together by one woman’s words.

We were all taking part in a poetry workshop for Black History Month, inspired by and celebrating the life of Maya Angelou, whose death earlier this year was a sad loss to literature. While many people know her best from her autobiographies, her poetry encapsulates her spirit in a very direct and powerful way, so a poetry workshop and performance seemed a fitting way of paying our respects.

Shirley May from Young Identity (Young Identity Website), who was leading the workshop, had begun by talking about the influence that Maya Angelou had had on her own writing, and her sharing of personal experience made it easier for us to open up, even those who were new to poetry workshops. It was inspiring and encouraging to learn that Shirley had only begun writing in her thirties.

We looked at three of Maya’s best-known poems during the course of the workshop - ‘Caged Bird’, ‘Still I Rise’, and the poem from which the workshop had taken its name, ‘Phenomenal Woman’. The words inspired us, and there was an electricity in the room:

It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth
The swing in my waist
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

In the spirit of Maya Angelou we each wrote about important people in our lives and the way in which they too were phenomenal – a parent, a teacher, an aunt, or even ourselves. Some people were a little shy about sharing their work, but all the participants were supportive of each other, and poems were met with applause and appreciative finger clicking.

We were all having such a good time that the workshop ran over its allotted time, and we had to rush from the quiet, book-lined surroundings of the Chief Librarian’s office to the library’s performance space to set up for the open mic session - a chance for people to share their own poetry, their favourite Maya Angelou poems or poems by other writers they admired and found inspirational.

One poem stuck in my mind which summed up the mood of the evening – ‘Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield’ (Full Poem). Maya Angelou tells of how the death of ‘great souls’ affects us, and ends by saying:

Our senses, restored, never
to be the
same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and
be
better. For they existed.

Maya Angelou, thank you for existing.


-Written by Angela Smith, Audience Development Officer at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre 


 

We all have the power, it starts with an idea

by YPU Admin on October 24, 2014, Comments. Tags: black, blackhistorymonth, BME, celebration, diversity, equality, ethnicity, history, and month


Black History Month UK was put into October to empower students to start the academic year as they wish to end it – successfully. Unfortunately, many institutions fail to directly engage students during this vital month. It is an opportunity to reach out to those students whose ancestry does not lie in the UK and demonstrate the success of their culture. Similarly, it is an opportunity to teach their peers to appreciate the diverse world we live in and just how closely connected we all are – whether that be sharing resources, cultural practices or swapping cooking tips. Where one has the resources and ability to do so, we should reach out to the student community and work to bring it together to empower, enlighten and celebrate the Black cultures. As BME Student Officer, this is what I have been working towards – cohesion among the BME communities in Manchester.

There is often confusion when we use the term Black, BME and even BAME in our daily lives – which is politically correct? Which do you fit into? If you do not self define as Caucasian, then you fit into them all as they are all used interchangeably across different organisations. This then leaves the question of what does this make of Black History Month which traditionally works around the history of African and Caribbean cultures; that choice is left down to you. There is no right or wrong answer. This year with Black History Month, I used it as an opportunity to unite as many different cultures across Manchester as possible under the theme of empowering, enlightening and celebrating. Working with a number of supportive students, we were able to employ the plan that has led to a month of celebration and education for staff, students and local community groups.

There are some individuals such as Morgan Freeman, who believe that Black history should not be confined to one month but incorporated into the mainstream archives. Although I understand his purpose, I disagree. Within the current way of the world we are living in, we need a period of time to focus attention on BME history. All cultures, including the English, have contributed to the world in their own way and no matter where you are in the world, this should be recognised. Black history (and BME history), will not be confined into one month forever, but for the time being we need to utilise it and educate ourselves as well as those around us in order to move forward, together into a future of diversity and equal opportunity.

Written by Tanisha Douglas.