National Poetry Month: Still I Rise

Now, I know that my life and Maya Angelou’s life histories are different but there’s a similarity in our Southern backgrounds and the way we were raised and our ethical/moral background. I know this from her interviews and television appearances over the years and by reading her set of autobiographies. (Side note: I still think the biggest shocker was reading that Maya Angelou once was a sex worker)

“Still I Rise” was written as Maya Angelou’s response to oppression and poverty due to racism and sexism and the mistreatment of African-Americans during her lifetime. Now, as a white male, I’m at the top of the list. I’m aware of my privilege. But, as a white male in the metropolitan area, I’ve faced prejudice and people that have used me as a representative of the entire white population. As a gay male, I’ve found myself in many situations of sexism and sexual harassment and even a few situations of sexual assault. As a person in a fluid relationship with poverty, I know what it’s like to wonder where you’re going to sleep that night or when you’re going to have your next meal.

I might not have the same history that Maya Angelou does but I have my own history of oppression. “Still I Rise” reminded me that my oppression doesn’t define me. “Still I Rise” reminds me that my material goods, the way others feel about me, the abuse I’ve encountered, doesn’t define me. “Still I Rise” is a battle cry against a world that works against you by saying that you can throw whatever you want at me but fuck you because I’m going to rise.

This is my hope for you this Monday morning and every morning. I hope that you are able to find it within you to rise.

“Still I Rise” — Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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