Maya Angelou Outscored Michael Jordan

In 1990 when I began sharing philosophy with children, the number of times I heard “Michael Jordan” in response to a question amazed me. He was a “good person,” an example of “true courage,” and he knew the “meaning of happiness.” Admitting that they didn’t know him, or really anything about his life other than how many points scored in last night’s game, the child philosophers and I turned to talk of Michael only when we played basketball. Then, in 1993, Maya Angelou stole Jordan’s star power. I happily picture the young philosophers as they watched rebroadcasts of her reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the Clinton Inauguration—their eyes wide, bodies completely still, posture growing more erect, big smiles when she included “children” in her invitation to a new day.  A rocking celebrity poet! Dr. Angelou was the cool one now. I repeatedly used her poem to discuss the concept of Justice with them and I also suggest an activity based on it in Little Big Minds. Quite a delight it was to witness the children’s first tiptoes into poetry—in my travels from Virginia to Chicago to California.

hand raised

The poems below come from 7-year-olds in my Summer Program for City Children in Charlottesville. These fledgling poets were helped only occasionally with spelling, if requested, by my staff of college philosophy students:

“I’M SAD” - I know my fears / I know my heart / But inside it’s tearing me apart / The tears I have they sure do fall / They bounce off the ground like a bouncy ball.

“CHAD’S POEM” - Today is the day that the sun comes out / Tomorrow is a day we don’t know about.

“MY SISTER” – I was a little baby, I was a little girl / I was small. She was small / Joy for us, little babies, us two little girls / I was a short happy truth about twins / True love, true love, tic-tac-toe, true love / I am my sister.

“ERIC’S POEM” – Jordan is black / Larry Bird is white / And both of them get to sleep at night.

Dr. Angelou’s voice provided the cadence for their first poems—the kids never asked where a line should stop or start or about punctuation. She gave these children, many enduring  tough circumstances, permission to express their feelings—they knew just enough about her life to know that she had pulled through very hard times. And more people listened to her, one person, at one time, than could possibly fit into any basketball arena!

What gifts she gave and gives. Thank you, Dr. Angelou.

poetry time