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VOL. 127 | NO. 168 | Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Being Rainbows

Angelou encourages Memphians to shine during storms

By Aisling Maki

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American literary and civil rights icon Dr. Maya Angelou repeatedly encouraged audience members to “be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud” Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Memphis, during the Agape HeartLight 2012 benefit.

Literary legend Dr. Maya Angelou takes a brief moment during her keynote speech at Agape Child and Family Services' Heartlight 2012 Saturday to read a poem to attendees.  

(Photo Courtesy of Nicole R. Harris)

“Look at each other and see your value,” said Angelou, a celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, historian, civil rights activist, filmmaker, producer and actress.

The purpose of her Memphis appearance was to raise money for Agape Child and Family Services Inc., a 42-year-old, Christian-based nonprofit that serves local children and families through homeless services, mentoring, foster care, counseling and maternity services.

“If the rainbow is put in the clouds, that means at the worst of times … the viewer can see a possibility of hope because the rainbow is in the clouds themselves,” Angelou told the audience. “I was keen to come to Memphis and I’m happy to be here because I know that I’m talking to rainbows in the clouds. In the worst of times, here you are looking to brighten up somebody’s sad morning, hoping to enlighten somebody’s lonely evening. … This is when the nobleness of the human spirit comes out.”

Angelou, 84, who was raised in St. Louis and in the tiny town of Stamps, Ark., sat center stage on a chair, sharing personal life stories from memory, including those of the many “rainbows” who had touched her life.

The audience cheered upon hearing her stories of success, roared with laughter at her sharp wit, and at other times was visibly moved by Angelou’s recollections of heart wrenching events, such as the childhood rape that left her mute for several years.

In between stories, Angelou recited some poetry and occasionally broke into song.

Often hailed as a global renaissance woman, Angelou is the recipient of dozens of awards and holds more than 30 honorary doctoral degrees.

A prolific writer, she has published dozens of autobiographies, five books of essays, numerous books of poetry, as well as plays, films and television programs.

Dr. Maya Angelou, center, was joined by Gayle Rose, from left, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Agape‘s David Jordan, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

(Photo Courtesy of Jim Kiihnl)

In an official letter to Agape, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. wrote, “I am especially delighted to welcome Dr. Maya Angelou to our fair city. Dr. Angelou’s voice and body of work are abounding treasures of American culture. It is extremely gratifying to know of her support for Agape Child and Family Services and the type of good work organizations like Agape advance.”

Agape, whose name derives from a Greek word for “love,” has locations at 111 Racine St. in Memphis, and at 77 Executive Drive in Jackson, Tenn.

Now in its 14th year, Agape HeartLight is the nonprofit’s largest annual fundraiser. The 2012 festivities, which also included a sponsor dinner with Gayle Rose, raised more than $475,000 for Agape’s services.

In an official letter to Angelou, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell Jr. wrote, “By attending this year’s event, you have helped raise awareness for the needs of our citizens. Your participation strengthens the efforts of Agape and other organizations as they work towards serving the underprivileged children, families and communities that so desperately need attention.”

The event also featured Action News 5 anchor Kym Clark as emcee; an opening prayer by Wharton; an introduction by philanthropist Rose; and a closing prayer by Luttrell.

Angelou was also honored by the National Civil Rights Museum for her commitment to positive social change.

“Thank you very much,” Angelou said. “Thank you, Memphis.”

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