Poet, author speaks of the strength of human spirit
While medicine may have the power to heal the body, the spirit takes a stronger tonic. During the keynote address last weekend at a women’s health expo in Cherokee, Dr. Maya Angelou talked about the power of poetry to heal and redeem the spirit.
The slogan of Saturday’s Flourish, a health expo presented by MedWest Health System, was “Mind, Body, Spirit,” and during Angelou’s talk which wound up the day-long event in the Event Center at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, it was obvious which element she was speaking to.
“I wanted to talk to you about the rainbows in the clouds,” said Angelou, a celebrated poet, civil rights activist, filmmaker, actress, teacher and author of more than 30 bestselling books. “And that somehow, amazingly, we survived. And somehow, amazingly, we thrived.”
For nearly an hour in the main auditorium of the Event Center, Angelou read poetry, sang the blues, told stories and entreated her listeners to go to the library. “Go on Monday,” she said. “Tell them that Ms. Maya Angelou asked me to come to you and asked you to direct me to some African American poetry.”
Angelou spoke specifically of the historical struggles and experience of African Americans in the United States, the lessons from which she offered to everyone in the audience. “We’re all equals, my friends,” she said, encouraging men and women, young and old, of all races, “to develop courage.”
“She talked about strength and personal power, which was really a strong theme here today,” said Susan Macon, who was at the expo with REACH of Haywood County. Like many participants, Macon felt Angelou’s talk was a perfect complement to a day of talking and reflecting on women’s health issues.
For Jennifer Turner-Lynn, Angelou addressed issues that were directly relevant to her work as a director of rape prevention/ education at REACH of Macon County.
“A lot of the reasons we do the work that we do is because so many women feel under valued or dehumanized,” she said. “When she was talking about black men buying into stereotypes, women also buy into the stereotypes of what they see, and they think that’s what they should want.”
“That’s the message we need to give to our young people: ‘You’re not just alright, you’re better than alright,’” Turner-Lynn said. “It doesn’t matter who you are and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, all that matters to people is how you’ve made them feel.”
The day’s events were kicked off with a talk by humorist Jeanne Robertson. Numerous breakout sessions on various topics and health screenings were held throughout the day for the hundreds of participants who attended the event.
“It was incredible,” said Penny Poore, who co-chaired the Flourish expo. “We were just thrilled by the participation today. People were inspired. I felt a camaraderie among the women and that there is a need out there to be enriched, mind, body and spirit.”
Poore says the organizers of the expo are already making plans for the next Flourish. “I am already excited about next year, but, boy, have we raised the bar. We hope to make this an annual event that embraces the women of Western North Carolina.”
“We are amazingly resilient,” Angelou said. Whether she was speaking of the history of her ancestors or of the history of women, her message was one of hope and healing. “Bragging” on the people who were rainbows in her clouds, poets and people who gave her strength, Angelou also spoke to the power of community such as the one brought together at Flourish.