Giva Student Scholarship Winner Essay: Malerie Pratt - In Memory of Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Ms. Malerie Pratt, medical student at Oregon Health and Science University. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service.

In Memory of Dr. Maya Angelou
By Malerie Pratt:

Everyone knows that moment, the moment when the whole world goes quiet and for a minute you stand still and bow your head in disbelief - that moment when your hero passes and you realize the world will never be the same. That moment came for me on May 28th, 2014 when I learned that Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away.

Since my earliest memories, my mother and I loved her and looked to her for strength. In 4th grade, I dressed up as her and recited her poetry in front of the class. My mother, as a single parent, worked full-time and cleaned houses while she put herself through college as she raised my brother and me. When her dream of building her own house finally came true, we decided to plant a book of Dr. Angelou's poetry in the wall, so that the house would be always filled with the laughter, forgiveness, and resilience that Dr. Angelou embodied and symbolized in our lives.

Being raised in the segregated South, Dr. Angelou confronted injustices of racism with grace and a lifelong desire to fight against oppression. As a civil rights activist, she used her poetry to tell her own story of trial and triumph while using African symbolism and parables to paint vivid imageries. Dr. Angelou's words spoke deeply to my mother and me because she dared to tell her own story and encouraged us to rise up in the face of hardship with courage to overcome it.

In high school, my dream came true when I learned that Dr. Angelou was coming to my home town to speak at our Community College. I was granted the incredible gift of being her personal assistant when she came to Bend. Nervous as could be, I arrived hours early to the event awaiting her arrival. My role was to escort her to and from the stage and give her anything she needed while backstage. When she arrived, she was even more beautiful then I imaged. She climbed out of the bus and asked me my name. The world spun as I tried to calm myself down and act like a normal human around her. Before I knew, it she was sitting in a wheel chair, and I was instructed to push her into the building. Unfortunately, that was the first time I had ever pushed a wheel chair, and it was not as easy as I had anticipated. To my horror, I rolled her into two walls and jammed her chair into the door frame. Looking back I can't even imagine what she must have thought as my 16 year old self with purple hair profusely apologized as I struggled to push her down the hall while her family walked behind. Nothing was more surreal then loading her back in the bus at the end of the evening and hearing her say, "Thank you, Malerie." How she remembered my name after a quick introduction amongst a row of people still awes me.

In 2006, I wrote her when my partners and I opened our foster home for vulnerable children in Zambia, and I thanked her for her words that had motivated us to move forward despite the challenges we faced. Since then, whenever I have a bad day or get discouraged, I watch her speeches and interviews and never cease to be encouraged and amazed by her. There is still so much I wanted to share with her. My favorite speech is when she recited her poetry at the President's Inauguration in 1993. Her last few lines continue to remind me that each day is a new day, and with that a renewed opportunity for change.

"Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning."