Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Friday, April 04, 2008

    It must’ve been a sad day for Maya Angelou on April 4th, 1968—the day of her 40th birthday and the day Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. was assassinated. For many years she said she didn't celebrate her birthday. Today marks Maya’s 80th birthday and we are also honoring the life of Dr. King.

    Maya is someone I would love to have a conversation with on this day. What was she doing when she found out Dr. King was killed? As one of the few remaining figures left from the Civil Rights era, especially women, what are her thoughts on the African-American community today?

    Also, does she have any regrets about quickly endorsing Senator Hillary Clinton? Congressman Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) said Senator Barack Obama had “no chance” and blacks were only supporting him because of black pride. However, in a recent reaction letter to Black Star News Rangel stated, “I must admit that my statement that supporters of Senator Barack Obama were motivated solely by black pride grossly underestimated the talent and strength of his candidacy.” Just like women in the feminist movement, like Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro, supported Senator Clinton, does Angelou rethink her endorsement?

    A Maya Angelou quote a day can keep the most hectic of people sane. “When people show you who they are—believe them” or “Stop and say thank you when you’re in the biggest crisis of your life because you know that you’re faith is so strong, whatever it is, it’s only there to teach you more about yourself.” Maya doesn’t only speak the quotes but she lived them.

    Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, Dr. Angelou experienced hellish racism and sexism. When she was seven she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who went to jail for one day and was murdered four days later. As a result, Angelou was mute for almost five years.

    Her teenage years were no better—she was a teen mother, seduced into prostitution and her son was kidnapped. Dr. Angelou was dealt a futile hand, coupled without constant discrimination on a daily basis. Triumphing, Dr. Angelou would find her passion in the arts. She toured Europe in a production of Porgy and Bess, studied dance with Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey and became active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. She was friends with Malcolm X, Dr. King and she credits James Baldwin as one of the people who inspired her to write her autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Baldwin praised the book by saying: "This testimony from a black sister marks the beginning of an era in the minds and hearts and lives of all black men and women ... Her portrait is a Biblical study of life in the midst of death."

    Dr. Angelou's legacy is endless: films, books, television and a national treasure. For every writer, artist, performer—you better pay your respects to a true icon. Happy birthday Dr. Angelou!

    I don't know if people still celebrate "Lift Every Voice and Sing", which is the Black National Anthem, but check out the performance below from R&B singer Kim Weston. Some of the images in the video... they put a tear in my eye every time. By the way - can someone tell me who the woman is at 2:18 with the serious afro and the painted face? I need to know her!

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    Posted by Clay :: 1:00 AM :: 5 comments

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