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I remember clearly when I first discovered the writings of Maya Angelou.

It was around the same time I discovered James Baldwin.

I was a lonely college student trying to figure out the meaning of life. Maya and James, I call them by their first names, not out of disrespect, but because their writing made me feel like we were best friends.

James made me think.

But Maya Angelou…she kept me positive.

Her death yesterday got me to thinking about how lately some pretty hateful attitudes have exploded into the American conversation.

Everything from Donald Sterling’s racist rants to Elliot Rodger’s murderous misogyny.

But we all know there’s another side to America.

And a good example is the very positive life and work of Maya Angelou.

Though she never went to college, her life was like the ultimate graduate school — for life.

She was a poet, a political activist, a calypso dancer, a singer and so much more.

The voice of more than one generation.

Maya Angelou died at her North Carolina home yesterday at the age of 86.

Her literary agent said she had been frail and suffering from heart problems.

But her heart and mind and soul were on vivid display in what may have been her greatest work – “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.

And in her poem for Bill Clinton’s first inauguration — “On The Pulse Of Morning”.

“A rock, a river, a tree

Hosts to species long since departed”

Remember that?

It was so simple yet so profound.

Today, the rock cries out to us. Clearly, forcefully.

Come. You may stand upon my back and face your distant destiny. But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here.

Today, we remember the woman who called the reverend martin Luther king, Jr.  A friend … with these words from her poem, “still I rise”.

“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.”

And she did. From nothing. And she inspired many of us to do the same.

And I say thank you Maya Angelou, and so long.

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DON LEMON: Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou  was originally published on

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