This week the United States Mint began shipping the Maya Angelou quarter, which makes her the first Black woman on a coin. The Mint will issue five quarters a year to honor women in fields including women’s suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, and the arts. Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who introduced the legislation stated that the coin will ensure that generations of Americans (and others) will learn about Ms. Angelou’s contributions and the experiences lived by African American women. Maya Angelou was a renowned author, poet, and civil rights activist. Her most prominent piece of work was her 1969 autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which illustrated how a love of poetry helped her to overcome racism, hate, and trauma.
As Black people, we are proud to have Ms. Angelou on that coin, but this was not, and is not the “change” we are looking for. With what is happening in the world today we have another completely different meaning and understanding why the caged bird sings. She sings because of the pain she feels with Black-on-Black crimes, she sings because of the fear Black people have of the police, and she sings because of the concern she has of Republican-controlled state legislatures that have passed a number of measures that undo protected voting rights policies, and have created new barriers to prevent fair and free elections while removing some of the guardrails that stopped former President Donald J. Trump’s drive to overturn and steal the election.
Maya Angela on a quarter will not be worth a dime if we as Black people do not begin to take care of each other and be willing to support our Black businesses and vote for politicians who have our best interest at heart. On the tails side of the coin, Ms. Angelou is depicted with her arms uplifted, in front of a bird in flight and rays of sunlight streaking out from behind her. The images were both “inspired by her poetry and symbolic of the way she lived. But if she had lived long enough to see what is taking place on our city streets, on the United States Senate floor, as well as the halls of Congress, it would not be the change she was looking for.
We need more than just some change rattling in our pockets, the change we are looking for is simple and promised to us in the constitution. We want equality. We want to be given the same opportunities others have and we want to compete on a level playing field to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We want to be not only invited to the party but also given the opportunity to dance. We want not only to have a seat at the table, but we also want a voice that is heard. Yes, there have been some changes, and with the death of George Floyd more doors have opened, but things cannot stop there. We have to continue to press through and continue to move forward.
James Baldwin said, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” If we as a people do not face the economic and political changes that are taking place right now and make the necessary moves, movements, and mandates, we might end up where this country is heading. Barack Obama said, “we are the change we seek.” Maya said, “be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.” Do something today in a positive way, that will change tomorrow so it is better for us all.
Healing Without Hate: It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. Pass it on.