Statement on Dr. Maya Angelou from Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible…We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” – Dr. Maya Angelou

Poet.  Author.  Actress.  Activist.  Singer.  Dancer.  Director.  Teacher.  Trailblazer.  History-maker.  Sister friend.  Legend.  Dr. Maya Angelou defies any single description.  She defined the essence of a “Phenomenal Woman” for us, and she spent a lifetime epitomizing it to us.
A penetrating and deeply thoughtful woman, Dr. Angelou and her unique influence across genres will certainly be missed.  Yet, we are uplifted with the understanding that her incomparable contributions will live on through countless generations to come.  The wisdom, humanity, love, passion, strength, compassion, determination, and perseverance that permeated her life and works have forever changed who we are and how we view ourselves as individuals, as a people and as a nation.  We are all better because she chose to share her gifts with the world.
She also shared a very special gift with the National Urban League in 2010 during our 100th Anniversary celebration.  On a personal note, I met her for the first time a year prior when I flew to her home to discuss our Centennial activities and request the honor of her participation.  What followed was hours of conversation sitting at her kitchen table as she told stories, gave life lessons, and shared poignant perspectives on art, culture and humankind.  With equal parts majesty and humility, she held court – and I listened intently, absorbing every word and meaning that she had to impart.  It was an incredibly powerful experience, and I will always be grateful.
Subsequently, Dr. Angelou agreed to write an original composition in honor of our anniversary.  She presented and performed the poem, titled “We Hear You,” during our National Urban League Centennial Conference on July 28, 2010.  Her gift touched all of us that night and will continue to live on through us as we work every day to offer “our hand of friendship/ Along with a climate/ Which means to soothe the angry heart/ And calm the bellicose spirit.”

Dr. Maya Angelou demonstrated by example that life need not follow a clear path when it is fueled by passion and purpose.  Today, we salute her for raising her voice so that millions of us could find – and create – ours.
“The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.” – Maya Angelou

We Hear You© - Maya Angelou
This special commemorative poem was presented by Dr. Maya Angelou at the National Urban League Centennial Conference, July 28, 2010. To watch her perform the Commemorative Poem, click here.

Centuries of voices have rumbled down the years
Voices stacked upon voices
Close as accordion pleats
Voices telling, relating, informing
The horror stories they say,
Father, they have taken me across water
Wider than the world
Wetter than my tears
I received treatment worse than the lowest dog
In your compound

Voices pleading, calling, begging
Hear me,
Someone speak to me
Speak of me
Speak for me
The voices shout in languages
Various as Kru, Fahnti, Uruba, Hausa

A fierce urgency forces the sound out
And upon the air into the ears
Of courageous men
Of brave women
They respond
I hear you and I will speak to you
I will speak of you and
I will speak for you.

I will be joined by numerous other voices
Who also hear your calling
We will send our voices to the land
To industries and minds hardened
Against you and your children

They will be persuaded
To look upon your faces with favor
And upon your future with promise

We hear your calling
And we begin by giving you 100 years
Of loving defense

We shall encourage the world to look
Upon your complexion and see community
We have lapped off the branch
Which holds the swaying bodies
Which you have been made idle

We shall search and find work for you
Which will compensate your efforts
And define your worth

Our voices shall march
Up and down the cotton rows,
In sharecroppers cabin, and
On the mean streets of ghettos

We shall listen
For your sake
We have entered the waste and
Where the twin horrors
Of hate and violence abide.

We have offered our hand of friendship
Along with a climate
Which means to soothe the angry heart
And calm the bellicose spirit.

We have stretched our hands
Across ten score of years
To pull your names
From the forgotten roster

We have wiped your tears with the palms of our hands
We have listened and we continue to listen
We shall continue to speak for you
You will not be abandoned
You will not be forgotten

We will call your name loudly
Our people
And you may call us
The Urban League.