For some girls, their “big day” is their wedding day. My “big day” was July 2nd, 2011. I went to Dr. Maya Angelou’s house for her 4th of July party.
My client and friend, Clarke Allen, has become close to Dr. Angelou since designing her birthday party last April. Clarke has been invited to every soirée – and a few backyard lunches – ever since. And when he got the invite for this year’s July 4th party, I got to go as his guest.
I can’t remember the exact age when I first read Dr. Angelou’s work. But perhaps it’s more fitting to say, as far back as elementary school, I can’t remember a classroom where we didn’t study her. She is one of the writers that brought the reader out in me. And as any writer knows, the call to writing comes when we are reading.
When she took my hand at our meeting, she said just that – “Writing is not a job. Writing is a calling.” She talked more about what it meant to be a writer and, coming from one of the greatest writers of our time, each word held a weight and depth that will remain unmatched. But I want to share a different experience I had at her home.
As I walked in, mixed with stomach-flipping anticipation at meeting this iconic woman, was concern I was going to be met with looks of what’s this white girl doing here? Somehow, I feared that guests at Dr. Angelou’s house wouldn’t share her same inclusive spirit. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that they did.
I felt more comfortable amongst that group of strangers than I have amongst a room full of people I know. There was a gentleness, warmth, and sense of community in that backyard. There was a feeling that radiated between people that everyone was welcomed, accepted, and honored for exactly who they are.
On the ride home as we discussed the day, we talked about race and people in our lives that still live with a great deal of racial tension. I wondered why it was so difficult for the rest of the world to co-exist without judgment or preconceived notions, when the harmony at Dr. Angelou’s had seemed so much more natural. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the racial tension that still exists today is a judgment or preconceived of how we believe we are going to be judged. After all, I welcome people into my life based on the type of person they are, not based on their skin color – yet, I anticipated judgment for my own race. Perhaps people who live with a great deal of tension or social segregation don’t judge the other, but fear the other’s judgment.
My friends in DC might feel as if these thoughts are antiquated or not relevant in 2011. But in the 4 ½ years I’ve been living in Charlotte, it’s become apparent that much of the South sadly still clings to its pre-Civil War roots. But in a city where stories about cultural divides and discrimination are sad but true, it’s comforting to know that just several miles away in Winston Salem lives a woman whose integrity and heart is as big and real as it reads. And if it has been able to bring change to all ends of the earth, perhaps it can help bring change close to home too.