Angelou’s Dallas birthday bash: An inspirational call for peace
While her actual 80th birthday isn’t until April 4, Maya Angelou’s status as an octogenarian was celebrated a little early, on March 1. That’s’ when a mostly LGBT audience packed the Meyerson Symphony Center to celebrate the living legend at the first annual Voices of Peace Award ceremony. The award was bestowed by Hope for Peace & Justice, a human rights and peace activist committee that’s also affiliated with Cathedral of Hope.
The afternoon program started with a bonanza of musical performances, video montages and speeches. The Meyerson stage was overflowing with a staggering number singers and symphonic musicians: members of the Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, The Cathedral of Hope Sanctuary Choir, The Vocal Majority, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and New Texas Symphony Orchestra.
And then director Tim Seelig welcomed another group, the First Baptist Church male chorus that spiced up the prevailing solemn flavor with a boogie-worthy version of "Down By the Riverside." But 10-year-old dynamo Dalton Sherman winner of a Martin Luther King Jr oratory contest practically stole the show with his spirited analysis of MLK’s sermon "The Drum Major Instinct."
And then, with the help of a wooden cane, Angelou made her entrance. Her hour-long talk was inspired by a lyric: "When it look like the sun ain’t shining no more, you become my rainbow." And like the master wordsmith she is, Angelou spun the stanza into gold, finding echoes in the Book of Genesis and how 19th-century African poet extended the verse.
While we enter the fifth year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the sky looks dreadfully cloudy, but the Meyerson was filled with rainbows of hope. A colleague of mine who also attended the ceremony swears he heard the word "gay" once, but the rainbow metaphor was as close to an LGBT shoutout that happened that afternoon.
In between the "true rainbows of hope" refrain, Angelou worked in stories of her childhood in Stamps, Ark., where her "poor crippled uncle" held little Maya over a potbelly stove and asked her to recite her multiplication tables. When she attended her uncle’s funeral, she discovered that the African-American mayor of Little Rock also learned how to multiply via the potbelly-stove method. And that even a disabled man from a small town in Arkansas can affect enormous and lasting power.
She also reminded us to enjoy life. "I don’t trust people who don’t laugh. And I don’t trust people who don’t like themselves and then tell me that they love me." Angelou said. "Be careful when a naked person offers you their shirt."
After reading a poem a hilarious jab at healthfood fanatics Angelou recited "Amazing Peace, "a Christmas poem commissioned by President Bush 43 for a White House tree-lighting ceremony: a stirring masterwork that blended the pain of Hurricane Katrina and captured the irony of celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace during a time of war.
Before she left the stage, Angelou was presented with a humongous birthday cake while receiving a standing ovation.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 7, 2008.