Common: Maya Angelou ‘Touched My Soul’
The rapper remembers the poet who inspired him to write—and later became his friend.
Since I was 5 years old I have loved reading good writing. I would read anything that my mother or the teachers I loved gave me. In the 2nd grade I came across an author named Maya Angelou and her poem Still I Rise, this incredible piece of art that I somehow knew came from her soul and touched my soul. A piece of art that I somehow knew would change and improve my life. It was through this writer that I gained the inspiration to be somebody in life and to be heard.
I didn’t know that it would be through hip hop and the gift of rap that I would open myself up and become a writer and MC. Through writing I would get the opportunity to travel and see the world—London, Sydney, Johannesburg, Osaka—and it was writing that brought me one October evening to a charity event in New York where we were blessed to have as our luminary for the night, Dr. Maya Angelou. Having her as our guest was a fluke of Divine Order and a true example of Ask and You shall receive.
What had happened was the poet we booked to perform dropped out last minute so my mother said, “I’m gonna try to get in touch with Dr. Maya Angelou.” I said, “Ma, are you crazy? Maya Angelou? How do you think we’re gonna get one of the greatest beings that ever graced this earth last minute? She doesn’t know who Common is.”
Well, to this day I don’t know if she had ever heard of Common before the call was made but somehow through God’s thread she said she would like to meet with me before she decided if she would do the event. So here I am headed to Harlem to meet her at her apartment, just got my hair cut, heart beating, I walk into her beautiful space that smelled like integrity, art, generosity, love, hope, inspiration, honesty, and home. We would sit for two and a half hours talking about writing, my daughter, San Francisco, and Tupac. And oh yeah, Paul Robeson.
The next night she did her thing at the event and embraced me as a young writer-artist, an important voice in hip hop and even flirted with me. Now that really made me feel special. She and I would go on to build a bond that not only would have us spreading love at events in Harlem, Chicago, and D.C., but I would be blessed to go visit her at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., and celebrate several birthdays with her where we had great times and I got to know her lovely family. It was always an honor to be in her presence and though she did feel like my mother, my grandma, and my friend. I would always Thank God for being there with her.
Every experience was unique, but every time I saw her I learned something about myself and about life, about humanity, about progress. And I was always reminded how we are true reflections of God, how much Light we do have, how great and dynamic Black Women are and how far Integrity, Self Love and Self Respect can take you. I don’t know if my words—or any words—can truly describe the experience of being in the atmosphere of Dr. Maya Angelou, someone you know is sent from the Creator to Give the World A Voice it has never heard, a brightness it has never witnessed, an energy that is Greatness, Divinity and Awakening all wrapped into one.
I awoke on May 28, 2014, ready for a powerful day of filming and to do some great work. I was stepping out of a van when I received the news that Dr. Angelou had made her transition and as I moved I felt like my soul was standing still. I hadn’t digested or processed it as I continued to go about the day. Of course I stopped and said a prayer but it wasn’t until the director of our film, Ava DuVernay, said, “We all know what has happened this morning and This Queen is one of the reasons why we can do this film and we will honor her and carry her with us as we proceed forward.” Right then I was able to let loose and cry and release some of the natural pain of losing someone you love and someone so great. And though I’m still in the process I also recognize that she will never be lost and how much we all have gained by having her touch this earth.
God gave us an Angel and we got to witness that Angel for a beautiful time of life. And though that Angel has returned to her maker, Her Work, Her Spirit, Her Words—aw man, Her Words—Her passion, Her heart, Her Love, Her Greatness, Her Royalty, Her Strength, Her Wisdom, Her Divinity, Her Angel will always be here with us. For my daughter’s daughters, your daughter’s daughters, and forever more. Love you, Dr Maya Angelou.