DR. MAYA ANGELOU
Originally aired November 2010 on WRGW Radio from The George Washington University.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Audio available upon request.
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Jesse Regis: Dr. Angelou, I wanted to begin by asking you what you think about the political situation in our country, and if you think that today's leaders have the courage to solve the problems that we face.
Dr. Maya Angelou: Well, I don't know. Courage is the result of intelligence. Not education, but true intelligence. You have to decide to be courageous. That decision can only come because you are intelligent enough to know that if you don't have it you'll get nothing done, or something will be done to you rather than for you. I think that we'll see some interesting adjustments, I pray, from both sides. When people have enough courage and intelligence to realize that we have to work together or we'll work a part.
JR: You talk a lot about young people and how they can make a difference in the world. But, that seems a little vague and open ended. As a young person, or people of any age who want to make a difference, what kind of advice do you have?
MA: I think that we must be up and doing. Don't count on anyone doing it for us. The young men and women have to realize that this is their world - it's not their mamas or their papas or their grandparents'. Really, young men and women at Georgetown at Howard, at Hampton, young men and women at the American University at Catholic [University] we have to know that these young men and women know that this is their world, and they must not release their responsibility to be present and change this world. Anything they don't like instead of just mourning and moaning, they must make some decision to change it.
JR: Inevitably though, we're going to run into some obstacles. What advice do you have so that we can get past those obstacles, and through that difficult period of time?
MA: There are always obstacles in the way, that's nothing new. I mean [laughs] you have to think back just a couple of hundred years – slavery and even after the end of slavery there were obstacles, there will always be obstacles. But, the young men and women must know that they are equal to the mountains and sea. They have to be stronger than that and overcome the obstacles. So what? They're not patsies. They're young men and women with some intelligence and some passion.
JR: Dr. Angelou, I'm hoping you could elaborate on what some of the positive forces in our life are - the things that get us up in the morning, the things that keep us going, the things that make us want to make a difference.
MA: Positive forces are those which allow us to see where we have come from. You know, the first Africans were brought to what would become the United States in 1619. That's one year before the Mayflower docked. Today, we're upwards of 50 million, and that's not because somebody said, “Oh, let's let them live.” We're upwards of 50 million and that's a conservative estimate. There are people that swear there are more than 50 million black people in the Baptist Church and they're not even counting backsliders and the four African-American atheists in the world. Here we are, still struggling, still pressing. So, I don't think that there's anytime to think, oh too bad, oh too sad. We keep pressing.
JR: I love your optimism and your positivity. I think that's what's going to keep the young people going, speaking as a young person.
MA: I pray so, yes indeed.
JR: You speak a lot of the experiences of minority groups of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, gays, the experiences of all minority groups, actually. How do you convey those experiences to groups who may not have experienced that discrimination.
MA: But, we are one.
JR: We are one.
MA: If we really have enough intelligence, we realize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike. And so this is true. Whatever is true for me as an African-American woman is also true for an African-American man, also true for a white American woman, it is true for an Asian-American man. These are the truths we live and we mustn't allow ourselves to be anymore polarized than we are already.