FORT WAYNE – With the passing of poet and memoirist Maya Angelou on Wednesday, her voice and what can be learned from it will not disappear.
That’s the hope and belief of area educators who have been buoyed by Angelou’s words and work in their own lives and classrooms.
Teresa Vazquez-Hall, program chair of the humanities at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast, once met Angelou on a sidewalk at Oberlin College.
The poet was walking with Vazquez-Hall’s mentor, the late Calvin Hernton, who was mentored by Angelou.
Vazquez-Hall thanked Angelou for her contribution to cultural life and her writing.
It’s amazing to me the impact she’s been able to make, not just in terms of her writing, but also for being a dancer and a singer in general as being one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th and 21st centuries, she said.
Angelou is valuable because of her understanding of the importance of our words, and for her courage, Vazquez-Hall said.
Our words can be the most redeeming things we can offer for peace, for understanding, for reconciliation, or they could be deadly, she said. She lived the larger picture, through who she was and how she was. What she challenged was really universal, I would say.
John Houser, Wayne High School principal and former Snider High School advanced placement English teacher, used Angelou’s essays in the beginning of the semester in his advanced placement language and composition class.
An essay, which spoke of Angelou’s first encounter with racism in a general store in Mississippi, offered students a glimpse into a world they may not understand, Houser said.
When you have students at the advanced placement level, they are all very blessed with their intellectual level, and probably their socio-economic standing.
It sparks great conversation about how fortunate we are and how we react to bigotry and injustice, based on factors that none of us can control, he said.
It was always fascinating conversations.